Not many foods pair together as well as a juicy cheeseburger and a delicious, flavorful onion. But which are the best onions for burgers? The short answer is: it depends!
When choosing the best burger toppings, onions are usually at the top of everyone’s list. They’re crispy, flavorful, and they add the perfect contrast to a juicy, meaty burger. And while some may claim to know the one best onion for any burger, I think it all comes down to preference.
There are many considerations to make, from how strong of a flavor the onion has to the method you use to cook it. While red onions are fantastic raw or fried, they don’t necessarily make the best onion rings.
So, if you’re interested in learning how to choose the best onion for every style of burger you make, keep reading to find out everything you need to know.
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11 Best Onions for Burgers (Types)
Not all varieties of onion are created equal. Some pack a sharp, oniony punch, while others are on the sweet and mild side. Some are crispy and firm, while others are more delicate and herb-like.
This section will cover 11 different varieties of onions that you can try on your next burger.
1. Yellow (Brown) Onions
Yellow onions, sometimes referred to as brown onions or all-purpose onions, are one of the most common types of onions. Used often in cooking, yellow onions are pungent when raw, but become sweeter and more mellow once cooked.
As the name suggests, all-purpose yellow onions are a great place to start when trying to decide which onion is best to top your burger with. They work well as the base for a variety of different cooking methods, especially sautéing, frying, or caramelizing. However, I do not recommend using yellow onions raw as their flavor can be overwhelming.
How to Use on a Burger: Grilled, sautéed, fried, caramelized, roasted, or onion rings
2. White Onions
The boldest onions of the bunch, white onions are very pungent with a strong onion flavor. They’re also nice and crunchy in texture, which makes them some of the best onions for burgers.
Because of their sharp taste when raw, it’s best to use white onions cooked. White onions make the ideal fried onions and are excellent for turning into onion rings because they hold their texture well. They’re also delicious diced up into unique burger condiments such as guacamole or salsa.
How to Use on a Burger: Fried, sautéed, onion rings, or in condiments such as salsa or guacamole
3. Sweet Onions
Sweet onions, like the name suggests, are on the sweeter side of the onion flavor spectrum. Common varieties include Walla Walla, Maui, and Vidalia, but they’re often just sold as “sweet” onions at the grocery store.
These onions are perfect for cooking methods that bring out their natural sweetness such as caramelizing and roasting. They’re also a good choice if you want to make onion jam. Basically, use sweet onions when you want your burger to have a sweet element to it.
How to Use On a Burger: Caramelized, roasted, fried, grilled, onion jam, or onion rings
4. Red Onions
Commonly used raw on salads and in sandwiches, red onions have a mild flavor profile. They are identifiable by their reddish-purple skin, which stands out amongst other types of onions at the grocery store.
Since they are so mild in flavor, red onions are one of the best onions for burgers. In fact, raw red onions are my preferred onion for these Turkey Smash Burgers. Red onions are also fantastic pickled or grilled.
How to Use on a Burger: Raw, pickled, grilled, or onion chutney
Shallots are smaller, more elongated onions that grow in clusters in a similar fashion to garlic. They tend to have a mild, slightly sweet flavor.
Often used in vinaigrettes, shallots make for particularly tasty raw onions. They’re also fabulous when roasted, fried as crispy little rings, pickled, or even used in compound butter (drool… can you say super juicy burger?)
How to Use on a Burger: Raw, fried, caramelized, pickled, or in compound butter
6. Pearl Onions
One of the tiniest onions on this list, pearl onions look just like regular-sized onions. However, they only grow to be about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Pearl onions are much milder and sweeter than their larger counterparts.
Not your typical burger topping, pearl onions are best when roasted whole. After roasting, you can dice them up and make a delicious roasted pearl onion aioli to spread on your burger. How fancy!
How to Use on a Burger: Roasted or in a condiment such as aioli
7. Cipollini Onions
Small, donut-shaped onions, cipollini are a type of yellow onion. They’re extra sweet and are delicious when roasted whole because they caramelize so well. Again, these are not your typical onion for topping a burger and may be better suited for an aioli.
But, who am I to tell you what to do? If you want a roasted cipollini onion on your burger, I say go for it!
How to Use on a Burger: Roasted or in a condiment such as aioli
8. Scallions (Green Onions)
Scallions, also known as green onions, are delicate and leafier in texture. They’re dark green and hollow throughout the top half and become white and more onion-like towards the bottom. Green onions are typically used in Asian dishes like stir-fries and scallion pancakes, where they add a mild onion flavor.
While scallions wouldn’t be bad on top of a burger, they’re even better mixed into the ground beef with a little teriyaki sauce and garlic. Yum!
How to Use on a Burger: Raw, sautéed, or mixed into the ground beef with other seasonings
9. Spring Onions
Similar to green onions in appearance, spring onions are just common storage onions (yellow, white, and red) that have been harvested early. Harvesting the onions early means they end up with a milder flavor. Spring onions have a bit of a bite when eaten raw, but become sweet and tender when cooked.
Spring onions are delicious when lightly charred on the grill. They also work well raw or pickled.
How to Use on a Burger: Grilled, pickled, or raw
Available seasonally from late fall through early spring, leeks have been bred to survive the winter months. They look like large scallions, but their green leaves are woody and inedible. Leeks are very mild in flavor with a notable sweetness.
Since they’re so fibrous, it’s a good idea not to eat leeks raw. They’re best when braised, but can also be grilled, sautéed, or roasted and added to a burger.
How to Use on a Burger: Grilled, sautéed, roasted, or fried
More like an herb, chives look a little like thinner green onions. The long, delicate, green stem is very mild in flavor. Chives are often mixed into dishes where you want a very mild onion flavor such as mashed potatoes or omelets.
As far as burger toppings go, chives are not usually a go-to choice. However, they would be excellent mixed into the burger meat or into an aioli to spread on top.
How to Use on a Burger: Raw, mixed into the ground beef, condiments, or compound butter
How to Cook Onions for Burgers
Now that we know all of the different types of onions you might consider adding to your burger, it’s time to talk about cooking methods.
- Raw- Not really a cooking method, raw onions are one of the most common burger toppings. Whether you slice them, dice them, or grate them, there’s no doubt that raw onions on a burger are delicious. Try using red onions, shallots, sweet onions, spring onions, scallions, or chives.
- Grilled- Grilling onions gives them a fantastic charred flavor and helps take away some of their bite. Spring onions are excellent when grilled. You can also grill yellow onions, red onions, sweet onions, and leeks.
- Sautéed- Most savory recipes call for sautéing onions. Adding sautéed onions to your burger can be game-changing. Try using yellow onions, white onions, scallions, and leeks.
- Fried- When I talk about fried onions, I don’t mean fried like onion rings. I mean sliced up and fried all on their own. Leeks, shallots, yellow onions, white onions, and sweet onions are all great for frying.
- Caramelized- Caramelized onions are probably my favorite burger topping. They’re deeply rich and sweet in flavor, making any burger you put them on feel extra fancy. To caramelize onions, all you need is a little time and patience and you’ll be rewarded greatly.
- Roasted- Onions with a high sugar content lend themselves well to roasting. Almost becoming jam-like in texture, roasted onions are similar in flavor to caramelized onions.
- Other Options Include- Pickled onions, onion rings, onion jam, onion chutney, chive or scallion aioli, chive or scallion compound butter, diced in salsa or guacamole, or mixing raw or sautéed onions into the ground beef.
So the next time you’re considering which onion to put on your burger, take into consideration the cooking method you’ll use and the flavor profile you want.
Will you make a black pepper burger with a creamy chive aioli? Or maybe you’re feeling a teriyaki burger topped with grilled spring onions. Or perhaps you’re like me and prefer a few slices of raw, red onion on your burger.
Whatever you decide, you’re now armed with all of the knowledge you need to choose the best onion for any burger you make. Get a little adventurous and think outside of the burger bun!
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