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One of the most globally recognizable foods is burgers. In design they are so simplistic, consisting of a beef patty and vegetables between two buns. They are simple, but so delicious and loved by all. Because of this simplicity, a lot of people want to make them at home and enjoy them with their own twist.
But, it can be a bit overwhelming when deciding what ingredients to use as not every recipe is the same. More specifically, what is the best onion for burgers?
Table of Contents
Why are onions used in burgers?
There are many reasons you can use to explain why onions are used in burgers. It could be for their health benefits to make a burger more nutritionally balanced, or it could simply be for the great taste they bring to the dish. Onions are also used to add texture, especially raw onion, as it gives the burger a discernible crunch (learn how to keep the burger from falling apart here).
Whatever the reason they are used, recipes can seem quite ominous about them. Most recipes will instruct you to simply “add onions” but seldom tell you which onions to actually use in your cooking. Yellow onion (it is also called Spanish onion) is used for burgers more frequently due to its versatility.
This can be quite annoying as some recipes for burgers will use a special twist that changes the flavor profile of the dish, which in turn makes it so some onions are not going to work as well as others would.
Types of onions
There are many different types of onions and they all vary in shape, size, color, and most importantly, flavor. When it comes to any meal, onions can be quite important due to the deep taste they bring with them.
Onions can be used in almost any cuisine which can make it even harder to pinpoint what type of onions to use in certain recipes unless you are told specifically. So with that said, here are some of the most common types of onions.
Yellow onions AKA brown onions
Their name refers more to their skin rather than the flesh itself, as this appears white. The skin can come in either a yellow or brown hue with yellow being the most common one. The yellow onion is by far the most versatile and can be used in multiple dishes across many cuisines.
It can be called an “all-purpose onion” and is most likely the safest bet to use when you are not sure what a recipe calls for.
When brown onions are raw, they have a very sharp taste, which can make them a bit too high-profile to be placed on a burger. If you are adamant about using them in a burger, then caramelizing them is a good idea as the high sugar levels make the sharp taste completely disappear.
Sweet onions are another safe bet, if you have no clue what onions to use then buying a sweet onion is pretty unlikely to go wrong. Even if you are not yet to know how you will be cooking them, sweet onions are great for burgers no matter what.
Their flavor is not too sharp and noticeable so they can be used well to compliment the other components of a burger. Sweet onions also have very thick and dense layers which means they slice nicely and can also be used really well to make onion rings.
Sweet onions also taste great when grilled or fried, and their high sugar content also makes them great candidates for caramelizing, While it is all down to personal preference, sweet onions are loved by many and are frequently used in burgers.
Red onions are easily the most eye-catching as they are bright red, which can add a nice pop of color to your food if you want it to look nicer. The flavor is very milk and there is no pungent smell which makes this a great onion to add raw to your burger.
There is low sugar content in the red onion, though, so they are not the best for caramelization. They are really good for slicing and pickling, though.
White onions are by far the most flavorsome onion available as they have an incredibly sharp taste and a very crunchy texture. They are often used in chutney or salsa but they work very well after being fried.
They can be added to a burger when fried, but they are a bit too intense to be added raw to your burger. You can, as the choice is yours, but it may mess with the balance of all the other flavors such as that from the meat.
White onions are more typically used in Mexican cuisine such as dishes like fajitas, burritos, and enchiladas. As well as being a prime candidate for making salsa.
Shallots are onions, but they look a lot smaller. They are typically a lot sweeter than most onions so they are great for caramelizing. Shallots and red onion are not bad raw or fried, either, and can be quite a nice addition to any burger.
Green onions AKA scallions/Spring onions
The use of scallions in a burger is more experimental, but it can work. They have a far less sharp taste and are also not very sweet, so adding them can be a bit of a challenge. Despite this, their natural taste is very good so chopping them up and adding them as a garnish or inside the burger is always a good idea to try out.
They can also make a vegetarian burger a lot more flavorsome if added to it.
Ways to prepare onions
I have mentioned some of the ways in which these onions may be enhanced, but I am yet to properly describe what each preparation method is like. How you cook and prepare an onion can greatly contribute to how impactful it is in the burger.
Certain cooking methods will enhance some onions, while not helping others, so it is best to cook each onion in an optimal way so that your burger can be as brilliant as possible.
Raw onions Vs cooked onions
Raw onions let the sharp flavors really show in a dish, and are also very easy to prepare. No matter how they are chopped and served in a burger, the sharp flavor will be most noticeable with raw onions. If the flavor is too sharp, then cooking them will help mellow it out.
The sweet undertones will shine through once cook and the onions will also be a lot softer. This is best used on onions that are very sharp, cooking them will make the flavor nicer but sadly there will no longer be a nice crunch. Onions with a more subtle flavor can benefit from being eaten raw as they still taste nice and they also add a nice bit of texture to the burger.
Caramelized onions are by far one of the most popular choices of preparation. Any onions with a high sugar content will greatly benefit from this process and their flavor will be quite sweet. This works great in burgers as the natural savory flavor from the meat is perfectly contrasted by something sweet which will create a nice balance.
Adding tomatoes is another way to add some sweetness to a burger as well as the food chemical known as umami but honestly, there is no reason you shouldn’t add both.
Diced onions are great for burgers as a smaller surface area per piece makes them a lot easier to apply to a burger. Instead of acting as an entire layer, diced onions when diced finely enough can end up amalgamating with other layers.
The only issue with this is that diced onions can be quite messy because of how small they are, one unlucky bite and they may spill out and coat your table. Adding the diced onions to the sauce instead is a great way to make sure they stay in place, and also makes them add more flavor to the sauce.
If you are making burgers from scratch then you may want to use diced onions in the actual patty as this will greatly improve its flavor.
Sliced onions are super easy to prepare as all you have to do is wash, peel, and slice your onion. They can be pulled apart into rings that get smaller and smaller, but if the shape is held while assembling your burger then they sit really nicely similar to a slice of tomato.
Sliced onions add a very delicious crunch to the burger although one issue people have is that they are quite thick slices and can end up making the burger very tall if there are too many layers.
The issue with a tall burger is that you can struggle to get all layers in one bite, and it is generally messier. After all the whole point of a burger is to get a taste of each layer in one bite, so a tall burger defeats this purpose.
Pickling an onion is very easy and has many layers of complexity. If you opt for a very simple pickled onion, then sitting it in vinegar for a few days will do the trick. However, if you are feeling more adventurous then you can add some spices, herbs, and flavoring to the jar and pickle them for longer, giving them a deeper and much nicer flavor.
While pickled food isn’t for everyone (e.g. kimchi taste is for true lovers only), the sharp and tangy taste that it introduces will certainly make your burger pop with flavor. If you pickle an onion whole, then you can still choose to dice or slice it when adding it to the burger. Personally, I recommend dicing it and introducing it to your burger alongside some blue cheese.
Onion rings are a great addition to any greasy meal such as a burger. Although, they are more used as a side dish. Onion rings are made by slicing onions up, separating 2-3 of the rings from the rest, and then after this, all you need to do is deep fry them.
Once they have a lovely fried batter on the outside, you can pair them with any sauce or condiment you may like and have at it. They are a delicious savory snack and are a staple at any pub or steakhouse.
So what onions do I use?
Well, in summary, it is a completely personal preference. While a white onion may be a lot stronger with its initial flavor, it can be combated by frying or caramelizing it. The onion of your choice obviously matters, but if you have to pick up any random onion in a pinch, then it more comes down to how you prepare it as this is what will add the most flavor to your burger.
If you need a good go-to onion, then either a sweet onion or a yellow onion is most likely to suit your purpose.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are yellow or white onions better for burgers?
White onions are very sharp and have an intense flavor, which can make them less preferred when eaten raw in a burger. Their sharp flavor can be combated by cooking them in any way you desire, but if you really want a crunch in your burger then you are best to opt for the yellow onion.