How to Make Caramelized Onions without Oil

I love caramelized onions. I also love caramelized… ok anything. But I thought I had to give all that up when I started eating healthier a few years ago, cutting out oil among other things. The truth is, when we cut out oil from our diets, we don’t necessarily have to sacrifice anything. We just have to find other ways to do it. So I thought I’d share my method for making delicious, savory, caramelized sweet onions without adding calories from greasy, fatty oil.

“But I use coconut oil! That’s healthier.” Nope. Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat. You’ve seen it when it’s at room temperature, right? It’s solid. You want to eat that? Are you nuts? Some of the vegan cookbooks I’ve read add it to nearly every recipe. That’s pretty much the easiest way to make a healthy vegan recipe into a heart stopper. You might as well eat Crisco out of the can and give up.

“But I use avocado/olive/canola/grapeseed oil! That’s healthier.” Also nope. Read labels.
Just because you’re adding the trendy oil du jour to your recipes doesn’t mean it’s good for you. It’s still oil, and all oils are dense in calories and fat. Stop calling things “healthy oils.” That’s an oxymoron and entirely untrue.

But I digress. Back to the healthy, delicious caramelized onions! Here’s how I do it:
Start with a small pan. I usually use our 1-quart All Clad number in the photos, but I’d imagine you could use anything you’re comfortable with. It all depends on how many onions you’re doing. Let’s start with one.

Grab a sweet onion and slice into rounds, then cut the rounds in half to make half-circles. Toss them into your pan and lightly salt them.


The salt will bring some of the moisture out of the onions, lubricating the pan, and diminishing the need to heat up a pan of oil to start.

Turn your burner to medium heat and stir often to evenly cook the onions. After a while, you’ll notice the moisture from the onions has cooked off and you’ll probably start to get some sticking. That’s ok. Add water to the pan to unstick the onions, about a teaspoon at a time. You don’t want to burn the onions, but you also don’t want to boil them either.


You’ll begin to notice some browning on the pan too. That’s the good stuff. Again, add water to the pan about a teaspoon at a time, and stir the onions up against the brown parts of the pan. The wet onions will deglaze the brown pan and that golden glaze will move to the onions. Repeat as much as necessary until you get soft, golden, caramelized onions.


Do you have a favorite recipe you’d like to share on KevCooksPlants? Send it to me at and I’ll take a look (and of course credit you when it’s posted).

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