If you love caramelized onions — try making smoked caramelized onions on the Traeger Grill or whichever smoker you have. The wood will add a smoky layer to the intense sweetness of the caramelized onions that is perfectly complementary and delicious.
Caramelized onions are the result of the sugars present in onions breaking down in the presence of heat into hundreds of different compounds, and the Maillard reaction in which sugars and protein break down into different and complex flavours and aromas.
I HATE raw onions. They're pungent and overpowering, ruin salads, and the scent lingers forever. Caramelized onions? A favourite in my house and I can't decide if it's more savoury or dessert-like.
Serve caramelized onions alongside steak, pork, in sauces, with eggs, on rustic bread with terrines and pâtés.
Caramelized onions also freeze and reheat well, making them perfect for meal prep.
Make use of the entire grill space on your Traeger or smoker and add some tomatoes too.
How Long Do Caramelized Onions Take?
This is a slow and low process. I keep my Traeger at 220° and at this temperature you will have perfectly caramelized onions in just over an hour, the same amount of time as you would doing it on the stovetop.
For even sweeter, more intense caramelization and a deeper colour, you can go up to two hours.
You cannot rush the process or you will just end up with burnt or weird mushy onions. There are "hacks" out there that promise quicker caramelization, but I don't think they work all that well.
Does Baking Soda Speed Up Caramelized Onions?
Technically yes, but the end result is just really gross.
The onions will dissolve into an unappetizing mush with a weird chemical background flavour.
Similarily, sugar does not speed up the process either. You just end up with sickeningly sweet onions and extra sugar that doesn't need to be there.
Which Fat Or Oil To Use?
My favourite fats and oils to use for making caramelized onions are:
- Duck Fat
- Olive Oil
- Spiced Ghee
However, I tend to use a mixture of fats for the best results. I personally think butter is a must, and then I will add lard or duck fat for an additional layer of decadence. If you have something like niter kibbeh (a ghee-like clarified butter essential to Ethiopian cuisine) try that too, it's absolutely incredible.
Which Wood Should You Use?
Whatever wood pellets you have will work fine.
However, according to the official Traeger website, the best wood pellets for vegetables are: Hickory BBQ, Signature Blend, Apple BBQ, Pecan, Alder, Maple, and Winemaker’s Blend.
Buy Traeger 100% hardwood pellets (no additives) here:
I love my Traeger Grill. Learn more about them, read reviews, and compare prices amongst different models here:
What Kind of Onions are Best for Caramelized Onions?
Any kind of onion will do! Even shallots work, although I am not a huge personal fan of them for this technique.
My favourite variety of onion is plain yellow ones.
What is the Best Pot or Pan to use for Caramelized Onions?
Cast iron, stainless steel, or carbon steel. Try to avoid nonstick, it will take too long. Enameled cast iron works if it is all you have, just not as well.
For making smoked caramelized onions on a Traeger Grill or other smoker, you will want something that can go directly on the grill grates.
What Can You Make With Caramelized Onions:
For starters, this is my BEST pasta sauce recipe:
And you need to try it.
Otherwise, serve caramelized onions with a nice steak or pork chop.
Smoked Caramelized Onions on the Traeger Grill
Smoky Caramelized Onions on The Traeger Grill
The amount of fat you use depends on the amount of onions. As mentioned, caramelized onions freeze very well, but they also stay refrigerated for quite some time — up to a week in fact. Furthermore, once caramelized the onions will have reduced GREATLY, so that full pan you started with will look quite diminished.
- Prep Time: 5 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
- Category: Side Dish
- Method: Traeger Grill Smoking
- Cuisine: North America
- 5 large Onions, sliced
- ½ cup of your fat of choice (I prefer a mixture of butter and duck fat or lard)
- Sea salt
I think starting off with a cold pan makes for a better end-result, but it doesn't matter much either way.
Place the sliced onions, fat, and a pinch of sea salt into your pan.
You can then proceed in 1 of 2 ways:
- If you plan on caramelizing your onions to a very deep rich brown (about 2 hours) I recommend starting them off on the stove top for the first hour before transferring to the Traeger Grill for the final hour.
- If you plan on the level of caramelization shown in my pictures (about an hour) you can start the onions immediately on the Traeger Grill — preheating not necessary.
- Keep the temperature of your Traeger Grill NO HIGHER then 250°-275°
- Check on the onions every 15-minutes and give them a good stir with a wooden spoon.
- Check and make sure that your pellets are not running low!
- In about an hour to an hour and a half you will have achieved the brown colour in my photos, remove onions from heat, add more salt if you would like, and either consume immediately or refrigerate for up to a week.
Times are approximate!