Pickled Red Onions

Pickled red onions instantly elevate salads, bowls, tacos, sandwiches, etc. into the best ever and are easy to make in minutes!

Pickled red onions are a must-have condiment!  They add a zesty, tangy crunch and are always the highlight in whatever dish I’m eating AKA you will crave them in every bite!  Best of all, this quick pickled red onion recipe is ridiculously easy to make with pantry friendly ingredients. Just bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a simmer, pour it over sliced onions and wait for 30 minutes – that’s it! You can keep your pickled red onions fabulous in their bright, tangy simplicity or customize them with all sorts of add-ins such as peppercorns, coriander, bay leaves, thyme etc.  Your glorious pickled red onions will last for weeks in the fridge ready to elevate anything they touch.  What will you elevate first!?

top view of pickled red onion recipe in a glass jar showing how thin the onions are

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Pickled Red Onion Recipe

Pickled red onions are my love language – and I don’t even love pickles!  I most recently enjoyed this pickled red onion recipe in Mediterranean rice bowls I’m sharing later this week and was literally piling more and on because they were just SO GOOD.  They add that extra dimension and balance of tangy flavor that makes your entire dish come alive!  So, I’m finally getting my act together and sharing this quick pickled red onion recipe with you that will hopefully (or should) become an indispensable condiment in your arsenal of YUM. 

Pickling raw red onions magically transforms them from raw and pungent into irresistibly zesty, tangy, crunchy with a slight sweetness.  They are also a beautiful chameleon in that you can throw anything at them.  Want spicy?  Add red pepper flakes.  Want peppery?  Add peppercorn.  Want earthy?  Add sprigs of rosemary or thyme.  BUT you don’t have to!  More often than not, I keep my pickled red onions simple with just 5 ingredients.   Then after just 10 minutes of prep and 30 minutes of hands-off pickling, you have quick pickled red onions magic!

And they are just that, magic.  Pickled red onions amp up any Mexican dishes from tacos, to burritos, nachos, chilaquiles and salads and magically transform everything else from bowls, sandwiches, salads, burgers, curries, pizza, eggs, etc. from ordinary to extraordinary.  They add that extra oomph of bright, zippy pop of flavor and crunch you didn’t know it needed – but now you can’t live without.  And shouldn’t live without with this quick and easy pickled red onion recipe!

QUICK PICKLED RED ONIONS INGREDIENTS:

This quick pickled red onion recipe only requires a few basic ingredients:

  • Red Onion: Use one large red onion or two small red onions – enough to fill a 1-pint mason jar.
  • Vinegar: You can use any vinegar or mix of vinegars to pickle onions depending on your personal preference.  I tend to like mixing two vinegars for an added depth of flavor, but you can use just one if you like.  My favorite combination is two parts apple cider vinegar because of its sweetness and red wine vinegar because of its fruitiness.   White vinegar will also work but it is quite a bit tangier. In a side to side taste test of ½ cup apple cider vinegar + ¼ cup red wine vinegar (recipe as written) and ½ cup apple cider vinegar + ¼ cup white vinegar, both my husband and I preferred the one with red wine vinegar, hand’s down.
  • Sugar:  Is needed to balance the acidity, tanginess and salt in the vinegar solution.   I prefer granulated sugar because of its pure flavor but you can also use honey or pure maple syrup.  You can add more or less sugar depending on how sweet you like your pickled red onions.  You can even add more sweetener after the onions have rested for a few hours if you decide you want them sweeter/less tangy.
  • Salt: Because everything needs salt to enhance the flavors.  I use fine sea salt but you may also use table salt.
showing how to use quick pickled red onion by adding to a rice bowl

POSSIBLE RECIPE VARIATIONS:

Red onions, vinegar, sugar and salt are all you need to make fabulous pickled red onions.  Still, its’s fun and tasty to customize your own quick pickled onion recipe depending on what you’re using it for.  You can add peppercorns, fresh herbs, Latin spices, Asian spices, etc.  Here are just a few options:

  • Use a different vinegar. This pickled red onion recipe calls for a ½ cup apple cider vinegar and ¼ cup red wine vinegar.  But you can use any combination of white vinegar, apple cider vinegar and red wine vinegar. You can even swap ¼ cup vinegar for orange juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, pomegranate juice, etc.
  • Make it peppery.  Add ½ -1 teaspoon whole peppercorns to the vinegar solution after bringing it to a simmer.  If you don’t have whole peppercorns, you can add some freshly cracked pepper.  
  • Make it spicy.  Add a pinch of red pepper flakes, sliced habañero peppers or sliced jalapeño peppers.
  • Make it garlicky.  Add 1-2 smashed cloves of peeled garlic to the vinegar solution after bringing it to a simmer.
  • Make it herby.  Add a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary, fresh thyme, fresh oregano leaves, basil, mint, tarragon or bay leaves.  Keep in mind, fresh herbs will only last a week in the fridge, so use dried herbs if you want to extend the shelf life. 
  • Change the flavor profile with whole seeds. I recommend 1 teaspoon whole seeds of any of the following: cumin seeds, fennel seed, coriander seeds or caraway seeds.  You can also add ½ teaspoon allspice berries or 1-2 star anise.  If you don’t have whole seeds, you can use ¼ teaspoon ground seasonings.
  • Other flavorings.  Ginger, cinnamon, Szechuan pepper, nutmeg, mace or horseradish for some fun and flirty flavorings.
  • Asian inspired.  Use rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon ginger and seasonings such has Chinese 5 spice, star anise, cinnamon or Szechuan pepper.
  • Mexican inspired.  Use ½ cup apple cider vinegar and ¼ cup lime juice OR ½ cup freshly-squeezed orange juice + ¼ cup lime juice along with 1 ½ tablespoons sugar, 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt, ½ teaspoon black peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 garlic cloves, crushed and 1 bay leaf.
side view of picking up pickled red onions with a fork

HOW TO PICKLE RED ONIONS:

If you’ve never made pickled red onions, you will be blown away at just how speedy it is. Here’s how: 

Step 1: How to slice the onions: 

You can slice the red onions anywhere from paper thin to 1/4-inch thick, depending on what you plan to use them for.  Paper thin would be tasty in salads whereas 1/4-inch would be tasty on sandwiches when you want a little more crunch.  I find, however, ⅛ -inch thick is perfect for everything!   

Also, be aware that the thicker the red onions, the longer they will take to pickle.  You will need 1/8-inch thick or thinner to make quick pickled red onions.  

To slice the onions, cut them in half to create half-moons.  From here you can use a very sharp knife or mandoline to create uniform, thin slices. Transfer red onions to a 1-pint mason jar.

showing how to pickle red onions by slicing red onions 1/8-inch thick on a wood cutting board

Step 2: How to Make the Pickling solution

This quick pickled red onion recipe is so speedy because it does not use a pressure canner or water bath canning method which are reserved for longer term storage.  It is also not to be confused with fermented pickling in which the curing process takes several weeks.

Instead, this recipe is vinegar-based pickling which is used more for flavor than storage. It is as easy as simmering a vinegar solution and pouring it over the onions. To make, combine the vinegars, waters, sugar and salt in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer.  Simmer just for 30 seconds to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat and add any additional add-ins if using.

showing how to pickle red onions by simmering vinegar, sugar, salt and water in a saucepan

Step 3: How long to soak the onions

Next, carefully pour the vinegar solution into the jar with the onions.  Press the onions down with a spoon until submerged in the mixture.  Let the onions cool to room temperature for 30 minutes as they work their pickling magic! 

The red pickled onions can be consumed after 30 minutes and will boast tons of flavor but they are even better if allowed to soak for a few hours. 

showing how to pickle red onions by pouring brining liquid into jar with onions through a funnel

HOW LONG DO Pickled Red Onions LAST?

Not long at our house!  After the onions have rested at room temperature for 30 minutes, seal and transfer them to the refrigerator. The pickled red onions will last in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks if stored in an airtight container.   If using fresh herbs, they are only good for 1 week.

showing how to pickle red onions by letting onions rest in glass jar to pickle

Quick Pickled Red Onions Tips

  • Slice the onions thinly.  The key to quick pickled red onions in 30 minutes is to slice them 1/8-inch thick so they can soften and pickle quickly. This is easiest to do with a mandoline otherwise be VERY careful when slicing with a sharp knife.  If slicing by hand, I suggest discarding the last portion of the onion or you run the risk of cutting your stabilizing hand.
  • Slice onions uniformly.  You can do this by hand or I love my mandoline (vegetable slicer) because it can be set to any thickness.  It saves you time prepping and delivers uniform, precision slices.   It’s also great for thinly slicing potatoes, apples, zucchini, etc. or to julienne all sorts of vegetables including French Fries!  Make sure you purchase a mandoline that has a safe guard that covers the slicing vegetable to protect your fingers.
  • Thicker onions will take longer to pickle.  You are welcome to slice the onions closer to ¼-inch thick, but be mindful they will be crunchier.  Thicker onions will require several hours to pickle, up to overnight.
  • Do not use cleaning vinegar.  If you decide to use white vinegar, you can use distilled vinegar but take care to not use cleaning vinegar that often comes in a large container.  The majority of white vinegar has 5 percent acidity, whereas cleaning vinegar has 6 percent. One percent might not sound like much of a difference, but it actually makes the vinegar much harsher.
  • You MUST use some sort of sweetener.  The pickled red onions will be overwhelmingly tangy and pungent without balancing sweetener.  With sugar, they’re perfectly balanced without tasting overly sweet.
  • Use a glass jar or container.  The high acidity in vinegar can react with metal or other materials, so make sure to use a glass container.  A one-pint mason jar is ideal because it has a tight fitting lid (a must!) and the perfect size and shape to fit the onions.  You can use another glass container but make sure it is more tall than wide so the solution will cover all of the onions.  
  • Pour vinegar solution over the sink. Place your glass jar in the sink to catch any spills, or better yet, use a funnel! This funnel set is awesome. You may be shocked how often they come in handy!
  • Have the vent going.  Even though the vinegar is only simmered for 30 seconds, it will fill your kitchen with the smell of vinegar, so get your vent going!
  • Pickle at room temperature.  Allow the onions rest for 30 minutes at room temperature before covering them and transferring to the fridge.
  • How to know when the onions are pickled.  Your onions are ready to eat when they are bright pink, pliable and tender with a subtle crunch.
  • Double or triple the recipe.  If you go through pickled red onions like us, you will want to double or triple the recipe. When scaling up, there is no need to change the ratio of the ingredients.  You can divide the onions between several jars are or one large jar. 
  • Reuse the brine. When you’ve devoured all your red onions, you can reuse the brine for other vegetables (within the 3 week storage window) – my husband does this all the time! Try mixing and matching sturdy vegetables such as carrots, cauliflowers, radishes, etc. You can also use a splash of leftover brine in homemade sauces or salad dressings.
showing how to serve quick pickled red onions by adding to steak tacos

HOW TO USE PICKLED RED ONIONS:

There are countless ways to use pickled red onions!  Here are a few to get your creative juices going:

up close of pickled red onion recipe in a glass jar

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Quick Pickled Red Onions

Pickled red onions are a must-have condiment! They add a zesty, tangy crunch and are always the highlight in whatever dish I’m eating AKA you will crave them in every bite! Best of all, this quick pickled red onion recipe is ridiculously easy to make with pantry friendly ingredients. Just bring vinegar, salt and sugar to a simmer, pour it over sliced onions and wait for 30 minutes – that’s it! You can keep your pickled red onions fabulous in their bright, tangy simplicity or customize them with all sorts of add-ins such as peppercorns, coriander, bay leaves, thyme etc. Your glorious pickled red onions will last for weeks in the fridge ready to elevate anything they touch.
Servings: 2 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 large red onion halved, thinly sliced (1/8-inch)
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt (or table salt)

Optional Add ins (see post for full list):

Instructions

  • Add sliced onions into a 1-pint mason jar; set aside.
  • Combine the vinegars, water, sugar and salt in a medium sauce pan and bring to a simmer. Simmer just for 30 seconds to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat and add any additional add-ins if using.
  • Carefully pour the solution into the jar with the onions (I do this in the sink using a funnel). Press the onions down with a spoon until submerged in the solution. Let the pickled onions cool to room temperature for 30 minutes, then seal and refrigerate.

Storage

  • The pickled red onions are ready to enjoy after 30 minutes or can be refrigerated for 3 weeks if using the basic recipe or dried herbs. They are good for up to 1 week if using fresh herbs.

Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • Vinegar: You can use any vinegar or mix of vinegars to pickle onions depending on your personal preference.  I tend to like mixing two vinegars for an added depth of flavor, but you can use just one if you like.  If using one, I recommend all apple cider vinegar.  In a side-to-side taste test of the recipe as written and ½ cup apple cider vinegar + ¼ cup white vinegar, both my husband and I preferred the one with red wine vinegar, hand's down. 
  • Slice the onions thinly and uniformly.  The key to quick pickled red onions in 30 minutes is to slice them 1/8-inch thick so they can soften and pickle quickly. This is easiest to do with a mandoline otherwise be VERY careful when slicing with a sharp knife.  If slicing by hand, I suggest discarding the last portion of the onion or you run the risk of cutting your stabilizing hand.
  • Thicker onions will take longer to pickle.  You are welcome to slice the onions closer to ¼-inch thick, but be mindful they will be crunchier.  Thicker onions will require several hours to pickle, up to overnight.
  • Use a glass jar or container.  The high acidity in vinegar can react with metal or other materials, so make sure to use a glass container.  A one-pint mason jar is ideal because it has a tight fitting lid (a must!) and the perfect size and shape to fit the onions.  You can use another glass container but make sure it is more tall than wide so the solution will cover all of the onions.  
  • Double or triple the recipe.  If you go through pickled red onions like us, you will want to double or triple the recipe. When scaling up, there is no need to change the ratio of the ingredients.  You can divide the onions between several jars are or one large jar. 
  • Recipe variations. See the post for all sorts of recipe variations. 

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4 Comments

  1. Stephanie says

    LOVE pickled onions and for such a simple recipe have never made them myself so to the store I go today for some red onions! Can’t wait for that glorious Mediterranean salad recipe, the picture looks amazing.

    • Jen says

      Thanks Stephanie! You will be obsessed with making your own pickled red onions, SO EASY and so versatile! And the rice bowl is coming tomorrow – I’m excited you’re excited – it’s the best!

  2. Meg says

    So stoked to try this! I love picked red onions and have wanted to try this for a while. I love all of your recipes so this is kind of the push I’ve needed to try it out!

    • Jen says

      Happy to give you the push ;)! Thanks for making my recipes!