Food & Drink

Vivian Howard’s Secret-Weapon Onions

She calls the sweet and flavorful ingredient “R-Rated Onions”

Photo: Baxter Miller

“Like all true transformations, onions require more than 10 minutes over medium-high heat to fully develop. The process, the slow push from blonde to nutty brown, moves in stages. Onions’ maturation from PG to rated-R requires patience and a watchful eye. It’s not difficult, but it’s not a cinch. That’s why I suggest you make a big batch at once—as big as you can manage—so you have fully developed R-Rated Onions waiting when you’re in need of grown-up flavor but are short on time.” —Vivian Howard in her new book, This Will Make It Taste Good, which shares her secret-ingredient tricks like these flavorful cooked-down onions. She uses these in this Cheaters Only BBQ Pork.


  • Yield: 2 Cups

    • 4 to 5 large or 6 to 8 medium yellow or white onions

    • 1 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil

    • 1 tsp. kosher salt


  1. Peel your onions and cut them in half through their stem ends—longways, if you will. Slice them thinly with the grain, following the line from root to stem rather than cutting the onion across its belly. This is actually important because slicing it the other way makes the path to silky onions a longer one.

  2. Once your onions are sliced, heat your skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil, then the onions and the salt. Let the onions sizzle for a couple minutes. Stir with a wooden spoon or a heatproof spatula and watch as they wilt for about 3 more minutes. At this point, reduce the heat to medium low. Put a lid on and step away for a few minutes. Give the onions a stir every now and then. You don’t have to stand over it like risotto, but don’t go for a walk around the block either. Caramelized bits will accumulate at the bottom and sides of the pan, and that’s good. Just scrape them up and stir them in. A little color building as you go is okay, but don’t rush to brown them. The point is to cook the onions gently, coaxing them through stages of raw, wilted, sweaty, soft, light brown, and finally deeply caramelized

  3. About 45 minutes in, remove the lid for the last time. They should be a light caramel color. Now, with the lid off, you will need to watch more closely and stir more frequently. At some point you may find that despite your best efforts some of the caramelized bits, verging on burnt, cling to the pan and threaten over all onion ruin. Do not fret! Just add a ½ cup or so of water and use its energy to help scrape up the stubborn but tasty film. Let the water cook out of course. When you’re smiling over a soft, creamy, fragrant pile of mahogany onions, you’re done.

Excerpted from This Will Make It Taste Good by Vivian Howard