How To Can Pickled Onions

This past fall when I harvested our onions, I was disappointed to find that I had a ton of teeny tiny little bulbs and not nearly as many larger ones as I’d hoped for. What do you do with such tiny onions?

canning pickled onions

Well, one thing I did was pickle them! Pickled onions are very popular, and although I’d never had them, I thought this was the perfect time to give them a try. If we liked them, it would be a great way to preserve those small bulbs.

You can make pickled onions out of practically any kind of onion.

These jewel-toned beauties should be sliced, pickled, then canned for best results. They are easy to eat right out of the jar, or as a condiment on top of salads, pasta, burgers, etc.

They are delicious in sandwiches and the zestiness of the onions helps to balance out the flavor of rich, fatty meats. There are hundreds of uses for them!

You can also use them anywhere you would normally use onions, like in mayonnaise-based salads or tacos. They are great for serving at parties and for providing a unique, tangy flavor to any meal.

They can be a bit time-consuming to make, but definitely worth it if you have a bumper crop of onions. Give this recipe a try.

pickled onions

Tools and Supplies

You won’t need very much besides your onions, a few spices, your canning kit and a handful of kitchen utensils.

Onions: It’s best to use bulbs that are an inch around or smaller for whole canned pickled onions. If you choose to use large onions, slice them into rings.

These can be sliced any size you would like, but ideally should be sliced into thick, ½ inch slices. This will make them easy to extract and serve without them falling apart, but will also prevent them from being so thick that they don’t pickle fully.

Distilled White Vinegar: You can use industrial white vinegar, like I did, but one of the things I learned later was that the white vinegar (you know, the kind sold in bulk at the grocery store) can give your onions a harsher taste. Go for the paler vinegars, or apple cider vinegar in a pinch.

Canning Salt: make sure you get canning salt for this recipe, not standard table salt or kosher salt. It is necessary for the pickling brine. You won’t need much, about 2 teaspoons per batch.

Spices: For the pickling spices, you will need mustard seed and celery seed for sure, and you have a few other choices.

You can buy a bottle of the premade pickling spices sold at the grocery store, or you can make your own. Play around with your pickling spice mix. Another tried-and-true classic is garlic, salt, and bay leaves. You could also try unique spices like star anise, ginger, orange peel, or oregano.

Sugar: You should use a little bit of sugar to provide a balance to the salty, piquant brine. Most people use white sugar, but you could also experiment with other kinds if you prefer. Again, sugar is not mandatory, but definitely worth trying if you find that your pickled onions are a little bit too bitter.

Measuring Spoons: measuring spoons come in handy for precisely measuring the amount of spices that go into each jar, and also for nailing the ratios of ingredients that make up your pickling brine.

Water: water is needed to operate the canner, to peel the onions and also to make the brine it will use to simmer and then pack the onions.

Water Bath Canner: any standard water bath canner will work for this recipe, whether it is new or old. If you purchase a water bath canning kit, this will be the largest and central component in the kit.

Jar Rack: a jar rack, whether it is removable or integral to your canner, is needed to hold the jars in place during the canning process and prevent them from rattling into each other when the water is boiling. You never want to let your jars simply sit on the bottom of the canner without a rack because they are more likely to topple and break.

Stockpot, Large: you need a large stock pot that holds at least eight quarts in order to make your pickling brine and then simmer the onions immediately prior to packing.

Stockpot, Small: a smaller stock pot, sized to hold the wire mesh basket below, will help you make quick work of peeling pesky pearl onions by boiling them for a few seconds prior to dunking them in cold water.

Mixing Bowl, Large: a large mixing bowl for holding ice water is part of the speedy peeling process I referenced above. 

Wire Mesh Basket: a wire mesh basket or sturdy strainer that can hold small batches of onions for dunking in the small stock pot for peeling. Make sure it has an insulated handle or some other way for you to hold it without getting burned.

Canning Jars, Pint: use pint jars for this recipe. Larger quart jars cannot be effectively processed using a water bath canner for pickled onions.

Jar Lids: You can reuse your bands between canning seasons, but make sure you always have new lids ready to go. If you try to reuse lids, they often won’t form a tight seal as the adhesive has worn away. This can cause your onions to spoil prematurely.

Bands: as mentioned, you can use brand-new or “old” bands as long as they are in good shape. That means no rust, no cracks and no deformation. They must hold the lids down with even pressure all the way around the circumference of the rim to ensure a good seal and safe, effective canning.

Bubble Tool: a bubble tool, sometimes called a debubbler, is just a thin widget that you can swirl in a filled jar to help release any bubbles that might be trapped. If you don’t get them out, those air bubbles can speed spoilage or cause a loss in quality. You can use a special canning tool for the purpose or just grab a clean chopstick or metal skewer.

Jar Tongs: specialized tongs to help you lift hot jars in and out of boiling hot water without getting burned. These are indispensable; get them!

Funnel: a specialty canning funnel that will help you fill your jars without making a mess or splashing brine on the rims and threads of the jars.

Slotted Spoon: a simple, slotted cooking spoon is all you need to mix your brine and simmer your onions.

Ladle: if your stock pot lacks pour spouts, a ladle will give you better control over covering the onions with the brine during packing.

Paring Knife: a good sharp paring knife is what’s required to peel and stem your onions prior to simmering.

Cutting Board: any cutting board will work here, just make sure it is completely clean and large enough to easily work on.

Paper Towels: paper towels are a must for wiping off your jar lids immediately prior to packing, and also for cleaning up those messes and dribbles that will always happen.

Timer: a timing device. Your choice- use your phone, a watch, kitchen timer or your stovetop clock.

And that is all you need to crank out your own delicious, tangy pickled onions at home. Now, let’s move on to the steps.

Hot Pack Canning Pickled Onions, Step by Step

Before you start, take the time to review all of these steps in order. Precise timing is important and you don’t want to be reviewing instructions when you need to be working while your jars are hot and onions are cooking. 

Step 1: sanitize jars and tools. The most important step in any canning endeavor. Anything that is going to come into contact with your onions must be absolutely clean, including the jars, your tools, lids and more. Give everything a wash with hot water and soap, or run it through the dishwasher. If needed, prepare lids according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Step 2: boil, trim and peel onions. We have to peel our onions before we can them. To do this, bring water to a boil in your small stock pot and fill the bowl with cold water, using ice if needed.

Load a batch of onions into your wire strainer basket and then dunk them in the boiling water for 30 seconds before removing them and dunking them in the cold water for 30 seconds.

Dump the onions onto the cutting board, cut a 1/16-in slice off of each end and then remove the peel. Discard peels.

Step 3: prepare tools, ingredients and workspace. With the onions peeled, take a moment to go over your workspace. Make sure you have plenty of room on your stovetop for your large stockpot and your canner.

Have all of your tools close at hand, and make sure your spices are nearby along with measuring spoons. Have another clean cutting board ready to hold hot jars immediately prior to filling while protecting your countertop.

Once everything is set, go on.

Step 4: fill canner with water, bring to simmering boil. Add water to your canner that will cover the jars, when they are in place, with at least one inch of water.

Make sure you allow some room for displacement so it won’t overflow. Adjust the water level and recheck if necessary, and once you are sure you have it right turn on the heat and bring that water to a boil.

Step 5: preheat jars. Load your jars, tops removed, into the canner using the canning rack if it is removable or your jar tongs if it isn’t. Let them get hot and stay that way until you’re ready to pull them out and fill them with the onions. 

Step 6: prepare brine. Prepare the brine in the large stock pot by adding a cup of water, 2 teaspoons of canning salt and 2 cups of sugar. Sure everything together and then bring it to a gentle boil, leaving it there for 3 minutes.

Step 7: simmer onions, set timer. Once you’ve incorporated the ingredients for the brine and let it boil gently for 3 minutes, carefully dump your peeled onions in. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer the onions for 5 minutes.

Set your timer for 5 minutes, and move on.

Step 8: remove jars from canner. Using your jar tongs, carefully remove the hot jars from the canner, emptying the water back into the canner. Place the jars on a clean cutting board near your pot of brine.

Step 9: measure and add spices to each jar. To each jar add 2 teaspoons of mustard seed and 1 teaspoon of celery seed if you were following the standard recipe. Add any other spices you want at this time. Work quickly because you’ll be pulling your onions out very soon and you don’t want to overcook them.

Step 10: pack jars with onions. Using your funnel and slotted spoon, pack each jar with onions leaving 1 inch of head space.

pickled onions

Step 11: cover onions with brine, adjust headspace. Once your jars are packed and ready, you can ladle the rest of hot brine over the onions, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles. Wipe rims of jars with a wet paper towel when you are done.

Step 12: cap jars with lids and bands. After filling the jars and covering the onions with brine, making sure that the headspace is correct and bubbles are removed, cap the jars using the lids and secure each with a band.

Make sure you handle the lids only by the edges to avoid interfering with the compound, and don’t overtighten the bands. Hand tight is sufficient.

Step 13: place jars carefully in canner. With the jars filled and capped, carefully load them back into the canner so you don’t get burned by the boiling water. Ensure that each jar stays upright and level. If the onions are allowed to press against the lid, it can result in a failure.

Step 14: bring canner to boil. Once all of the jars are loaded back into the canner, wait for the water to come back to a full boil.

Step 15: processing begun, set timer. With the water at a boil, set your timer to begin processing. Set your timer for 10 minutes if you are below 1,000 feet in elevation; set it for 15 minutes if you are between 1,001 and 6,000 feet in elevation; set it for 20 minutes if you are above 6,000 feet in elevation.

Step 16: processing finished, cut heat. When the timer goes off cut the heat to the canner.

Step 17: rest jars in canner. Don’t pull those jars just yet. Leave them in the counter, untouched, for at least 5 minutes.

Step 18: cautiously remove jars from canner. If your rack is removable, carefully pull it out of the canner to remove all the jars, otherwise use your jar tongs as before. Again, be extremely careful that you don’t tip or tilt the jars so the contents don’t slosh and press against the lids. Even at this phase it can still result in a failure.

Step 19: cool jars completely. Carefully set your jars aside on a cutting board or folded towels to cool completely. Be sure that the jars will not be exposed to any drafts from windows or doors, and it never set them on a stone or metal surface; temperature shock can result in cracking or shattering!

Expect your pint jars to take anywhere from 12 to 18 hours to fully cool. Do not disturb them at all during this time!

Step 20: check seals. Don’t assume that your pickled onions are good to go. You must check the seals first. Press on each lid with a finger to feel for popping, movement or flexing. Any movement of any kind is a no-go.

If they pass this first test, remove the bands carefully and then gently pick up the jar just by the edges of the lid. It should not hiss, pop or release.

If any of the jars fail either phase of the test, set them aside. I’ll tell you what to do with them after these instructions.

Step 21: wipe down. Assuming that your jars pass the seal integrity check, take a damp paper towel and wipe them down to remove any residue from the tanning process.

Step 22: store. Once canned, pickled onions last indefinitely, at least several years if stored properly in a cool, dark, dry location. Store them in the fridge for up to 6 months (allowing to cool to room temp. first), or process quarts in a water bath canner for 20 minutes.if the seals failed.

Step 23: all done! That’s it, you’re finished. Your pickled onions are ready to enjoy and countless recipes and as toppings for all kinds of things.

I doubled the recipe, which gave me 8 quarts plus a pint. These tasty vegetables are a great thing to have in your refrigerator, as you can use them as a last-minute addition or garnish to just about any dish. Plus, they are super low in calories (less than a hundred per serving) and high in antioxidants and other good-for-you nutrients.

pickled onions

A Lid Failed Testing. Now What?

You’ve got two options if your lids fail testing: The first is simply to pop them in the refrigerator and eat them within 3 to 6 months. You still pickled them, and they will keep for a while if they are refrigerated.

The second is to reprocess them if you want maximum shelf life. Simply dump the contents of the failed jar into a brand new jar and, using a brand new lid, process them again according to the instructions above. Assuming they pass the lid check next time they will store basically forever, as normal.

Tips and Tricks

  • When you store your onions, you might notice that they change color a bit. Red onions will develop a gorgeous pinkish hue when stored. Don’t panic and think that your onions have gone bad just because they are a bit discolored.
  • If decanting for daily use, make sure you store your onions in a glass or ceramic container. Most metals interact poorly with vinegar, and plastic containers can leach chemicals into your food.
  • Generally, it is easy to tell if pickled onions have spoiled because they will taste too soft and have an odd flavor. Sometimes, they will develop mold.In this case, you should not eat your pickled onions because you could be putting yourself at risk for dozens of different foodborne illnesses, including the dreaded botulism.
  • Other telltale signs that your onions have gone bad are lids that are puffed out or air bubbles in sealed canned food.

The Verdict

Maybe pickled onions are an acquired taste? Maybe we just aren’t onion people… Or maybe you have to eat them with artisan cheese and crusty bread.

Let’s just say I now have a ton of pickled onions in the back of my fridge. It wasn’t that they were bad… they just had a really strong onion flavor. You know, like biting into a raw onion. They sure are pretty though. I hate for them to go to waste.

Anyone have a suggestion as to how I might be able to use these still? Surely there’s a recipe I can include pickled onions in. That’s my experience. Have you ever pickled onions?

18 thoughts on “How To Can Pickled Onions”

  1. Recipe looks like it’s for candied onions since it’s just sugar, salt, water & spices. Brine would include vinegar

  2. I would use the onions in stir fry or Mexican recipes. You might also try to shish kabob them and cook them over a low heat fire, yum yum yum.

    Also, I would dice some, slice some and leave some whole.

    Take some of your onions and make chutney with them, say with fruit (pineapple, mango, oranges, limes), sugars, cinnamon like spices and fresh ginger.

    I would like to try some sweet and sour onions, similar to pickled ginger or bread and butter pickles.

    There are so many great ways to use onions. I wish I had your problem of too many onions.

  3. In my youth, Pickled Onions were a British food pantry staple. They were as much a staple as chutney, mustard and assorted relishes, which were also ubiquitous and popular throughout Britain and the British Commonwealth states.

    Most British pubs will include ‘pickles’ as they are affectionately known, with bread and Cheddar Cheese, and offered as a cheap lunch item titled; ‘The Ploughman’s Lunch’.

    There is no set time of day to enjoy pickles, and most people will usually eat one or two from the jar at a sitting. They are strongly flavored and crisp to the bite.

    Cheddar and Cheshire eating cheeses are the traditional plate company for pickles. Fresh bread and butter is also a must.

    I do not believe pickled onions are ever used as an ingredient to extend their mandate, or morph them into other food products, nor are they ever cooked. They are always enjoyed straight from the jar in which they were packed.

    I have included a recipe for traditional English Pickling Spice in one of my books; ‘The Working Chefs’ Edition of Classic & Traditional Sauces, Relishes & Dressings’, which you can in the relish section at:

  4. I’m thinking you could slice those babies in half and batter ’em up and deep fat fry them into itty-bitty onion rings. And then you could serve a chopped steak on top. The malt vinegar might season them so that they wouldn’t need a ton of ketchup, and cooking them will sweeten them into something palatable. I’m like you – I don’t much care for straight-up raw onion taste, but my son has eaten them like apples since he was small!

  5. Last year I planted in my backyard some Chayote, a vine with succulent fruits that grow so abundantly. I decided to make them into pickles.I added small onions and bell peppers for color and variety. I marinated a basin full of drained shredded chayote in boiling hot 2 c white wine vinegar,1 tbsp salt, 4 tbsp.sugar, onions, red peppers, sliced ginger, overnight.After draining, marinate again in the boiling solution, let it cool before storing them in jars. I gave it away to friends for Christmas and they loved it so I made another batch for those who ordered a second jar. I still have some which I enjoy eating with fried fish and broied pork. It is a Filipino delicacy.

  6. I love eating the cocktail onions with my meal. But then I do like sweet raw onions. I have been “country” all my life. I have picked eggs before and used them in all kinds of salads. potato, tuna, chicken, etc. Have you tried to can/pickle the onions with Apple cider vinegar? Or just regular vinegar.

  7. I agree with Tommy D,sugar would make them more to your taste buds.You could drain the liquid back into a pot add some raw sugar,boil and repeat the process.Or give them to friends and family that would save you time.

  8. Sounds like the recipe could use some sugar, or Stevia.
    The pickled onions I’ve had were pickled in the ‘bread and butter’ style.
    Sorta sweet/sour.

  9. I would try using them in a vinaigrette or a sauce, maybe a steak sauce? Though I’m not sure how well a malt vinegar taste would work as a salad dressing. Since you don’t like the pickled onions maybe the next time you have small onions you could try dehydrating, then grinding them to make onion powder. I’m planning on doing this later this year when my onions are ready.

  10. We always used to eat them with shepherd’s pie, gives a nice bite to the sweet tomatoe-y-ness. They are very strong in taste, one or two is usually enough!


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