Quick pickling – also called refrigerator pickling – is an easy way to pickle almost any vegetable you can think of. It’s much faster (and much less work) than the traditional canning process.
Red onions are a great choice for pickling. They make a tasty topping for burgers, tacos, and BBQ. Even scrambled eggs. You can also use them as an ingredient in wraps and sandwiches. Or add them to a cheese/charcuterie board for extra color and flavor. Or just drop them atop cream-cheese covered crackers.
Some people say you can even eat them all by themselves, out of the jar, standing in front of the refrigerator. Not that we’d ever do that.
Look on the interwebs and you’ll find numerous recipes for pickled red onions. Ours is inspired by one that David Tanis wrote about in the New York Times years ago (he recreated a recipe from Zuni Café, an iconic San Francisco restaurant).
Most recipes for “quick pickles” are pretty similar. See, for example, our Pickled Watermelon Rind recipe. Basically, you just need to make a tasty brine of vinegar, sugar, and seasonings, then let the fruit or veggie swim in it.
You can finish this recipe in less than an hour (and much of that time is unattended).
This recipe yields about 2 pints. You can store the pickled onions in the fridge for 2 weeks or more. But you’ll have eaten them long before that.
- 1 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (rice wine vinegar works too)
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise (optional)
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (see Notes)
- ~6 whole allspice berries (or a pinch of powdered allspice)
- ~6 whole peppercorns
- ~6 whole cloves (or a pinch of powdered cloves)
- ~1 pound of red onions
- pint glass pickling jars with lids (2 should be enough)
- First, make the brine: Combine all the ingredients (except the onions) in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then let the mixture simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the brine to sit for 10 minutes.
- Prepare the red onions: Peel the onions, then cut them in half. Then cut each half into slices (we like slices that are about ¼-inch wide).
- Add the sliced onions to the brine. Bring the mixture back to a simmer, then continue simmering for 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat. Place a small plate or pan lid on top of the onions to keep them submerged in the brine. Let the mixture cool to room temperature (20 to 30 minutes).
- Sterilize the glass pickling jars: Bring a kettle of water to a full boil. Pour the boiling water into the jars, filling them to the brim. Splash extra water over the lids (we do all of this in the kitchen sink to avoid a mess). Let the water-filled jars sit until the onions have reached room temperature.
- Empty the water from the pickling jars. Using a slotted spoon, fish the onions out of the brine and pack them into the jars. Pour the remaining brine into the jars (you want to fully submerge the onions). Place the jars of pickled onions in the refrigerator. You can use the pickled onions immediately, but they’re best if you let them sit for 24 hours.
- The mix of spices you use to flavor the pickling brine is pretty much up to your taste. We’ve suggested what we like to use, but feel free to add or omit spices.
- You can substitute a small whole red pepper (we’d vote for one of the Asian-style peppers) for the red pepper flakes.
- We sometimes add mustard seeds to the spice mix. Or minced garlic. Or a sliced jalapeño pepper. Or minced ginger.
- And of course you can always add herbs. Dill would be the most obvious choice, but other herbs would work too.
- We don’t add salt to this recipe (we don’t think it’s necessary). But many recipes add a teaspoon or more.
- If you don’t have glass pickling jars, plastic containers will work in a pinch. But plastic can absorb odors, and it’s harder to sterilize. Given a choice, we’ll go with glass every time.
- We’ve mentioned several uses for these pickled onions. But once you make them, you can probably find many more.
“So good!” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “These onions have layers of flavor, you might say.”
“Yup,” I said. “We relish them.”
“Is there a joke marinading in there somewhere?” said Mrs K R.
“Just giving you my considered opi-onion,” I said.
“Stop!” said Mrs K R. “The onions have brought enough tears to my eyes.”
“What shallot be next?” I said. “We could post a peck of pickled peppers!”
“Careful,” said Mrs K R. “You could wind up swimming in the brine.”
Better knock off. Wouldn’t want to create a dill-emma.
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I always love those quick pickled onions..so convenient to have a little jar in the fridge.
Hi Angie, we LOVE these in tacos. Or anything. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I might just go make some right now.
best... mae at maefood.blogspot.com
Hi Mae, your refrigerator needs some of these. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I had been toying with making some of these, and now I am going to do it sooner rather than later. Thanks for the delicious looking serendipitous nudge.
Hi Anne, I always like a good serendipitous nudge. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Friends don't let friends eat Mexican food without pickled red onions.
Hi Lea Ann, very true! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I try to always have a jar in the fridge. We eat them on most anything along with our pickled jalapenos. So much flavor for so little effort!
Hi Abbe, these do have a lot of flavor, don't they? Love 'em! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I'm intrigued! I normally just pickle them in seasoned rice vinegar but I'm really liking the spices used in this version.
Hi Pam, this is such a nice blend of spices -- lotta flavor. :-) Thanks for the comment.
*laugh* Somewhat against my religion because of all the sugar BUT since I do not eat cake or put sugar in my coffee ? . . . Loving your recipe as I do anything oniony I must copy during the weekend . . . can see myself standing in front of that open fridge door jar in hand . . . ! And with my daily use of wraps and sandwiches -thanks !!!
I've done a very quick version just to get the sharpness out of the onions. But yours has more depth of flavor---well done!!! I know I'll love it!!
Hi Eha, these pickled onions definitely are on the sweet side, but SO good. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Liz, these really have quite nice flavor -- depth, as you say. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Such a great condiment and so good in sandwiches!
you guys!:) so funny. yes i love me a pickled red onion too!
Hi Dahn, we LOVE pickled onions in sandwiches. Or all by themselves. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi Sherry, we do rather enjoy writing those endings. :-) Thanks for the comment.
John, we love these warming spices in there with the star anise and cinnamon- so good. There are so many delicious ways to enjoyed pickled onions this summer. Thanks for the recipe inspiration.
Hi Bobbi, we're always looking for ways to use star anise. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love pickled onion - red, yellow, white. It's all good. Great recipe for red onion pickles. Lots of great spices.
Hi MJ, we're really partial to red onions. but we'll pickle any that we have on hand. :-) Thanks for the comment.
First, I love your puns. :-)
Second, I love pickled onions. This recipe is quite different from mine, so I'm eager to try it. The spices are great. I always like to a jar of this on hand, as it's so delicious combined with so many things. :-) ~Valentina
Hi Valentina, this definitely has a rather complex flavor. Almost busy, but it works. I think. :-) Thanks for the comment.
We do love quick pickled onions but I usually make it without sugar.
Hi Balvinder, I've never made this without sugar -- should try that one of these days. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I got red onions at the market this morning so I can use these in my carne asada tacos this week. Love the star anise as a flavoring - not “optional” for me! I’ll report back!
Hi David, star anise isn't optional for us, either, but not everyone has it on their spice shelf. I knew you would, though! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love these quick pickled onions because they are so easy to make, and add that extra oomph to some many things, from a simple sandwich to stewed pork to everyday taco night.
Hi Carolyn, these are so good, aren't they? And SO easy! :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, I hope this comment will work. I tried several times . Your pickled onions are a great addition to many of my sandwiches. Thanks.
Hi Gerlinde, this one (and one other) went through. Commenting can be such a pain on Blogger, alas. Anyway, we love these on sandwiches! And tacos. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I need to buy some red onions and pickle them straight away. I do lots of pickling, but haven't pickled onions, wonderful to have on hand as you say. Such clever humour too. Wonderful post, thanks KR.
Hi Pauline, glad you enjoyed the ending! Recipe is pretty good, too. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I love pickled red onions. I'm one of those people who would eat them on their own. I've never read a recipe for them, though, and I'm so surprised at the number and varitety of ingredients!
Hi Jeff, most recipes use fewer ingredients than this one -- typically vinegar, sugar, maybe salt, and minimal seasoning. We like a more complex flavor, though, as you can see. :-) Thanks for the comment.
This is perfect timing - I'm about to make a Mexican recipe and realized it calls for these!
Hi Ashely, enjoy! :-) Thanks for the comment.
I loved red pickled onions. As you said that they go great with so many things. Great recipe!
Hi Dawn, these are really good, aren't they? :-) Thanks for the comment.
Hi John, I've made quick pickled onions with basically salt, vinegar and sugar. I love that you added some warm spices. I'll definitely be giving pickled onions a try your way!! Great recipe!
Hi Marcelle, we do like spice, and it shows in this recipe. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I feel like my go to party trick (should the need for one ever arise) would be to bite into a whole raw onion I love onion so much. I could definitely snack on these no problem.
Hi Laura, I like onions, a lot, but not quite as much as you do. :-) Thanks for the comment.
Looks fantastic! I've been on something of a Mexican food kick lately and, as you no doubt know, these pickled onions are used pretty extensively so they're definitely on my to do list. Amazing how they change color like that, isn't it?
Hi Frank, hard to imagine a lot of tacos without pickled onions. :-) Thanks for the comment.
I always make this at home, so good with burgers, sliders, hotdogs and bao buns
Hi Raymund, pickled onions -- whether red or not -- are so darn versatile, aren't they? :-) Thanks for the comment.
I always order these when I'm out and about. I had no idea you could make them so easily at home. Thanks!
Hi Madalaine, we love these things! And yeah, quite easy to make -- nice bonus. :-) Thanks for the comment.
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