Pickled red onions add a vibrant pop of color and bite of acidity to any meal. Learn how to preserve pickled onions into shelf stable jars with this easy canning recipe.
I grow mostly storage onions and they are cured and stored in baskets on shelves in the coolest part of our unheated basement. These usually last until springtime. As temperatures warm, the onions start getting soft and are triggered to begin sprouting.
We ended up with a bunch of red onions last year. There was no way we would use them up before they went bad. I decided to can a few batches of pickled onions so they would last longer. Now that the storage onions are gone, I still have a few jars of pickled onions left to tide us over until the new crop is ready.
Tips for Pickling Onions
This is a simple canning recipe that relies on pure vinegar to preserve the onions. Here are some tips to make the best quality pickled red onions:
Start with healthy firm onions
This recipe uses red onions, but you can pickle any type of onion from sweet Spanish to pungent yellow. Choose firm onion bulbs with no mold or spongy spots. If your onions are soft or sprouting, consider freezing them instead. Plan on about 3 pounds of onions to fill 6 half-pint jars.
Use commercial vinegar with 5% acidity
You can safely swap the type of vinegar used to pickle vegetables as long as the acidity is at least 5%. I found the white vinegar made a sharp flavored pickled onion, apple cider works well too. But our favorite is the red wine vinegar. It has a nice, slightly sweet flavor.
- White vinegar is clear vinegar made by distilling corn and rye. It tastes more sour and acidic, but this may be just what you love about pickled vegetables. Choose an organic brand to avoid genetically modified corn.
- Apple cider vinegar is made from fermented apples. It has a fruity tart flavor that blends well with vegetables. The color is amber brown and may darken your pickles slightly, but the flavor is worth it.
- Red wine vinegar is my favorite vinegar for pickled onions. It is made from fermented red wine, and adds a slightly sweet fruity flavor to the onions.
How to cut onions without crying
Slicing into an onion releases an enzyme that turns into a vapor that irritates the eyes. In response, your eyes tear up to flush the irritant out of your eyes. Here are tips for cutting onions without crying:
- Chill the onions: Chilling the onions before cutting to decrease the amount of gas released into the air. Pop the onions in the refrigerator for a couple of hours, or freeze for 30 minutes before slicing.
- Cut the root last: The root end of the onion has a higher concentration of enzymes.
- Protect your eyes: Wear kitchen goggles to shield your eyes from the gas.
- Use a sharp knife: Cutting onions with a sharp knife will release fewer enzymes into the air.
- Use a fan: Cut the onions in a well-ventilated area and run a fan towards your work area to move the air away from your face.
If your eyes are irritated after slicing onions, flush them with cool water and use eye drops. Wash your hands well and avoid touching your eyes.
How to Can Pickled Onions
Preserving pickled red onions is pretty straightforward. You simply slice the onions, heat a simple vinegar brine, fill the jars, and process in a water bath canner for shelf stable jars.
This canning recipe is based on the “Vinegared Red Onions” from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. It has been adapted slightly to add more flavors to the brine with pickling spices.
If this is your first time canning, or if you haven’t canned in a while, it may be helpful to review theses article on Principles of Home Canning and Using Boiling Water Canners at the National Center for Home Food Preservation website. A more detailed and printable recipe can be found at the bottom, but these are the general steps for making and canning pickled red onions:
Step 1: Gather the canning gear
- Water bath canner and canning rack
- 6 half-pint canning jars
- Canning lids and bands
- Canning tools: lid lifter, jar lifter, canning ladle, funnel, and bubble popper
- Plus basic kitchen supplies such as a large saucepan, large prep bowl, liquid measuring cup, small pot, kitchen towels, tongs, knife, and a cutting board.
Step 2: Prepare the canning equipment
Wash the canning jars, lids, and tools in warm, soapy water and rinse well under clean running water. Place the jar rack into water bath canner, set the jars in the canner, and fill with enough water to cover jars. Bring the canner to a boil over high heat, and then boil jars for 10 minutes to sterilize. Warm your lids in a small pot of water over low heat. Keep jars and lids warm. Warming the lids may not be necessary for new style canning lids. Check the instructions on the box.
Step 3: Prepare the onions
Cut off the stem end of the onions and peel off the paper skins. Cut the onions into 1/4-inch slices. Freeze the root end and trimmings to use for making homemade stock.
Step 4: Heat the pickling vinegar
Bundle the pickling spices in a spice bag or coffee filter and tie with kitchen string. If you don’t have pre-mixed pickling spice, you can mix up your own with this homemade pickling spice recipe. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You just want to infuse the vinegar with a little extra flavor.
Add the vinegar, crushed garlic, and spice bag to a medium sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the garlic and spice bag and keep the brine warm until you are ready to fill your jars.
Step 5: Can the onions
Remove the jars from the canner, empty the water, and use tongs to pack the onions into the warm jars. Add two sprigs of thyme to each jar.
Ladle hot pickling liquid over the onions. Run the a bubble popper or plastic spatula through the jar to remove trapped air and compress the onions so they are submerged in the liquid. Boil the jars in a water bath canner as described in the recipe below.
When processing time is finished, let the jars cool, test the seals, label and date the jars, and store the jars of picked red onions in a cool, dark location. Let the pickles stand for a week before opening for the flavors to develop. Refrigerate the jar after opening.
Ways to Use Pickled Onions
Pickled red onions can be enjoyed in so many ways. The sharp flavor of onion mellows when it is pickled, making it a tasty pairing to most savory recipes. The onions add a nice pop of color, and bite of acidity balances out the flavors of a rich, heavy meal.
- Sandwich Topping: Try layering your favorite sandwich with a fork of pickled onions. Add them to burgers, wraps, roast beef, and barbecue pulled pork sandwiches.
- Mexican Dishes: Pickled onions add acidity and texture to your favorite Mexican and Tex-mex style dishes, such as tacos, tostadas, burritos, and fajitas.
- Fresh Salads and Salsas: Garnish a leafy green salad with colorful pickled onions for a pop of color and mild onion flavor. Pickled onions also combine well with mayonnaise-based foods, adding zing to your summer potato salad, macaroni salad, coleslaw, and pasta salads. Chop and add to fresh salsas such as this Italian salsa cruda, grilled salsa, or corn salsa.
- Meat and Seafood: Add a spoonful of pickled onions over roasted and barbecued meats and seafood, such as chicken, pork, steak, fish, or shellfish.
- Save the Pickling Liquid: You can use the mild onion-flavored vinegar in any recipe that calls for vinegar. Try drizzling a spoonful of the vinegar on roasted vegetables and oven-baked fries. You can also turn the pickling liquid into tasty vinaigrette that can be used to marinade meat or as a salad dressing.
Pickled Red Onions Canning Recipe
- 3 pounds red onions
- 3 tablespoons pickling spices
- 4 cups vinegar at least 5% acidity
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 12 sprigs of fresh thyme optional
Prepare the canning equipment:
- Wash the jars and lids well in warm, soapy water and rinse thoroughly. Check the rims for nicks and cracks.
- Place the jar rack into water bath canner, set jars in the canner, and fill the jars and canner with enough water to cover jars. Bring the canner to a boil over high heat, and then boil jars for 10 minutes to sterilize.
- Warm your lids in a small pot of water over low heat. Keep jars and lids warm. Warming the lids may not be necessary for new style canning lids. Check the instructions on the box.
Prepare the onions:
- Peel the onions and remove the root and stem ends. Cut the onions into 1/4-inch slices. Break apart to separate the segments. Set aside.
Heat the pickling brine:
- Add the 3 tablespoons of pickling spice to a spice bag or coffee filter and tie with kitchen string.
- Add the vinegar, crushed garlic, and the pickling spice bag to a medium sauce pan. Bring the pan to a boil over medium-high heat, and then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove the garlic and spice bag and keep the vinegar warm until you are ready to use.
Can the pickled onions:
- Spread a kitchen towel on the counter. Remove the warm jars from canner using the jar lifter. Drain the water back into the canner and line up the jars on the towel.
- Using tongs, fill the jars with the onions. Add two sprigs of thyme to each jar.
- Ladle hot pickling liquid over the onions leaving a 1/4-inch headspace.
- Run the bubble popper through the jars to release air bubbles. Wipe the rim of the jars with a clean damp towel to remove any residue.
- Use the magnetic lid lifter to lift lids out of the warm water, center lid on the jar, and screw on band until it is fingertip tight.
- Use the jar lifter to place the jars back into water bath canner leaving space in between them. Once jars are all in canner, adjust the water level so it is 1-inch over the tops of the jars. If adding water, use the hot water from your small pot.
- Cover the canning pot and bring it to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. Once the pot boils, process half-pints for 10 minutes at attitude of 1,000 feet or less. (Adjustments must be made for altitudes greater than 1,000 ft. - see note)
- When processing time is complete, turn off the heat and let the canner to cool for 5-minutes.
- Spread a kitchen towel on the counter. Use a jar lifter to lift jars carefully from canner and place on the towel. Allow the jars to cool in place for 12 hours. You should hear the satisfactory "ping" of the jar lids sealing as the jars cool.
- After 12 hours, check to be sure jar lids have sealed by pushing on the center of the lid. The lid should not pop up. If the lid failed to seal, refrigerate the jar.
- Remove the screw on bands and rinse the jars. Label, date, and store in a cool, dark location. Let the pickles stand for about a week before opening for the flavors to develop.
- Use home canned jars within 12-18 months. Makes about 6 half-pint jars of picked red onions. Refrigerate the jar after opening.
- This is a tested safe canning recipe from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving. Altering the recipe may make it unsafe for canning.
- All times are at altitudes of less than 1,000 ft. Adjustments must be made for altitudes greater than 1,000 ft.
- If you need immediate canning help or answers, please contact your local extension office.
You May Also Like:
- Bread and Butter Pickles
- Kosher Dill Pickle Spears
- Sweet and Sour Zucchini Pickles
- Make Refrigerator Pickles with Any Vegetable
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