How to Survive An Onion

I confess it freely: I am an onion wimp. Tears, pain, and whining have been my cooking companions. Because I love these pungent bulbs and use them daily, I’ve developed a number of strategies to keep me in the kitchen long enough to get the job done. While a large batch of onions must still be done with multiple breaks (or just giving up and asking my husband to do it), I can now reliably get through one strong onion with little discomfort.

1. Light a candle (or curse the darkness)

I don’t know why it works. My husband says it has to do with air circulation. I speculate the answer is related in some way to lighting farts. Air or wind, it works. It’s also a good idea to turn on the exhaust fan if it’s close to where you’re working, and/or open a window if possible.

Next, learn to work quickly by using an easy technique…

2. Cut the ends off the onion.

I did see some advice about cutting the root ends off last. Thinking how to cut things that way makes my brain hurt, so I don’t do it. I blame my geometry teacher.

3. Cut the onion in half, end to end.
4. Peel the onion under running water.

This not only makes it easier to peel, but it keeps you safe from fumes while you’re fiddling with it.

5. Cut one half at a time, across the grain.

This is how I prefer to cut onions for most of my dishes but here’s a bonus tip: if you want to chop an onion, make a few slices from left to right then cut across the grain.

6. Put the slices in a bowl, and cover it with a slightly damp paper towel.

This quarantines the tear-making fumes of the first half, while you finish slicing the rest of the onion.

7. Rinse everything.

Rinse the knife, rinse the board, rinse your hands and praise the lord. Or something.

8. Cut the other half, then rinse everything again.

Now you get to cook! If you didn’t turn on the exhaust fan, for goodness sake do so now. Don’t worry, your home will still fill with the wonderful scent of cooking aromatics. What to do with your painlessly-sliced onion? I highly recommend a small batch of delicious Onion Confit from The Daily Bread.

6 Responses to How to Survive An Onion

  1. Jackie D says:

    Oh, MAN. I have a feeling that running water tip is going to make my life worth living once again.

    Thanks for the link — glad you enjoy the recipe!

  2. Anonymous says:

    The best solution I’ve found is to wear my swimming goggles. It looks a little dorky, but this way I can chop through a pile of onions without any problem. According to some other sites (ex. ) chilling the onion before hand helps too.

  3. Cat says:

    I’m considering goggles, since I would use them so frequently. I’m thinking they would make my life a lot easier.

    Sadly, the chilling trick doesn’t work. I often work with chilled onions, because I’ll put an unused half in the refrigerator. I haven’t noticed much reduction in tearfulness.

  4. Jackie D says:

    I rarely get tearful from onions — I just find the red ones so difficult to peel. I don’t know how I avoid the tears, though.

  5. neil says:

    The reason you’re supposed to avoid the root end is that that’s where most of the tear-producing stuff comes out. The root end is the end with hairs coming out of it.

    I would always tear up terribly from chopping onions. Then I learned this approach and it stopped entirely. No running water necessary.

  6. holly says:

    Back in the day when I worked in a restaurant kitchen, those of us who were tearful around onions tied a strip of platic wrap across our noses (somehow the mucous membranes in the nose also affect the tear ducts when they get inflamed). Amazingly, it works when nothing else does.