So, do you like chopping onions? Most people I know don't, because not only can it be a hassle, cutting onions can also make you cry. But here's the thing, if you know how to properly cut an onion, it's easy, safe, and relatively tear-free.
Of all the cooking skills I've learned over the years, this is the one skill that has made the most difference in terms of making cooking enjoyable.
I don't worry about chopping off a fingertip, and rarely do I cry over onions (other things yes, onions no).
So what's the trick?
Everyone will tell you that it helps to use a sharp knife. Well, a sharp knife will make cutting anything easier. But the reality of a home kitchen is that our knives aren't always as sharp as we would like them to be.
Which is why it's even more important to learn how to cut an onion properly—stabilizing the onion as much as you can throughout the cutting process, and holding the onion in a way that protects your fingers.
How to Avoid Tears When Cutting an Onion
The trick to avoiding tears is to keep your exposure to the cut sides of the onion to a minimum. When an onion is cut, fumes are released that irritate the eyes.
So when you cut an onion in half, keep the cut sides down on the cutting board. When you first start to make cuts into the onion, keep the onion together so you don't expose the cuts.
When you make the final cuts to the onion, work fast and move the chopped onions into a bowl, away from your eyes, quickly.
I made short (about a minute long) video of how I cut onions to demonstrate, and the more detailed instructions follow. Hope this helps any of you who struggle with cutting onions!
How to Chop an Onion
- 1 onion
Slice 1/2 inch from stem end, barely slice root end:
Onions have two ends—a stem end, and a root end. Place the onion on a cutting board with the stem end pointing to the side.
Hold the onion firmly with one hand, and with the other hand, cut about 1/2-inch from the top of the stem end of the onion with a sharp chef's knife.
Then, turn the onion around and make a shallow cut (maybe 1/8-inch) off the root end, cutting off the stringy roots, but leaving the hard root core intact.
Cut onion in half, top to bottom:
Place the onion large-cut side down on the board (with the shallow root cut side on top). With the onion stabilized on the board, position the chef's knife directly over the root end of the onion and cut straight down to cut the onion in half.
Place the onion halves cut side down on the board to minimize exposure to the eye-hurting fumes coming from the cut sides of the onion.
Peel back onion skin:
Peel back the onion skin of one of the onion halves. There is no need to pull it all the way off if it is still attached to the root end.
Make lengthwise cuts, angled toward center:
Place the onion half large-cut-side down on the cutting board. Make lengthwise cuts into the onion, from root end to stem end, with the knife tip almost all the way to the root end (but not cutting through the root end).
Cut at an angle as you go around the onion, with the blade aimed toward the center of the onion.
The number of cuts depends on how big a chop or slice size you want, fewer cuts for thick slices or roughly chopped, more cuts for thin slices or finely chopped.
Make cross-wise cuts:
Once you are finished making angled lengthwise cuts, make cross-wise cuts. Hold the onion firmly with your fingers curled so that your knuckles press against the side of the knife as you cut the onion (this protects your fingertips from getting cut).
As you make cuts from the end of the onion, scoot your hand back, using your knuckles a guide for the knife.