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How to Sauté And Caramelize Onions Without Oil

Learning how to sauté vegetables without oil is a liberating endeavor. It will spare the precious endothelium cells of your arteries from damage and protect your waistline from expanding too! It simply isn't necessary to use oil when sautéing vegetables. This demonstration applies to sautéing vegetables like bell peppers, garlic, ginger, celery, and the like. The key is to use high heat and to have a cup or two of water on hand to pull the caramelization from the bottom of the pan. It is critical that you never leave the pan unattended. This can burn in a heartbeat if you aren't paying attention,
Just like sautéing onions with oil, this process takes fifteen to twenty minutes to achieve a deep, golden-brown caramelization. If you only want translucent onions, sauté on a lower heat setting, and stop the process before the onions turn brown.
Prep Time2 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time22 mins
Course: Cooking Basics
Cuisine: World
Keyword: carmelized onions, oil free
Servings: 1 cups
Calories: 170kcal


  • 1 large Onion, cut into desired shape about 4 cups diced


  • It is best to watch this video before proceeding.
  • Start with a large skillet or saucepan with a lid on high heat. I like a skillet for this job because the slanted sides are easy to work with. Be sure to use a skillet that is large enough to allow you to move the quantity of onions you have easily around the pan. Also, have a two-cup measuring cup of full of water on hand to use for sautéing the onions.
  • When droplets of water sizzle when they hit the pan, add the onions. Stir and scrape up any brown residue on the surface of the pan. If you only want to sauté onions to the point that they are translucent, use the same process but on lower heat.
  • Push the onions to the side and pour a tablespoon or two of water onto the browned surface. This should release the caramelization that has formed. Allow some, or most of the water to evaporate, then push the onions back onto the spot you were working. This will pull the caramelization back onto the onions.
    While moving the onions back and forth across the pan, continue adding a little water to pull up the brown caramelized onion residue. Do not allow the onions nor the pan to scorch. This will ruin the flavor of the dish and you will have to start over with a clean pan and fresh onions.
  • Tilt the skillet to bathe the sides with liquid as needed to pull the caramelization from the sides of the pan. Repeat this process until the onions have become fairly moist, partially from the liquid you’ve added to the pan and partially because the heat has caused them to release their juices. Cover, and allow the onions to steam for thirty seconds or so.
  • Remove lid and push onions aside to reveal the golden caramelization on the bottom and sides of the pan. Add water to release it, all the while scrubbing it lose with your bamboo spoon or spatula. Push the onions back onto the spot you’ve just cleared, and allow them to absorb the caramelization you’ve just released. Do the same for the rest of the pan.
    When you’ve cleared the entire pan of caramelization, cover once again and allow onions to steam for another thirty seconds to one minute.
  • Remove the lid from the onions and once again push them aside, add water to pull up the caramelization, and repeat the process until all of the brown is pulled onto the onions. You may also use some of the onions themselves as “cloths” to rub the caramelization off the sides of the skillet. It helps to give the skillet a good shake to distribute the onions evenly across the bottom of the pan. Cover and allow to steam for another minute.
  • Remove lid and continue to sauté the onions in the same manner as before: push to the side, add water and scrub up caramelization. Tilt the pan as needed to bathe the sides with water to pull off the onion residue.
  • Cover, and repeat until all of the onions are soft, tender, and a rich, golden brown color.*


* Note that the more caramelized they become, the less time you can leave them covered. It is important to keep an eye on them and not allow them to scorch!


Calories: 170kcal | Carbohydrates: 39g | Protein: 4g | Sodium: 17mg | Potassium: 622mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin C: 31.6mg | Calcium: 98mg | Iron: 0.9mg