Quick pickled red onions are a game changer. This super simple recipe yields about 2 cups of tangy, crunchy, pickled onions. Perfect for topping burgers, salads, bowls, tacos, and more. You’ll be eating these right out of the jar!
When I went to college in Boston, there were two burrito restaurants within 100 feet of one another – QDOBA and Boloco. I LOVED ordering their bowls and getting all the toppings.
The thing I remember most about the burrito bowls were the crunchy pickled vegetables and onions. I love the complexity of pickled red onions: the crunch, slight sweetness, and tang.
When I learned I could make pickled onions at home (without canning) I made these on repeat. This recipe is so easy to make, can be customized, and uses ingredients you probably already have in your pantry.
What is Quick Pickling?
Quick pickling is simply a method of pickling fresh vegetables in the refrigerator. You can pickle any fresh vegetable by soaking them in a brine of vinegar, salt, spice, and sometimes sugar. Although the flavor may not be as deep as a fermented pickling recipe, it’s a super easy method that requires no canning.
What to do with Pickled Onions:
These are SO good on burgers, tacos, bowls, salads, wraps, sandwiches, or just about any Mexican dish! They can take a bland dish and amplify it with flavor.
What Ingredients do I need for Quick Pickled Onions?
- Red Onion – For a single batch, one medium-size red onion is all you need. Red onions are a good source of antioxidants and fiber.
- Apple Cider Vinegar – This recipe calls for apple cider vinegar which offers a more complex flavor than white vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is known to improve digestion and lower blood sugar.
- Salt – I typically use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt because it’s what I have on hand. A nice sea salt would work well, you just want to use about half as much (adjust to taste – you can always add more!).
- Honey (or maple syrup) – I prefer using honey over other sweeteners because of the floral and nutty flavor it brings. Feel free to swap it out for maple syrup.- it will still turn out delicious!
- Mustard seeds (optional) – This is optional, but I like adding these for another boost of flavor (and I just really love anything mustard).
How to Make Quick Pickled Red Onions:
- Prep your jars – Make sure to use wash your pint jar in warm soapy water and set aside to dry or dry by hand.
- Prepare the onions – Slice them super thin and vertically. You can leave the slices longer, or cut them in half so they are more bite size. Place the onions in your jar. If there are too many onions, you can split them into two jars.
- Mix the liquid – In a small bowl or large measuring cup mix the apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, and mustard seeds (if using).
- Combine the liquid with the onions – Pour the vinegar mixture over the red onions and press the onions down so they are completely submerged. If a few are poking out, it is okay. As the onions rest, you can give them a stir to so they are evenly coated. I typically flip my jar upside down a couple of times to ensure everything is evenly coated.
- Allow them to rest – This is important. You want to let the onions rest in the mixture for approximately 1 hour at room temperature, and then move them to the refrigerator. I like to let mine rest for another hour in the refrigerator so they are chilled. They get better with age, so they’ll taste even better after 48 hours!
- Storing – Since this is not a canning recipe, these must be stored in the refrigerator. They can last for up to three weeks. If you’re using fresh herbs, they are good for one week in the refrigerator.
Customizing Quick Pickled Onions
- Fresh or Dried Herbs: Dill, thyme, rosemary, and oregano.
- Whole Spices: Mustard seeds, coriander, fennel, peppercorn, and red pepper flakes.
- Ground Spices: Turmeric, smoked paprika, or garlic powder.
- Garlic Cloves: Add a smashed garlic clove or finely diced
- Flavor: Lime juice
- Mexican Variation: Add the juice from one lime, a teaspoon of dried oregano, one crushed garlic clove, a 1/4 teaspoon of pepper, and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Can I swap the Red Onion for Another Onion Variety?
Red onions definitely work the best for this recipe. However, I have made this recipe with a Vidalia onion, which are nice and sweet. It turned out okay in a pinch, but I prefer the bite of the red onion.
Tips and Tricks
Slice them thin – Try to slice them as thin as you can, around 1/8 inch. If you slice them thicker, they will take longer to pickle and may be a bit crunchier.
Don’t skip out on the sweetener – Whether you use honey, maple syrup, or agave, don’t skip the sweetener. I have not tested granulated sugar with this no-cook recipe. The honey balances this recipe out.
Use a glass jar or container – The high acidity in vinegar may react with metal, so use a glass jar. Mason jars work well because they have a tight lid. You don’t want to infuse your refrigerator with the vinegar smell!
Pickle them at room temp – This recipe has you leave the onions in the pickling juice out for about an hour before moving them to the refrigerator. The ideal temperature for pickling onions is between 64 degrees and 71 degrees Fahrenheit. If you move them to the refrigerator immediately, they will just take longer to pickle.
Reuse the brine – Sometimes I go through these so quickly, so I’ll just top them off with a few more onions, give a stir, and put back in the refrigerator. I have also used the leftover pickling liquid to marinade beets or other veggies. Just be sure to use the pickling liquid within three weeks to ensure optimal freshness.
Freezing – Yes, these TECHNICALLY will freeze, but I don’t recommend it. I have put pickled red onions in meal prep bowls, frozen the whole dish, and they turn out fine. That said, they get a little mushy so if you don’t think you can finish a full jar within 3 weeks, just use half an onion.
Quick Pickled Red Onions
- 1 pint size jar or airtight container (2 cups)
- 1 red onion, sliced thin
- 2/3 cups apple cider vinegar
- 1.5 tablespoons honey, or real maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (see notes)
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds, optional
- Slice one red onion very thin and set aside. In the jar, mix the apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, and mustard seeds (optional) until well combined.
- Add the onions to the jar and press down so they are fully submerged. You may have to add a tablespoon or two more of apple cider vinegar to coat. Seal the jar, and flip it upside down a couple of times to ensure the onions are fully coated. Allow it to rest at room temperature for an hour before moving it to the refrigerator.
- The pickled onions are best enjoyed cold, and they can be stored in an airtight container for two to three weeks.
- The original recipe calls for fennel seed instead of mustard seeds. Other recipes include red pepper flakes, rosemary or other herbs. You can adjust the flavor how you like it.
- If you do not have honey OR real maple syrup, white sugar can be used as a substitute (same ratio).
- These can be eaten within the hour, but I prefer to let them sit in the refrigerator for another hour to allow the flavors to meld.