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The Best Onion for Burgers, According to Burgerheads

A burger chef, a Shrek fanatic and a writer for ‘The Onion’ discuss their favorite strong-breathed burger toppings

It’s no coincidence that burgers and onions ended up together on a small blue-green planet in one of the hundred billion galaxies that make up our universe. They’re meant to be. One cannot exist without the other. But as many have pointed out, not every onion elevates a succulent burg. So, of all the various onions on Earth, what’s the best onion for burgers? Which, when you chomp into it, produces the ultimate burgasm? Let’s ask the Randys of the world.

Gregory Mrvich of Ballistic BBQ, a YouTube channel specializing in burger cooking: For Oklahoma onion burgers, I go with yellow onions for historic reasons.  These are the cheapest and most common onions out there, so I’m sure these were what they used during the Great Depression, when the onion burger was born. These onions taste like crap raw — very sharp and sulfury. But the flavor gets a lot sweeter after they’re cooked, and that sharpness mellows into a really nice burger topping.  

Red onions are very spicy, and I love using them raw, sliced very thinly on a gourmet-type burger. They look beautiful with that purple pop of color and have that nice, zesty bite. I also love them pickled as a burger topping.  

White onions are a good all-around onion for burgers. They taste good raw and cooked, but they’re not really one of my go-to onions.

I like sweet onions when I’m looking for a light onion flavor on a burger. They don’t have a lot of sharp bite, but give you a nice, sweet flavor with a crisp texture, which is important to me on a burger. I also like to use them when making a jam — like onion bacon jam — because they break down so quickly, really giving me that jammy texture I’m looking for.

George Motz, burger historian, host of Travel Channel’s Burger Land and a “foremost authority on hamburgers” according to the New York Times: Originally, I didn’t like onion on a burger, because it always gave me a stomach ache. The first time I really enjoyed it was when I went to El Reno, Oklahoma and had an Oklahoma fried onion burger, which is one I make all the time. I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t affect my stomach — why it didn’t make me want to stop eating burgers for the day. It’s because two things happened: It was a sweet onion, and sweet onions have much lower acid and much more sugar. When the onion was cooked, it caramelized into the burger right in front of me, and that took out some of the raw onion punch.

So that was that, and I think probably the best onion for a burger is the sweet onion.

The one onion I don’t like on a burger at all ever — I think it’s horrible, especially when it’s raw and worse when it’s cooked — is a red onion. It’s one of those things. I just don’t understand that onion at all. The only time that onion is good on a burger is when it’s pickled.

Chingy Nea, MEL’s resident burger junkie (she never has fewer than six patties per sitting): I went into this thinking my heart would surely belong to the yellow onion for its balanced flavor and proclivity toward caramelization. But for burgers, my allegiance lies with white onions, diced and grilled from In-N-Out Burger. They add a firmer, crisp texture to the sandwich that caramelized cannot, and they pack a burst of sweetness that raw onions just don’t got.

Rebecca Alter, who’s seen Shrek enough times to appear as a “Shrekspert” on daytime TV (Shrek famously says ogres are like onions because they have layers, so his fandom is obsessed with them): Shrek himself would probably just put thick-sliced, raw white onion on his burgers, because he’s a nasty, stinky boy. But I’m not Shrek, so I’ll say either thinly-sliced red onion, or better yet, those teeny, little pickly onions you get at McDonald’s. Both of those still appeal to the everyman, as does Shrek.

Matt Crowley, staff writer for The Onion: I’m happy to share my personal onion-burger preference — grilled white onions generally, or pickled red onions if they’re available — but I’d like to make clear it doesn’t represent the official position of The Onion regarding any burger topping choice.

So, by popular vote, the grilled white onion wins with three mentions — although, as Mrvich notes, there are situational onions, too. 

Good job, white onion. Your prize is a burger.