Introduction: How to Chop an Onion

Picture of How to Chop an Onion

The full title of this Instructable is "How to Chop an Onion Without Crying Like Your Prom Date Just Stood You Up on Your Birthday". FYI.

Chopping an onion safely and without tears isn't as hard as you'd think! With a little bit of research and testing I've devised the perfect way to chop onions in any size, and in serious style!

Step 1: The NO TEARS How To's

Picture of The NO TEARS How To's

For a 'NO TEARS' onion chopping experience do these four things:

1. Put your onion(s) in the freezer for 15 minutes prior to getting started.
2. Get yourself some rad looking goggles that give you a full seal to your face. (swimming goggles work great!)
3. Once peeled, soak your onion for 5 minutes in cold water.
4. Place your cutting board on your stovetop (make sure it's not on first) and turn the hood vent on.

Onion tears are caused by the fumes that are released as the onion is chopped. All of the above help keep the fumes from reaching your eye balls.

Step 2: Finger Safe Chopping Technique

Picture of Finger Safe Chopping Technique

SAFETY FIRST! To keep your fingertips intact, while holding your onion (or any veggie) curl your fingers over so that your fingertips are tucked in and your knuckles act as guides for the knife. (see pictured)

Step 3: Let's Get Chopping!

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Once you've chilled your onion(s) in the freezer for 15 minutes, donned your goggles and turned on the hood vent:

1. Cut off the top end of your onion(s).
2. Peel the onion(s) so there is no papery skin left.
3. Soak in cold water for 5 minutes to reduce onion tears.

Step 4: Half It!

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Cut your onion(s) in half.

Step 5: Chop Chop!

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One half at a time, follow the images above to make your vertical cuts.

*A map for chunky chops is at the end of this Instructable.

Step 6: Get Horizontal

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Now turn your onion half 90 degrees counter clockwise and do your horizontal chops. Stop when you feel you can't make any more cuts safely (aka without the knife slipping).

Step 7: End Bit: Part 1

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To keep your fingers safe, the best way to cut the end piece is to flip it down onto the cutting board before doing a few more horizontal cuts.

Step 8: End Bit: Part 2

Picture of End Bit: Part 2


Turn what's left of your end bit and cut until you are close to the root. Compost that last little end nub along with the top bit. And you're done! Finely chopped onions without bloodshed or tears. A major kitchen victory!!!

Step 9: The Chunky Chop

Picture of The Chunky Chop

*Map for Chunky Choppin'


GeorgeS201 (author)2017-06-22

Cut a Lemon in half rub on hands works great or Lemon juice then wash hands

Marwanmemow (author)2014-01-29

do you have a solution to remove onion odors off your handst

JohnD316 (author)Marwanmemow 2017-06-11

Yes. If you buy a stainless steel odor remover you can rub it over your hands in running water and that will solve your problem. Anything stainless steel will do this. I am braver than most and simply use the same knife I used for the cutting and rub the knife blade backwards over my hand in cold running water. Works fantastic.

lmnohos (author)Marwanmemow 2016-03-09

rub your hands on some stainless steel. my sink is stainless so i can do it there. maybe u have a spoon or another utensil to use.

soysucielo (author)Marwanmemow 2016-03-08

A couple of drops of lemon juice rubbed around kills the onion (and most other) odors and leaves your hand smelling of fresh lemon. Any open cuts are going to burn, but a quick rinse under running water takes care of that. Also works well on fish and seafood odors on your hands.

relbatto (author)Marwanmemow 2016-03-08

gojo mechanics hand cleaner removes garlic and onion from your hands then you can use good smelling soap for the go jo...

relbatto (author)Marwanmemow 2016-03-08

gojo mechanics hand cleaner removes garlic and onion from your hands then you can use good smelling soap for the go jo...

vincent7520 (author)Marwanmemow 2014-03-18

Baking soda does the trick as well as others !

Emma B (author)Marwanmemow 2014-02-28

Surprised no one has mentioned salt for removing garlic, onion or other smells from hands!
Simply rub some table salt in hands and fingers and rinse with water.

I rub my fingers on a big stainless steel spoon under cold running water. Amazon also sells a stainless steel 'soap' shaped odor remover that I've heard works great!

Crantoch (author)Marwanmemow 2014-01-31

Lemon juice should do the trick.

Cueball21 (author)2017-05-05

Jessy! You always deliver and in a fun, informative and useful way.


I got here from the cooking class and through the first 2 lessons I'm right in step with you. I'm a home cook who likes to learn. Though I'm rarely bothered by onion off-gassing because I prefer sweet onions for the most common foods, one thing that I've read - and it works for me - is to never chop the root end of the onion off until the very last cut.

masterofcrafting (author)2017-04-28

Thank you so much! I hate having to chop onions because of what they do to my eyes. Thank you for saving me the trouble of having to take a break to leave the room every ten seconds of chopping.

Pilgrimm (author)2016-03-08

Very Nice 'Ible! I do this almost exactly the same way, and have been doing so for years. The only exception is that I store my onions in the veggie bin in the fridge (seems they keep longer) and I don't soak the onion in water, which is still a great way to minimize the fumes. But the absolute best suggestion I can make is to keep your onion knife as sharp as a razor! I mean like you could shave with it if you chose. For years I used original French Sabatier kitchen knives, which are made of carbon steel, and fairly easy to sharpen to a razor edge. But the onion juices turn the blades all shades of nasty black and blue. Yuk. Sharpening stainless steel knives is much harder to do properly, but the sharper the knife, the less likely it will be that you will "crush" as much of the flesh of the onion, releasing more of the noxious sulfurous fumes! Great job. Thanks for the post!

Saltyone (author)Pilgrimm2016-04-23

Not sure how to get back to you regarding your request that if I ever had the opportunity to go to Martin Yan restaurant to say you said hello, well I probably will be going to his MY China restaurant in May so if he happens to be there, who should I say says Hello" Pilgrimm and would he know you by that name?

Pilgrimm (author)Saltyone 2016-04-23

Oh! If you'll be going there in May, how about if I met you there, and we can share some DimSum? If you get there before me, make a mark on the sidewalk with a piece of chalk, and If I get there before you, I'll erase it! OK?

soysucielo (author)Pilgrimm2016-03-08

If you still have any of those knives around a green scotchbrite pad will shine them up nicely. Just remember to clean them after every use.

Pilgrimm (author)soysucielo2016-03-08

Thanks for your reply. However, a green scotchbrite pad will quickly ruin the surface of any good knife. The material is much too coarse. There are finer grades of the scotchbrite material available through industrial materials suppliers. But even those are too rough. The method I used to clean these knives (remember they are carbon steel, not stainless) is to slice a flat surface on the side of an old wine cork, wet the blade, make a thick paste out of Bon Ami or 'Zud' powder cleanser, and rub the surface of the blade with that mixture. It does the job, but is a lot of work, and dangerous too, if one is not extremely careful working near the edge. Much easier to buy a stainless knife! Thanks again!

wearelelo (author)Pilgrimm2016-03-09

Before the advent of stainless knives, scotchbrite was the cleanser of choice in commercial kitchens, because it was quick, effective, and the green scotchbrites were in every kitchen for the dishwashers to use. I remember when the first stainless knives came out. The steel was extremely hard and difficult to sharpen compared to the softer carbon steel knives. They quickly improved to where they are today, where sharpening them is just slightly harder than the old carbon steel knives. I have an old carbon Dexter french knife bought new in the early seventies that is almost a boning knife now. Great for butchering whole chickens, because little nicks from the bones are easily taken care of on a hand stone. For a good everyday knife nowadays I would recommend Forschner as being very god value for the money. I buy for function over looks. Some of the custom knife makers make some beautiful Japanese steel knives, like Murray in Oregon. Gorgeous to look at, and probably sharp nearly forever, but I find it hard to justify $600.00 for a kitchen knife. YMMV

Pilgrimm (author)wearelelo2016-03-09

I agree that in commercial kitchens they use a lot of scotchbrite to clean EVERYTHING. I ran such a kitchen for a time, and we did the same thing. But we didn't buy Forschner, or Henckels, or Japanese knives for our work either. We mostly bought whatever Sysco had to offer in the catalog. Stainless steel isn't really so hard, it's just a great deal more ductile because of the chromium that is added to the mix. I wouldn't think of using green scotchbrite on any knife except those that might have heavy rust on the blades. And I don't think I have anything in common with anyone who can afford to spend $600 for a Japanese damascus steel cook's knife, beautiful though it may be!

wearelelo (author)Pilgrimm2016-03-09

Those white plastic handled Sysco knives are just too lightweight for me. I prefer the heft of the Forschners, and although they're pricier than Sysco, they're nowhere near Henckels or Wusthof. Just a personal thing. The early stainless steel, back in the late fifties and sixties were very hard and difficult to sharpen once they lost their edge. We liked that they didn't turn food black, but hated trying to sharpen them. The knives quickly improved to where they were as easy to sharpen as the carbon steel knives. (I'm showing my age here. LOL)

Those fancy $600.00 knives certainly are beautiful though.In all honesty, if I could afford one I would spend the money on something else I needed.

Pilgrimm (author)wearelelo2016-03-09

I have to agree that manufacturers finally got wise to the fact that older SS knives really could not be re-sharpened without going to a whole lot of trouble. As it turns out, I once developed an acquaintance with the owner of a small Chinese food takeout shop. He was a master chef from Hong Kong, and I loved to watch him work at his range!

One day I asked him how they managed to keep their knives so incredibly sharp (I'm referring to "Chinese cleaver-type knives). Ever watch Martin Yan - "Yan Can Cook"? He showed me a large flat medium-coarse carborundum stone which was glued to a piece of hardwood. The stone itself measured about 4 or 6 inches wide by about 12 inches long. The board it was attached to had been cut to size, so that when he placed it in his stainless kitchen sink, under the water faucet, the water could be cracked open, falling right on the stone, and the board remained on the bottom of the sink at the back, and up on the edge of the sink in front of him. They would place the knife on that stone, almost flat, and give it 10-20 strokes up and down, on either side, while the running water carried away the grit. Although I've spent 40 years as a woodworker, and doing and carpentry as a hobby, and have sharpened a ton of hand tools, I had never seen a tool sharpened so fast, and so easily! Of course, that method was not the best for maintaining the life of the tool, but all they were concerned with was that it was SHARP! Before he sold that shop and moved on, he gave me an old knife that he said they had been using for at least 6-7 years. The blade was noticeably much 'shorter' in its vertical dimension. But he said that if he paid $80 for that knife originally, the 'amortized' cost was about $10 per year. Not bad. I tested the edge, and decided that I could shave with it. He said that it "needed sharpening." Impressive. Carbon steel of course.

ata1anta (author)Pilgrimm2016-04-14

My BF spent his youth in a Chinese restaurant waiting tables. He said the head chef was amazing with what he could do with his cleaver. He said there were some "odd" smaller knives which were acutally the remains of sharpened down cleavers.

Pilgrimm (author)ata1anta2016-04-14

It's a hard-earned skill, and an art. Takes many years of earnest practice to survive with all your fingers intact, and no blood in the food. I'm not there yet, tho I use my re-cycled chinese cleaver whenever I can. You could try looking for vids on YouTube of Martin Yan. Famous Taiwanese chef. Seen him mince an onion, a BIG onion in seconds. The blink of an eye. Had a TV show years ago called "Yan Can Cook!" Good Luck, have fun...

Saltyone (author)Pilgrimm2016-04-17

Martin is a San Francisco based Chef and has opened a new restaurant here in the south of Market area called M Y China, gets top reviews.

Pilgrimm (author)Saltyone 2016-04-17

Many thanks for your comment. Very happy to hear that Mr. Yan is still with us, and giving us the benefit of his tremendous talent and expertise. If it were possible for me to visit SF again, I would love to enjoy a meal at his restaurant. Unfortunately, age and finances no longer permit. If you should happen to visit, please tell him I said "Hello!" Many thanks.

poco424 (author)soysucielo2016-04-14

Have an old knife that I believe came from Japan (may have once been part of the bumper of a 53 Buick for all I know) that I've chopped veggies (including onions) for years. Run it across a steel before working with it and, although it doesn't hold an edge for long, it does an excellent job. I think that any knife will work as long as you put an edge on it before tackling the job. The trick is in knowing how to use a steel.
They now make steel shaped implements that are encrusted with industrial grade diamonds that will hone a knife pretty quickly, too. Have one and found it ptetty handy. Again, the trick is knowing how to use a steel as they work the same way.

jaysonT12 (author)Pilgrimm2016-04-16

Actually, storing onions in the fridge makes them spoil quicker. While it 'seems' they keep longer, they aren't.

Onions need air circulation and a dry area to maintain the dryness of its protective skin. I keep them out in the open on the counter.

pmshah (author)Pilgrimm2016-03-08

Actually sharpening the SS knives couldn't be easier. I have and use daily a collection of non serrated knives which are anywhere from 25 to 45 years old. BTW the 45 yeas old ones are "Granny's" USA which I bought while living in Chicago area in the 70s and the 25 year old ones are Wenger Swiss. All you need is the Roll-It sharpener or its clone from China which are like dime a dozen. Lookup on AliExpress. Believe me none of them look like these are more than a few months old. All I do is clean and dry them immediately after every use. I have not once used any motorised sharpeners.

trimbandit (author)2016-04-14

This is similar to how I cut them, but first I do a series of horizontal cuts parallel to the cutting board before doing the other two cuts.

DanK20 (author)trimbandit2016-04-18

I do this too; glad you added it.

Ggungaby (author)2016-04-17

The goggles might be a bit too much, but those chop charts will come in handy.

jaysonT12 (author)2016-04-16

So much time spent on assuring you have no tears.

I think the point is to get skilled enough to cut your onions quickly to avoid the tears...or just deal with them, its not that bad.

I have never seen a chef prepare onions for this purpose.

I MP (author)2016-04-15

As I read all the back and forth on knives, I admit I tend to grin a bit. I shop for my cookware and knives at thrift stores, flea markets and garage sales. I am on the hunt for cast iron cookware (Griswold, Lodge or Wagner) and mis treated Chicago Cutlery knives.All can be restored to full function with a little work. Restoring cast iron is a separate topic so I will restrict this to restoring the knives I find. I look for knives with bleached handles which indicates that they have had the misfortune to have been subjected to the dishwasher. This also tells me they have most likely never been sharpened . These are high carbon steel knives, they are moderately easy to have an edge restored and can be made frighteningly sharp..

If I can make a woodcraft knife out of a $13 Old Hickory butcher knife restoring a Chicago Cutlery knife is easy.

After use if they are wiped down and dried they will develop a patina but not stain.

cole103 (author)2016-03-08

So it takes you 20+ minutes and a $20 pair of goggles to chop an onion????

Try this:

Cut onion in half, top to bottom. Lay half flat side down and slice, turn 90 degrees and slice again==>chopped onion in <1 min. No tears

rakuspirit1 (author)cole1032016-04-14

Simplest way I learned in a chef cooking class is to slice and dice without peeling first. If you are just slicing, cut in half, lay half flat side down as this person has said and slice, then peel. If you need to make smaller pieces, you can cut across both ways on half an onion, but don't go all the way. Then put it down like above and slice, then peel.

scsosho (author)2016-04-14

I don't think you need such an elaborate procedure for this ( and waste electricity on this). I cut onions everyday for my cooking and have never experienced 'tears', except that if I cut it (the onion) by holding it in my hands. If you cut onion on a chopping board placed at about two and half feet from your eyes you never get any 'tears'.

linda160 (author)2016-04-14

if you dont cut the root end of the onion off until last and keep that part of the,onion down or away from you. you will not need goggles or anything else except a knife of course. :

Eh Lie Us! (author)2016-04-14

I worked as a prep cook for many years and this is how we did it. Well, we didn't chill them or soak them to reduce tears. No time for that. You go get your d@mn bag and start cutting away! Lose your jobs and then you'll have some real tears.
Repetition is a fantastic teacher because when you do things over and over again and there is some sort of discomfort involved (cramped hand, nicks, angry chef), you learn to evolve quick.

porschef (author)2016-04-14

Anyone cut onions for a living?
Or as one poster said...what if you are camping? Then a disagreement, with sources for both sides, someone mentioned a veg chopper, vidalias and the list goes on and on. Freeze for time or soak in water. There is a method for everyone who contibuted. I hope that they all methods work.
I started my professional culinary career after an apprentiship, three certifications from America Culinary Federation of America, a A.A.S on Culinary Tech. I also have a touch of O.C.D diagnosed and treated. I am a counter. So I hsve an intimate knowledge of the onion.
As a "Garde Manger." In a very popular, high capacity restaurant. I cut in one year, of 4 day weeks, 1500 pounds of yellow and red tomatoes daily for fresh "pico de gallo". I used a Forschner then bought a couple of Fredr.Dick knives then Westhof. I used painfully expensive knives for my a student/ apprentice salary,but it is worth it. I held a knife for, at least
four hours a shift. Westhof held an edge which is imperative to cutting onions. Cut not crush. No soaking, no freezing, but putting your onions you need for the day in the fridge is practical, home use beware of odour transfer.
Always use a clean cutting board, dispisable gloves if you like, good sharp knife, know how you are going to cut before you start cutting. Then make every cut count. DO NOT EVER FOR ANY REASON, USE THE BLADE OF YOUR KNIFE TO CLEAN THE FOOD PRODUCT OFF THE BOARD INTO ANOTHER CONTAINER. IF YOU MUST, ATLEAST TURN THE KNIFE OVER. NOT USING THE EDGE
SAVES THE KNIFE, THE BOARD AND PREVENTS ADDING PLASTIC TO YOUR FOOD OR SHAVED WOOD IF HOME COOKING. A couple of days of tears and bad jokes about country songs and a fan blowing left to right and all was well fir me. I have had prep cooks try to hold matches in their mouth or hold a chewed slice of bread in their mouth, plastic wrap over the eyes and one tried to put cigarette filters in his nose. No deal on all of those. If you have time for goggles and freezing for one or two onions, have at it. There is a method for every cook, the main thing is to enjoy cooking and enjoy dining.

KROKKENOSTER (author)2016-03-20

This is too elaborate for my liking , what do you do when camping? The best that have found is to do your onion cutting in a slight wind . After you did your chopping RINSE YOUR HANDS AND DRY THEM. Since I started to do this, I seldom had tears.Just do not stay in the air that passed somebody chopping then you have tears without touching the onions

srhnz (author)2016-03-12

Onions contain oxalic acid, (C2H2O4) which is what creates the taste and smell in the juice. Oxalic acid is hydrophillic...meaning it seeks water. When finds it, especially in the eyes...wet with salt water, the reaction creates sulphuric acid (H2S04). The eye reaction to acid? Flushing it with tears. However, this makes it worse, since you are still exposed to to the onion the eyes just keep pumping out more tears.

Some have mentioned cutting onions under water...guess why that works?

Simply having a running tap close by to where you are chopping also works...or try cutting with a wet hand. The ready source of water gives the oxalic acid somewhere to go other than your eyes. Mouth breathing works, but because the mouth is way more tolerant to acids, it has less effect.

przemek (author)srhnz2016-03-12

That's not right---oxalic acid is C2H2O4, so where would sulphuric acid get its sulphur? Onions emit a volatile enzyme 1-sulfinylpropane, which by itself irritates nerve endings in the cornea: no sulphuric acid involved, and thanks goodness or else I've been blinded long ago (I love onions)

srhnz (author)przemek2016-03-16

There seems to be mixed information...this one says sulphuric acid ( and yet others something called lachrymatory-factor synthase ( But we do agree that it is bloody annoying and any hints to help stop it is a good thing :-)

Micheld3 (author)2016-03-14

at this part of chopping you can stick a fork in he end of the onion easier to hold no danger for your fingers i have seen a cook doing it this way

TeresaM7 (author)Micheld32016-03-15

HA! Good idea! And shame on me for not having thought about it myself ;)

Micheld3 (author)TeresaM72016-03-15

it wasnt my idea too better wel stolen than bad invented

AdamG20 (author)2016-03-14

Easier way:

We cry because onion's fumes get to our eyes directly, and by our nose (and tear duct).

The point is not to let the fumes get around your face. I can chop onions for hours without tears just by blowing fumes away - by my mouth or by chopping under ventilation hood.

Just blowing slowly with mouth onto onions while chopping is enough, but remember not to stand in a place, where the fumes circulate and get to your face anyway (under some locker), and get the fresh air over your shoulder not directly from over the onions. ;) No special tools and pre-actions needed. :)

Greetz from Poland. :)

meswanson (author)2016-03-12

Thanks for a very useful instructable!

Geeseneck (author)2016-03-10

I`ve been cooking for many years now. And most of my cookings contain unions! i learned this trick from a cheff from the army. My grandad. Take your union put it in the cutting board. Cut with a sharp knife through the union from roots to leafs side. No you got 2 halfs. Lay them flat on service cut the leaf part of first then the root part. Remember wich side is wich. Peal the union. Then do all the kind of slices you want from the root side. And believe me no Tears!

About This Instructable




Bio: Made in Canada, I grew up crafting, making, and baking. Out of this love for designing and creating, I pursued a BFA in product design ... More »
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