How do you efficiently peel an onion, so both time and material wasted is minimized?

The way I do it: I cut off the stem part farthest from the roots (which has to go anyways, and gives me a nice flat bit to stand the onion on for the next cut), then slice it in half. At this point comes the crux: to peel off the brown outermost layer, I can worry at it with my fingernails or a knife, but that brown stuff mostly flakes/brakes off and doesn't detach in a nice way, except in very rare occasions. Even though it's material efficient, it takes too long.

Alternatively, I can peel off the next-to-outermost good ("meaty") layer together with the brown skin, which goes very fast but wastes that layer.

Is there a way to very quickly and cleanly get off only the brown skin?

  • 1
    Not really, @Luciano, the accepted answer in that question summarizes the two methods I list in mine, and I can't really make much from the non-accepted answers. So I guess there are no better methods out there. Thanks anyway, not sure how that question eluded me. ;)
    – AnoE
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 14:34
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    In the accepted answer: either peel one extra layer or do just the brown one but accept the time trade-off. What part of that doesn't answer your question?
    – Luciano
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 16:17
  • tbh perhaps you could try the pearl onion method (if it works with larger onions), although not very fast (unless you have to peel a ton of onions, then it might be worth it) cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/4966/…
    – Luciano
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 16:19
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    I often find that there isn’t a true transition from brown papery layer to the plump white layer. There’s often a layer that’s a little in between, so I don’t feel quite so bad about peeling it off. (But you can save it for making stock). You can also sometime flex the lower layer to loosen the papery layer without having to fill remove a good layer
    – Joe
    Commented Feb 14, 2022 at 16:51
  • You might try burning it off in a fire. Never tried it, but it seems to work for garlic (you still have to wash/peel a thin layer off afterward, but it's a lot easier by then). Maybe not the fastest (and will probably roast your onion somewhat), but if it works, it should take little effort, and be kind of fun. Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 11:15

2 Answers 2


Cutting off the pointy end before you halve the onion may not be helping. If you halve it first, that end makes it much easier to get a grip on the papery layers to start peeling them off.

I find it useful to remove any very loose flaky layers before I start work in earnest and I do that over the bin to keep the dust and dirt off my board, then if the less dried layers are resistant to peeling, I put the onions on a bowl of water for a few minutes. Once the brown layers absorb a bit of water they are much easier to deal with.

  • Your tip helps a lot indeed! Thank you very much, not cutting the tip off beforehand makes it much easier to get large chunks of the outer layer in one go, and avoid having to nibble at small flakes.
    – AnoE
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 11:18

Kenji Lopez-Alt, cookbook author and NYT columnist, has mentioned offhand a couple of times in his Youtube videos that he feels most people don't peel off enough layers when preparing onions; that the semi-dry, slightly tough outer-layer-ness extends further into the onion than many people think.

It's possible this attitude is a result of his chef background, however, where the quality of the final dish is prioritised more highly than efficiency of ingredient use, et cetera.

Ultimately, the decision is yours; if the value of saving one extra layer of onion is worth the time spent carefully flensing the brown skin off of it and the possibility of a slightly worse texture in the final dish, then go ahead and carefully remove only the brown. Personally, I take off the first white layer; onions are cheap, time and effort are precious, and the scraps are useful anyway.

  • Thanks, those are good points; seems like these really are the two methods available...
    – AnoE
    Commented Feb 15, 2022 at 8:18

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