These Spicy Pickled Onions provide the perfect bit of tangy sweetness, heat, and crunch to serve with a taco meatloaf or your favorite pita pocket sandwiches. And the beauty of refrigerator pickled onions is that they need only five ingredients and 10 minutes of your time.
Read on to learn all about refrigerator pickles and all sorts of recipe tips and tricks. Or just grab a red onion, hit that Jump to Recipe button, and let’s make some spicy pickled onions!
- Onion – Red onions are the best choice for pickled onions, since they have a relatively mild flavor that pairs well with the spicy and tangy flavor of the pickling solution.
- White wine vinegar – milder than many other types of vinegar, and it’s clear, to let the pink color come through.
- Chili peppers – I summarized how heat levels of different chili peppers vary in my spicy margarita post. If you want red hot pickled onions, pick a super spicy hot pepper like a habanero!
Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.
Substitutions and variations
- You can pickle sweet onions and other onions using this method, but they won’t have that pretty pink color.
- Use another clear vinegar like champagne vinegar. Distilled white vinegar will have too harsh a taste for these onions.
About refrigerator pickles
Refrigerator pickles are the broad category of pickles that haven’t gone through the canning process and therefore need to refrigerated. You can pickle an infinite number of combinations of fruits and vegetables with different types of vinegar, herbs, and spices.
You can make refrigerator pickles with either a cold or heated brine. Use a heated brine when you want to do a very quick pickle or you want to briefly cook your pickle to soften it. Using a cold brine here helps preserve the color and makes crunchy pickled onions. You want your pickled red onions to have some crunch, yes?
Recipe tips and tricks
Step 1: Chop your onions for these spicy pickled red onions. Cut the ends off (Panel #1, below), then cut the red onion in half (Panel #2).
Peel the onion halves (Panel #3). Then slice the onion into thin half-circles no more than a quarter inch wide (Panel #4).
Tip from the wise quacker: when slicing chili peppers, wear a kitchen glove or hold the pepper using a plastic bag so you don’t get chili oils on your hands. If you cut chili peppers with your bare hands, don’t touch your eyes or sensitive bits until after you’ve given your hands a good scrubbing!
You can read more about how to treat your eyes if you get chili oil in them (and also about lime juice sunburns) in this piece: Surprising hazards in the kitchen.
Step 2: Place the sliced onions and chili pepper in a bowl. Add the salt and sugar, and pour the vinegar to cover. Don’t worry if the onions stick up a little bit out of the vinegar. They’ll compact a bit as they pickle.
Step 3: Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator. You can start to eat the spicy pickled onions after a few hours, but they are best after 24 hours.
What to serve with spicy pickled onions
The number one use for this pickled onion recipe in our house is sandwiches, but you can use these in other ways such as:
- on veggie burgers like this Southwestern black bean burger, BBQ pinto bean burger, or cauliflower burgers.
- with tacos, a 4-ingredient guacamole, and mango pico de gallo.
- with pulled pork or shredded chicken.
- alongside Mediterranean-inspired lamb meatballs or vegetarian quinoa balls.
- stuffed into a pita with Greek chicken meatballs or falafel waffles.
- chopped, as a garnish for soups like this 4-ingredient potato soup.
The spiciness of these onions can vary depending on 1) the type of chili pepper you use, 2) how much of the pepper you use and whether you include the seeds, and 3) how long you leave the chili pepper with the onions as they pickle.
Vinegar and salt are natural preservatives, so the onions can last for several weeks in the refrigerator.
Yes, you just need to follow proper home canning procedures.
Red onions get their color from anthocyanins. That’s the same group of compounds that color the cabbage in this purple cabbage slaw or rainbow poke bowl, the purple in purple sweet potatoes and ube cookie recipes, and the color-changing magic of butterfly pea flower in an Empress gin cocktail.
Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.
Spicy Pickled Onions
- 1 red onion, sliced into ¼ inch half moons
- 1 jalapeño, sliced see notes about how to make these spicy pickled onions even spicier
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 bottle (16.75 fluid ounces or 500 milliliters) white wine vinegar see notes about substitutions
- Slice the onion and jalapeño and put them in a lidded bowl.1 red onion, sliced into ¼ inch half moons, 1 jalapeño, sliced
- Add the salt and sugar. Then pour the vinegar over top of the onions until the onions are mostly covered. Don't worry if the onions are sticking out a little bit.1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, 1 bottle (16.75 fluid ounces or 500 milliliters) white wine vinegar
- Cover the bowl and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours and ideally overnight.
- These spicy pickled onions will keep in the refrigerator for a couple weeks.
This spicy pickled red onion recipe was first posted July 13, 2022. It was last updated January 14, 2023.
Looking for inspiration?
Sign up to get recipes full of kitchen tips and tricks.