The Clever Trick For Chopping Onions Without Crying, According To Alton Brown

Any home cook will know that there's a reason you should just about always have some onions on hand in your pantry. They're an absolute staple in so many different dishes — not to mention, there's so much variation between the different types of onions, from the pungency of red onion to the slight sweetness of yellow onions, allowing you to add in a ton of flavor to whatever you're making by selecting the right type of onion.

As MasterClass outlines, the humble onion can be used raw to add crunch and flavor to dishes like salads and sandwiches, they can be pickled to incorporate a burst of acidity, they can be roasted or caramelized to bring out entirely different flavor notes, they can be diced and incorporated in dishes like guacamole or salsa, and much more. The list truly goes on and on. And, as a bonus, as per Almanac, they tend to be quite inexpensive, making them ideal for budget-conscious cooks. Plus, unlike some other types of produce, they're typically available (and delicious) year-round.

The only downside to cooking with onions is an issue that anyone who has ever cried over a cutting board will know all too well — that familiar eye-watering that occurs when you're chopping onions, whether you're dicing them or thinly slicing them. Luckily, television personality Alton Brown has a clever trick for eliminating the pesky problem that may seem like an inevitable part of chopping onions — and it should leave you tear-free.

Alton Brown's simple tip to prevent onion tears

Back in January 2021, Brown shared a snap on Twitter in which he was bent over a pile of chopped white onions with a fan on the tabletop beside him, and nary a tear in his eyes, declaring that the ideal way to chop onions was with a fan. In a follow-up tweet, he clarified that the fan's purpose was to blow the fumes of the onion away from you while you're chopping the onions, rather than allowing them to float up toward your eyes and ignite the waterworks.

Brown explained a bit of the science behind the tearful reaction people have to onions, which also helps justify his go-to tip. As he revealed on a 2007 episode of "Good Eats" (via YouTube), when you chop into that onion, the cells within the vegetable rupture and a chemical process leads to sulfur gas rising and interacting with your eyes, sparking those dreaded tears. If you don't happen to have a small fan to place on your countertop while you're chopping away, not to worry. According to CNET, cutting the onions near a kitchen vent or ceiling fan will help as well. 

As Southern Living explains, the reason that professional chefs aren't doing their daily prep through tears in restaurants around the world is because professional kitchens typically have fantastic ventilation, which helps dissipate all those nasty fumes coming off the onion.