How to Grate Onions: Slicing, Chopping and Dicing Shallots

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If you’re wondering how to grate onions for your favorite go-to recipes, look no further.

Using fresh onions in recipes is healthy and gives that savory onion flavor to a dish. From hearty meatloaf and warm soups to homemade sauces and potato pancakes, onions add flavor and depth.

However, finely mincing onions is pretty tedious. Not only that, you have to use a sharp knife that’ll cut through the skin and flesh. I’ve had some nasty cuts from a sharp knife slipping while cutting an onion. It’s not fun. If you’re looking for an easier alternative, I have two words for you: grated onions.

It’s not hard to grate an onion and requires only the most basic supplies. Regardless of which type of onion you’re using, grating onions can add flavor while making life easier and saving you so much time.

Ready to learn how? Let’s jump right in.

Types of Onions: A Quick Overview

Onions come in hundreds of different species. So when I refer to grating onions, you might be wondering, “Which type?” It can be quite a task to choose the right onion for a recipe.

Let’s quickly cover the most common varieties for home cooks: yellow, white, sweet, red (purple), shallots, and green onion. These are the types you’ll find in most grocery stores.

Yellow onions are the most common variety. They feature brownish-yellow papery skin and range in size. They have a mildly sweet taste when cooked but a strong, pungent flavor when raw. You can slice, dice, chop, and mince them for different cooking methods in almost any cuisine. Use in a sautéed mixture or as part of a dish like fajitas, butternut squash soup, jambalaya, or salsa.

Raw onions on a marble bowl

White onions are larger, around the size of an orange. This onion is covered in papery white skin. White onions have a similar taste to yellow onions and are just as versatile. They taste great when cooked, but they’re also perfect raw for salsa or as a topping to hamburgers, hot dogs, or sandwiches. White onions are great in this baked sausage and peppers recipe.

Fresh onions inside basket

Sweet onions come in several types, but the most common around here is Vidalia. They look almost identical to yellow onions but have a wider, more squat shape. Their extra-sweet taste makes them great for onion rings, roasting, stews, or in slow cooker chili.

Stack of onions

Red onions have a strong purple exterior. Their skins have been used to make dyes for textiles. Red onions have a strong flavor that works well raw or cooked. Use raw purple onions for a hamburger topping, pico de gallo, or in this Greek salad recipe. Red onions caramelize quickly and are delicious on BBQ chicken pizza.

Three red onions on a wooden surface

Shallots are crescent-shaped onions that look like oversized garlic cloves. They have a milder and sweeter taste than yellow onions but can be swapped out for them. You’ll find shallots in a lot of French recipes, and they’re great for salad dressings or sheet pan meals. I enjoy sautéing them with butter and garlic, then adding butternut squash ravioli and spinach. It’s a lovely dish that packs a nutritional punch.

Small onions in a white and red bowl

Green Onions have small, white aromatic bulbs at the end with long green stalks. The green stalks are referred to as scallions. Green onions are a very popular ingredient in Asian and Latin cuisines, and they’re great for eating raw in salads or in marinades or dressings. You can use them as a garnish, such as in this veggie fried rice recipe.

Bundle of onion leeks

Can You Grate Raw Onion?

Yes! Grating onions is one of the most efficient ways to get small onion pieces that cook quickly. Grating a raw onion will achieve very small slices that you wouldn’t be able to get with dicing or mincing. This technique allows you to get tiny pieces that will caramelize evenly. Grated onion is perfect for different dishes, such as meatballs, meatloaf, gravies, and more.

The Benefits of Grating Onions

Grated onion is preferable for a few reasons. First, it doesn’t require expert knife skills. Regardless of your experience in the kitchen, you can grate an onion without risking your fingers to do so.

Secondly, using a grater to grate an onion saves you precious time, especially if you have several onions to cut. Repeatedly peeling the onion, roughly chopping the onion, and cutting it again to get smaller pieces is a mind-numbingly boring process. Instead, you can push the onion back and forth against the grater for a mere matter of seconds. Presto! You have grated onions.

Grating onions also gives you a more uniform size and texture. Diced onions cook more evenly and work better raw when they are the same size. However, if you dice onions by hand, it can be difficult to achieve uniform pieces. Grating will result in smaller pieces that will cook faster and more evenly. I’ll take that!

Grated onions give a better savory onion flavor to dishes than onion powder, and it will add moisture to the recipe. The aroma and taste of foods will improve by using grated onion over powder.

Lastly, when you grate an onion, you are basically able to use the whole onion. You can grate all the onion layers and leave only the part at the end, allowing you to cut down on scraps and reduce waste.

The benefits of grating onions

How to Grate an Onion Using a Grater

The best way to grate an onion is with a grater. Grab your box grater or cheese grater and use medium-sized holes to grate the onion. Follow these three easy steps:

  1. Remove the outer peel from the whole onion. Place the onion in the freezer or soak it in cold water before cutting to avoid those pesky tears. (I can’t tell you how many tissues I wasted before learning that tip.)
  2. Slice the onion in half, cutting vertically from root to stem. Trim off the very top of the onion at the stem end. Keep the onion’s basal plate intact (the root end).
  3. Stand your box grater upright and place the cut top end of the onion against the grater. Holding onto the intact onion half by the root end, shred the onion layers against the grater in an up-and-down motion. Grate the onion down to the basal plate nub. Discard the basal plate.

Can You Grate Onions in a Food Processor?

Don’t have a grater? No worries. You can also grate an onion using a food processor. This is a good option if your recipe calls for a large amount of grated onion and you want to save time.

It’s important to avoid over-processing your onion. That can leave you with a pile of liquid pulp that has more juice than flesh. Also, be sure to use a food processor with a shredding or grating attachment (not a blender) to achieve the right texture.

Grating an onion with the food processor is a simple, four-step process: peel, quarter, grate, and drain.

  1. Carefully peel the outer layer of the onion. Again, to avoid the tear-releasing enzyme, place the onion in the freezer or cold water before cutting.
  2. Put your onion on a cutting board and trim the stem end. Cut the onion into quarters.
  3. Use the shredding attachment to grate the onion. Feed the chunks of onion into the food processor one at a time, only using the blades as needed to reach the desired texture. It’s better to pulse the onion, as opposed to letting the food processor cut continually.
  4. If you have an excess of onion juice after grating the onion in the food processor, place the grated onions in a cheesecloth and squeeze out the extra moisture.

Can You Grate Onion Instead of Dicing It?

Absolutely! The grated pieces will be a bit smaller than diced pieces, but grated onion will work as a wonderful substitute for diced onion in most recipes. Just be sure to lower the cooking time, as grated onion will cook faster.

What Does Coarsely-Grated Onions Mean?

Coarsely grated just means the pieces are slightly larger. If you’re using a box grater, use the largest holes to get a coarse texture. The medium-size holes are what I would use normally. The smallest holes closely resemble a Microplane and will result in a mince… and more juice.

Grated Onions vs Minced Onions: What’s the Difference?

Minced onion is simply an onion that has been cut into very small pieces. The best way to mimic the desired size and texture of minced onion is to grate it with the small holes on a grater.

Why Do Onions Make Me Cry?

I really wish I had known this when I first started cooking as a teenager. It would have saved me so many tears… literally. Here’s what happens:

An onion holds a lot of liquid among its many layers. It also spews enzymes and sulfenic acid when its skin is broken as a defense mechanism against the hungry creatures that try to eat it.

The compounds combine and result in propanethial S-oxide, an irritating chemical that evaporates easily. When that vapor reaches your eyes, they generate tears to flush it out.

Don’t want to keep a box of tissues beside the cutting board? You can freeze the onion for 20 minutes or submerge it in ice water for 30 minutes before cutting/grating it. This helps lessen the amount of sulfuric acid compounds in the onion.

What Are Other Foods You Can Grate?

You already knew you could grate cheese. But now that you’ve learned this (not so) secret life hack, you may be wondering, “What else can I grate?” Well, I’ve got good news. There are plenty of foods you can grate, making life easy.


Grated veggies provide a nutritional boost to practically any recipe. Grated celery, carrots, or zucchini are ideal for quick bread, meatloaf, soups, and even dessert recipes! If you want to up your healthy cooking skills, adding grated vegetables to baked macaroni and cheese or cinnamon bread is a great place to start.


To grate potatoes, peel them first. Then push them back and forth across the grater until the potato is shredded. Grated potatoes are the start of some delicious hash browns. Even better? Grate the potatoes with onions and cheese, and you’re well on your way to a hashbrown casserole. I’m getting hungry now…


Grating garlic is a great idea because it saves you time versus using a sharp knife, and it ensures that you don’t get oversized pieces. Simply use a microplane or the smallest holes on a box grater. Don’t use the largest holes as they’ll make the pieces too big.


One of my favorite ways to use ginger is to make ginger rice. It’s aromatic, delicious, and pairs well with stir fry. However, ginger root is especially tough to cut with a knife. Grated ginger is easier to achieve and has a better texture.


If you’ve ever wondered how to make the perfect Southern biscuit, it starts with grated frozen butter. Freezing the butter will prevent it from getting too warm (which leads to butter leaking in the oven), while grating it will ensure evenly distributed pieces in the dough. You can thank me later…when you’ve consumed half a pan of soft, buttery, perfectly flaky biscuits.

Grating an Onion: The Last Word

Grating onions is an easier alternative to using a sharp knife. It saves time and makes dinnertime prep painless. By using a grater or food processor, I no longer dread grating onions.

Check out my guide to non-toxic cutting boards to make dicing onions easier and safer!