What the Heck Is a “Medium” Onion, Anyway?

When you start out cooking, measuring everything exactly can be a big concern, which is why beginning cooks may be put off by recipes that list vague amounts like “a pinch of salt,” or “one medium onion.” Though “pinch” has been pretty much standardized—it’s agreed upon to be an 1/8th of a teaspoon—a “medium” onion is a little harder to pin down.

This is part of The Grown Up Kitchen, Skillet’s series designed to answer your most basic culinary questions and fill in any gaps that may be missing in your home chef education.

The good news is this: It’s okay if you’re a little imprecise with your onion. Unlike ingredients used in baking, no culinary chemical reactions are hinging on how much onion you’re using. It is, however, nice to have guidelines, especially when you’re just starting out, so here are some approximations to make sure you’re not adding too much or too little onion in your dish:

  • Small: A small onion should weigh around 4 ounces, should fit pretty easily in your hand, and should yield about 1/2 cup once chopped.
  • Medium: A medium onion is about twice as big as a small one, weighing it at roughly 8 ounces and yielding (you guessed it) about a cup once chopped.
  • Large: Large onions are three times larger than small onions (12 ounces), and should give you about 1 1/2 cups of chopped onion once you get at it with a knife.

Obviously, it’s unlikely that you’re going to find onions that are exactly 4, 8, or 12 ounces, but things like this are why I always recommend that everyone own a kitchen scale. But if you don’t yet have a scale, I wouldn’t worry too much; an extra ounce or two of onion isn’t going to ruin your soup or meatloaf or whatever. Extra onion never ruined anything.

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