Make onion rings without eggs in air fryer or pan fry. Thanks to a panko breadcrumb coating, they get delightfully crispy on the outside, sweet and tender on the inside.
This delicious appetizer is great for parties or game day. Or enjoy the fried onion rings as a snack or side dish with a sandwich.
Onion rings may seem like a standard American side dish. Right up there with french fries.
But when you’re vegan, onion rings are a rare & special commodity. At restaurants, this appetizer staple is rarely vegan because of milk and/or egg in the batter.
So I pretty much only get onion rings when I’m at a vegan restaurant that happens to offer them, which sadly isn’t often.
But I don’t have to live an onion ring-free life anymore, because they can be made at home in the air fryer or pan fried.
Instead of dipping them into milk or egg, I dip slices of onion into a flour-based batter. Then I finish with seasoned panko.
If I’m feeling indulgent, they can be pan fried in oil. Or for a lighter take, they get beautifully crispy in the air fryer.
(I daresay I like them even better in the air fryer! But both are completely delicious.)
What kind of onions should I use?
Sweet onions are best for onion rings.
At Trader Joe’s, you can find bags that just say “sweet onions.” That’s what you want.
You can also look for types like Vidalia, Maui, Texas, or Walla Walla.
While you can use a yellow onion in a pinch, sweet really is best. They provide a milder flavor that doesn’t have the same bite and pungency of other types.
Step by step instructions
Here’s how to make this recipe at a glance. For complete ingredient amounts & instructions, keep scrolling to the recipe card below.
1. Remove the ends & peel from a sweet onion. Turn the onion on its side, and cut it into ¼ to ½ inch thick slices. Pull the slices apart into rings.
2. Dip each ring into batter made with all purpose flour, baking powder, salt, and water. Drip off any excess.
3. Dredge each ring in panko breadcrumbs seasoned with Cajun seasoning salt. (Slap Ya Mama is my preferred option.)
4. Put the breaded onion ring onto a clean plate. Continue until all of the onion rings are fully coated.
5. Cook the onion rings in either the air fryer or a skillet. (See the full directions in the recipe box below.)
6. Move the browned onion rings to a serving platter or bowl. Finish with a pinch of salt. Serve with ketchup or your preferred dipping sauce.
Tips for best results
For optimum results, read over these tips before cooking.
Aim for the consistency of waffle batter
When making the onion ring batter, I like to start by combining an even amount of flour and water (in addition to baking powder and salt).
Then add a Tablespoon of water at a time until the consistency is slightly thicker than pancake batter.
Panko is a must
While there are other breadcrumbs on the market, panko really is best for coating.
It’s a light & crisp type of Japanese bread crumbs that makes these fried onion rings great.
Panko works best when dry
As you add batter covered onion rings to the panko, it will dampen over time.
So I recommend starting with a smaller amount of panko, and then replenishing as needed, along with several dashes of seasoning salt.
If at some point the remaining panko on your plate is too damp, don’t be afraid to throw it away and start over with a clean plate & fresh panko.
Damp panko just doesn’t attach to onion rings well.
When breading, use one hand for wet & one for dry
By always dipping one hand into the wet batter and the other into the dry panko, you will have less mess & clean up while you bread the onion rings.
For optimum browning, don’t overfill
If an air fryer basket or skillet gets too full, the onion rings won’t brown as nicely.
You will most likely need to cook in batches.
For the air fryer, cooking in roughly a single layer works well. If you have an additional wire rack, that works too!
Remember that air fryers vary
Some air fryers cook hotter and faster than others. Check on the onion rings, and remove them when they have browned to your liking.
If it seems like the onion rings need some help browning, carefully flip them, and give an additional spray of oil. Then continue cooking until browned & crispy.
Make them your own
For beer battered onion rings, replace half the water in the batter with beer. (That’s what I do for beer battered fried pickles, and it works like a dream.)
Replace Cajun seasoning salt with any of these seasonings:
- Italian seasoning blend
- Fox Point seasoning
- Mixture of paprika/granulated onion/granulated garlic/dried basil
- For heat, add a pinch of cayenne
Dipping sauce for onion rings
Obviously you can enjoy onion rings all on their own. But they’re extra fun when dipped in something tasty.
Here are some of my favorite dipping sauces for onion rings:
What to serve with onion rings
Onion rings are wonderful as a snack. They can be a sandwich topper in place of raw or pickled onions.
Onion rings are also a terrific side dish with any of these recipes:
How to store and reheat
Vegan onion rings are best fresh out of the air fryer or skillet. However, they can be stored and reheated later.
Store any leftovers in a covered container in the refrigerator. They will keep for 3 or 4 days.
For reheating, I recommend using the air fryer.
Air fry at 400 degrees for about 4 minutes, or until the panko is crisp again.
Remember the time will vary depending on your specific air fryer & how many onion rings are in the basket.
Keep an eye on them, because they can quickly burn.
Onion rings in air fryer or pan fried (vegan)
- Remove the ends and papery peel from a sweet onion. Turn the onion on its side, and cut it into ¼ to ½ inch thick slices. Once you've sliced the entire onion, use your fingers to pull the rings apart. Set aside.
- Now it's time to make the breading station. In a bowl, combine ½ cup all purpose flour, ¼ teaspoon baking powder, pinch of salt, and ½ cup of water. Stir to combine and remove most of the flour lumps. Then add more 2 or 3 Tablespoons of water, a Tablespoon at a time, until it's the consistency of waffle batter (a little thicker than pancake batter).
- On a dinner plate, combine ½ cup of panko breadcrumbs with ½ teaspoon (or several shakes) of seasoning salt. Panko works best when it's very dry. So I recommend starting with this small amount of seasoned breadcrumbs, and then replenishing as needed while breading the onion. If the panko gets too damp, don't be afraid to throw it away and start over with a clean plate.
- Now it's time to bread the onion rings. One at a time, dip an onion ring into the wet batter. Drip off any excess batter. Then dredge it in the seasoned panko. Put the coated onion ring on a separate clean plate. Continue with the remaining onion rings. As you run out of panko breadcrumbs, continue replenishing with another ½ cup of panko + ½ teaspoon of seasoning salt until all of the rings are breaded.
- TO AIR FRY: Put the onion rings into the air fryer basket, being careful not to overfill. Roughly a single layer works best.(They won't brown as nicely if the basket is too full. You may need to cook in batches. Remember that subsequent batches will cook faster since it will already be hot.) Spray the onion rings with oil spray for browner rings. (If you prefer to cook oil free, you can omit the spray.) Air fry at 400 degrees for 6 to 8 minutes. (The exact time will vary, depending on your specific air fryer & if the basket is very full.) If the onion rings aren't as brown as you'd like, carefully turn them over & spray again with more oil. Then continue cooking.Once they have browned to your liking, move the onion rings to a bowl, and finish with a pinch of salt. Serve with ketchup or your favorite dipping sauce.
- TO PAN FRY: Bring a large skillet to a medium high heat with about an inch of organic canola oil (or your preferred high heat oil). Drop a breadcrumb into the oil. If bubbles immediately form around it, the oil is ready for frying.Put several onion rings into the oil. (Be careful not to overfill, or they won't brown as nicely. You'll need to work in batches.) Fry the onion rings for a couple minutes on one side. Once they're brown on one side, carefully flip with a spatula and cook for a couple minutes more, until perfectly brown all over. Move the browned onion rings to a plate lined with paper towels or a clean kitchen towel for oil drainage. Top with a pinch of salt. Continue frying the remaining onion rings until all of them are fried. Serve with ketchup or your preferred dipping sauce.