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French Onion Soup Recipe (instant pot)

In one hour (not the typical two +), you can be sitting down to a delicious instant pot French onion soup of rich broth and sweet caramelized onions, topped with toasted bread and gooey cheese.

Serve this classic soup as a starter or main meal.

finished bowl of French onion soup with broiled bread and cheese

As always, there are tons of recipes out there. I looked at various methods – stove top, slow cooker and instant pot recipes – and settled on trying a recipe in the instant pot. Mostly for the quicker turn around time and less hands on time.

I narrowed my research to 4 highly rated and best French onion soup recipes and [obsessively] took bits and tips from each. I added a small tip of my own with the bread part.

Heads up beginners:  If this is your first time making homemade French onion soup, don’t worry, it will be great. The recipe is organized with clear, easy-to-follow instructions in 6 steps.

  1. Slice onions
  2. Sauté onion
  3. Pressure cook onions
  4. Caramelize onions
  5. Add liquids and cook. 
  6. Make bread and cheese topping – broil. 

What to serve with French onion soup

When I make a pot of this soup, I eat it every day for lunch until it runs out – with or without the bread and cheese. I just love it.

My favorite way to serve this soup is in small 6 ounce ovenproof ramekins as a great appetizer or starter to a meal. It presents beautifully and always surprises my guests. You will get a lot of ooh’s and ah’s.

On the lighter side, serve the French onion soup with a great salad. For a bigger meal, I love it with rib steak, grilled marinated flank steak or lemon pasta with shrimp.

finished bowl of French onion soup with broiled bread and cheese p1

Tips

Broth

  • This is a key component of the soup, so you want to get the best broth you can. It’s a good idea to taste it before using. The one I bought initially tasted almost like water, so I immediately switched to a concentrated undiluted beef broth in a can that I use regularly (Campbell’s) and added a little less than a can of water for each can I used. I combined beef broth and chicken broth.
  • You can use all beef broth or a combination of beef and chicken broth.
  • If you can’t find good beef broth, use all good quality chicken broth. Try googling “best beef broths on the market” to source one where you live. Obviously, homemade broth is best if you want to take the time to make it.

Onions

  • You can use yellow onions (traditional) or sweet onions (milder). Even red onions will work. We’ve included a few tips on how to reduce tears when cutting onions in our article Onions: The Bare Essentials.
  • There is no need to slice the onions thinly. They will still be very soft (partly disintegrated) after pressure cooking them.

Caramelizing the Onions

  • Using a pinch of baking soda speeds up the caramelization process (it’s a science thing).
  • If you don’t have any baking soda, use a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.

Bread

  • I found using whole slices of bread more challenging to eat with a spoon especially if you leave the crusts on. So I now cut the toasted bread into cubes – much easier!

Cheese

  • The best cheese for French onion soup is Gruyere cheese. It’s classic.

How to make this French onion soup recipe (instant pot)

onion soup ingredients - onions, broth, butter, garlic, bayleaf, thyme, cheese, baguette, worcestershire sauce
Ingredients – onions, broth, butter, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, cheese, baguette, Worcestershire sauce
sliced onions in instant pot
Slice onions then ‘sweat’ them in butter on Sauté function to release juices. Don’t brown them. 
caramelizing onions in instant pot
Caramelize onions on Sauté function. For more body, stir in some flour.
onion soup in instant pot
Add wine, broth and seasonings. Cook for 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings.
toasted bread cubes and grated cheese on plate
Meanwhile, toast bread cubes and grate cheese.
grated cheese on bread cubes in bowl before broiling
Pour onions soup into bowls and top with toasted bread and cheese. Place on baking sheet.
finished bowl of French onion soup with broiled bread and cheese p
Broil until cheese is bubbly and browned. Serve immediately.

Tailor To Your Taste

A few variations and substitutions to try.

  • Broth – use beef, chicken or a combination.
  • Cheese – I use Gruyere, but other good options for melty cheese are Beemster, Provolone, Swiss, Parmesan or a combination of these.
  • Bread – use a French baguette, French bread or any crusty bread.
  • Flavors – Try adding a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar or fish sauce to add depth to the soup. 
  • Wine – Red wine or a dry sherry adds great flavor to the soup, but there may be reasons not to use it. If you want to make a French onion soup recipe without wine, just leave it out and add a little extra broth. 
  • Garnish – French onion soup includes bread and cheese on top. You can bake or broil the soup in a bowl for this last step. Or even make cheese toast separately and top the soup with it before serving. Add some fresh thyme leaves or chives on top just before serving for a pretty finish. 
  • Vegetarian versionuse vegetable stock or broth. Mushroom broth is even better. Find the richest broth you can. And omit the Worcestershire sauce which contains anchovies.

Shortcuts

  • Use the slicer blade on a food processor to slice the onions thick. 
  • Buy shredded cheese.

Make Ahead 

  • The soup can be made up to a week ahead. Keep it in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in a microwave or pot. Then add toasted bread and cheese and broil (or bake).

Other hearty soups you might enjoy

finished bowl of French onion soup with broiled bread and cheese
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4.77 from 17 votes

French Onion Soup Recipe (instant pot)

In one hour (not the typical two +), you are sitting down to a delicious instant pot French onion soup of rich broth and sweet caramelized onions, topped with toasted bread and gooey cheese. Serve this classic soup as a starter or main meal.
Prep Time12 mins
Cook Time48 mins
Total Time1 hr
Course: Appetizer, Soup
Cuisine: French
Servings: 6 (or 4 larger or 8 small bowls)
Author: Cheryl

Equipment

  • Instant Pot – I use a 6 quart pot.

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds yellow onions (sweet onions are good too)
  • 4 tablespoons butter, unsalted butter adds richness but neutral olive oil can be used instead
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda – quickens caramelization process (not baking powder!)
  • 2 teaspoon minced garlic about 2 garlic cloves

Broth and Seasonings

  • 1/4 cup (59 ml) red wine, Note 1 optional but adds good flavor
  • 8 cups (1.9 liters) good quality beef broth, Note 2
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 2 tsp fresh thyme)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste depends on saltiness of broth
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 bay leaf

Topping

  • slices or cubes of baguette or other bread, Note 3 (about 2 slices per person/bowl)
  • 4 ounce grated/shredded Gruyere cheese, Note 4

Instructions

  • SLICE ONIONS: Set Instant Pot to SAUTE function on HIGH or MORE. Peel and slice onions by hand (1/2 inch/1.3cm is fine – no need to slice thinly). See tips for no-tears slicing in Onions: The Bare Essentials. Alternatively, use a shortcut and slice onions in food processor with a slicing blade (adjusted to thick slice if possible).
  • SAUTE ONIONS: Add butter, onions and baking soda to the bottom of the pot which will now be hot. Saute to "sweat" the onions and release juices for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In the last minute, add minced garlic. Select OFF.
  • PRESSURE COOK ONIONS: Select PRESSURE OR MANUAL – HIGH. Place lid on instant pot and turn vent knob to "sealed". Select 14 minutes (it will take about 5 minutes to come to pressure before the time starts to count down). When cooking is complete and IP beeps, use Quick Release method. You will have a lot of liquid with the onions.
  • CARAMELIZE ONIONS: To speed up final caramelization, pour most of liquid (about a cup) onto a cup and set aside to add later. Select SAUTE function on High/More. Caramelize onions, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until golden brown and most of liquid is evaporated. Add wine and cook off for 1 minute. If more body in soup is desired, stir in a tablespoon of flour for 1-2 minutes. I do this.
  • ADD LIQUIDS AND SEASONINGS: Add broth(s), reserved onion liquid and all seasonings (Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, thyme, bay leaf). Cook onion soup for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  • MAKE CHEESE-TOAST TOPPING and BROIL: While soup is cooking, toast baguette slices or cubes until golden brown. You can toast slices then cut in cubes if preferred. Set oven or toaster oven to Broil. Ladle soup into oven-safe bowls. Add slice of bread or bread cubes to cover top of the soup. Top with grated cheese. Place bowls on a pan (in case of dripping). Broil 6 inches from heat for about 3-4 minutes or until cheese is browned. Serve immediately. To bake instead, see Note 5.

Notes

  1. Wine – Red wine or a dry sherry or white wine adds great flavor to the soup, but there may be reasons not to use it. If you want to make a French onion soup recipe without wine, just leave it out and add a little extra broth. 
  2. Broth: You can use all beef broth or a combination of beef and chicken broth. If you can’t find good beef broth, use all good quality chicken broth. Find the best quality beef broth or beef bone broth you can. It’s best to taste it. Most broths come in a box. I like the undiluted Campbell’s beef broth in a can (add your own water).
  3. Bread – use a French baguette, French bread or any crusty bread.
  4. Cheese: Gruyere cheese is traditional. Other good melty cheese options are Beemster, Provolone, Swiss cheese, Parmesan or a combination of these. 
  5. Bake instead of broil: You can also bake the onion soup with bread and cheese at 450F/232C for 6-8 minutes or until cheese is browned. 
  6. Other variations and substitutes
    • Flavors – Try adding a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar or fish sauce to add depth to the soup. 
    • Garnish – French onion soup includes bread and cheese on top. You can bake or broil the soup in a bowl for this last step. Or even make cheese toast separately and top the soup with it before serving. Add some fresh thyme leaves or chives on top just before serving for a pretty finish. 
    • Vegetarian version – use vegetable broth. Mushroom broth is even better. Find the richest broth you can. And omit the Worcestershire sauce which contains anchovies.
  7. Make Ahead: Soup can be made up to a week ahead. Keep leftover soup in an airtight container in the fridge. Reheat in microwave or pot. Then add toasted bread and cheese and broil (or bake).
 
Nutrition values are estimates and include the bread and cheese

Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
French Onion Soup Recipe (instant pot)
Amount Per Serving
Calories 305 Calories from Fat 135
% Daily Value*
Fat 15g23%
Saturated Fat 9g56%
Trans Fat 1g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 4g
Cholesterol 41mg14%
Sodium 2042mg89%
Potassium 577mg16%
Carbohydrates 29g10%
Fiber 4g17%
Sugar 10g11%
Protein 13g26%
Vitamin A 424IU8%
Vitamin C 18mg22%
Calcium 283mg28%
Iron 2mg11%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.
Tried this recipe?We’d love you to rate it above under ‘rate this recipe’ or in the comment section below. Thanks!

This recipe was adapted from Amy & Jacky, Earth Food and Fire, The Spruce Eats and Smitten Kitchen.

4 Comments

    1. Yes you can. It will take a bit longer for the instant pot to get up to Pressure and for the caramelizing step on Sauté. I suggest adding a couple of minutes to both steps.

      For adding the broth at the end, you will have plenty of room in an 8 quart instant pot. A 6 quart should be fine too, but you can certainly reduce the liquid by 1 cup if it’s too full. This will just make the soup richer.

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