Original Sonic Onion Ring Recipe

Sonic Onion rings are made fresh every single day. I worked at Sonic as a teenager and had to help make the Sonic onion rings EVERY DAY…the secret is using vanilla ice milk mix, but using melted vanilla ice cream works just as well.

Homemade Sonic Onion Rings on parchment paper in a metal serving basket.


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Sonic onion rings are made fresh every single day – these are definitely not prepackaged onion rings. I worked at Sonic as a teenager and had to help make the Sonic onion rings every day.

Sonic had bags and bags of onions in the back room. The secret ingredient is vanilla ice milk mix, but using melted vanilla ice cream works just as well. Making onion rings for Sonic was one of the more memorable and pleasant experiences of my young life.

The Sonic Drive-In Story

What eventually became Sonic was opened in 1953 in Shawnee, Oklahoma under the name Top Hat. In the beginning, Top Hat customers parked their automobiles anywhere on the gravel parking lot and walked up to place their orders. However, Top Hat’s founder, Troy Smith, saw a drive-in that used speakers for ordering.

This gave him the idea of controlling the parking so his customers could order from curbside speakers without ever leaving their cars. Carhops would deliver the food to customers sitting comfortably in their vehicles.

This technology led to the slogan Service at the Speed of Sound, which translated into one word: Sonic. So, in 1959 the name was changed from Top Hat to Sonic Drive-In. Read more about Sonic.

Sonic’s Menu

Sonic has lived up to its sonic name by surging forward while specializing in fresh, made-to-order meals. Nowhere else can you order from a drive-in menu featuring toaster sandwiches (sandwiches served on thick slices of Texas toast), quarter-pound foot-long coneys (hot dogs topped with chili and cheese), and onion rings that are sliced, breaded, and made fresh every day in every Sonic drive-in.

And the Sonic way includes topping off your meal with a hand-mixed shake made with real ice cream in a variety of flavors or a drink featuring Sonic’s beloved craveable ice.

Make Sonic Onion Rings at Home

You can make this wonderful fast-food favorite at home. You don’t even have to be too exact in measuring everything out. However, making these onion rings can be messy.

Ingredients

Here’s a list of what you need:

  • Spanish onions
  • Water
  • All-purpose flour
  • Vanilla ice cream, melted
  • Cornmeal
  • Vegetable oil for frying

How to Make Sonic Onion Rings

  1. Peel and cut onions into slices that are between 3/8 and 1/2-inch thick.
  2. Remove the small center of the onions, you can chop those into diced onions for later use. See how to freeze onions.
  3. Separate onions into rings and place them into a large bowl of water.
  4. Place three containers in a row.
  5. Place flour in the first container, melted ice cream in the second, and cornmeal in the third.
  6. Heat oil to 350 degrees.
  7. Prepare onion rings by shaking off the water and then dip into the flour. Shake off excess flour.
  8. Dip floured onion rings into the melted ice cream and then into the cornmeal. Gently shake off excess cornmeal.
  9. Place onion rings on a cookie sheet to dry for a few minutes before frying.
  10. Fry onion rings until golden brown.

Recipe Notes

I suggest trying to use one hand for dry ingredients and the other for dipping the onion rings into the melted ice cream. It will go easier this way. These are messy, but they taste so good and you will never buy store-bought onion rings again.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do Sonic onion rings taste sweet?

It is because they are made with sweet onions and breaded with vanilla ice milk mix (or melted vanilla ice cream).

Are Sonic onion rings gluten free?

No, flour is one of the ingredients of the breading.

Are Sonic onion rings dairy free?

No, they are dipped in a milk mixture as part of the breading process.

Homemade Sonic Onion Rings on parchment in a serving basket.

Looking for more Sonic copycat recipes? Try these!

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Homemade Sonic Onion Rings and dipping sauce on parchment paper in a metal serving basket.

Original Sonic Onion Rings

Make your own copycat Sonic Onion rings at home. 
5 from 5 votes
Print Pin Rate Add to Collection
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Onion Rings, Sonic Recipes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 829kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds Spanish onions sliced, and rings separated
  • 24 ounces water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 12 ounces vanilla ice cream melted
  • 8 ounces cornmeal
  • vegetable oil for frying

Instructions

  • Peel onions. Slice onions into slices that are between 3/8 and 1/2-inch. Remove the small center of the onions, you can chop those into diced onions. Separate onions into rings, and place the rings into a large bowl of water.
  • Place three containers in a row. In the first container, place the flour, in the second container, place the melted ice cream, and in the third container place the cornmeal.
  • Preheat oil to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare onion rings by shaking off the water, dip onion into the flour, shake off excess flour. Dip into the melted ice cream, and then dip into the cornmeal. Gently shake off excess cornmeal. Place the onion ring on a cookie sheet to dry for a few minutes before frying.
  • Fry onion rings until golden brown.

Notes

Sifting the flour and cornmeal once in a while keeps lumps out and makes it easier to coat the rings When placing on cookie sheets to save room, lean on top of each other to allow the entire ring to dry.

Nutrition

Calories: 829kcal | Carbohydrates: 130g | Protein: 17g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 17g | Cholesterol: 37mg | Sodium: 89mg | Potassium: 749mg | Fiber: 11g | Sugar: 28g | Vitamin A: 360IU | Vitamin C: 17.3mg | Calcium: 179mg | Iron: 5.1mg

About Stephanie Manley

I recreate your favorite restaurant recipes, so you can prepare these dishes at home. I help you cook dinner, and serve up dishes you know your family will love. You can find most of the ingredients for all of the recipes in your local grocery store.

Stephanie is the author of CopyKat.com's Dining Out in the Home, and CopyKat.com's Dining Out in the Home 2.

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Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. T.B.

    I worked for Sonic back in the 80’s when I was a Teenager. I made so many Onion rings I could have turned into an Onion Ring! I cried every time & remember there was no cold water bath (unless it was just after the peeling for a few minutes). We peeled those onions at the same time we processed them for Onion Rings (don’t remember what kind of onions exactly). once peeled I beleive we dipped them in Buttermilk, then all purpose flour, then in the thawed Vanilla Ice Cream mix then in a final coating which I think was cornmeal (a more yellow dry mix). Then they all got put on trays & put into the Walk-in Coolers (sometimes over night to dry out) before they were ever put into the hot grease to fry. Man, I really wish I would have wrote the reciepe down, as I love Sonic Onion Rings! Calling on a current Sonic Employee to break their Silence & spill the Beans on this Sonic Onion Ring Recipe once and for all! I know I am pretty darn close if not right on the Money however! Prove me wrong Sonic Employee!!!

  2. Hoagie

    The guy who built the “original” sonic in Oklahoma had his wife dip the chilled onion rings in Eagle Brand Milk prior to rolling them in flour and meal.

  3. JoEtta

    The above recipe is correct onions were sliced and sat in a saltwater ice bath in the walk in over night dipped in the soft serve ice cream mix into the flour mixture, back in the ice cream then into the cornmeal mixture. I made these everyday for 4 1/2 years. I have tweaked it a little over the years in the flour I add salt, in the cornmeal garlic powder and bread crumbs. Also I dip back a few times to get plenty crispy. The family even the picky ones love this recipe. I only make them maybe twice a year, though to labor intensive.

  4. Zandy's Bride

    From the time I was 13-16, I used to work at the Campus Dairy Sweet at the corner of Grand and National in Springfield, Missouri.
    Famous for homemade banana ice cream.
    We used the vanilla stuff that you would pour into the soft serve ice cream machines to coat the onion rings.
    Come to find out, it was a front for a big gambling ring.
    My boss, A. Galloway was a big time bookie.
    All 400 pounds of him sat on a stool all day in front of an old fashioned pay phone installed behind the counter.
    I always wondered why he wouldn’t let anyone touch it…
    Then the place got busted.
    Then someone bombed his house right to the ground.
    Ah…the good ole days.

  5. Cindy Besher

    I use to work at sonic when I was younger and one of my jobs was to prepare the onions for the onion ring orders. They use to soak the onion slices in an ice water bath for a while before breading and frying them. I certainly don’t remember ice milk involved.

  6. Tomara Armstrong

    I worked at sonic in highschool. They used the cream they put into the ice cream machine, some cornmeal and flour. I think these days they come pre-breaded…. we breaded our own in the 90s

  7. Tamarapage36

    I worked at Sonic for 2 & a half yrs & it’s not ground corn meal but cracker meal but everything else is right 🙂

    • Chip

      5 stars
      your correct… it was a fine cracker meal instread of corn meal
      and yes it was vanilla ice milk
      i managed sonics for 8 years in the 70’s and 80’s

  8. Tom

    OK, I tried four recipes (all original–just created by the knowledge gained here and other sites) based on things I already had in the house.

    1. Dip ring in 2% milk, then in flour, then in milk, then in crushed saltines crackers
    2. 2% milk, flour w/lots of black pepper, then back in the milk, then crushed saltines.
    3. 2% milk, Jiffy brand cornmeal muffin mix, then back in the milk, then crushed saltines.
    4. 2% milk with pure vanilla extract, flour with lots of black pepper and a small handful of brown sugar (I was afraid the sugar would be hard to dissolve in the milk so I used it in the flour), then dip back in the milk, then in the crushed saltines.

    I have to tell you–I liked all four recipes! #3 was my least favorite, #4 was my favorite.

    Also, I felt that having thicker milk would have been beneficial (the ice cream mix mentioned here would have been thicker, so probably better to use). I wonder if putting corn starch in the milk wouldn’t be a cheap alternative to melting a box of ice cream.

    Anyway, I also tried the #4 method on chicken breast strips (I did the flouring and crackering process twice for these–again, probably not necessary if I had thicker milk) and they turned out really good, too.

    I also deep-fried a frozen Italian meatball after I battered it. And it was good, but not a favorite.

  9. Alisha

    Those were terrible onion rings. There was barely any flavor at all. I had to add salt so there was a tad of flavor. Not recommended at all! :S

  10. Deana_167

    I used to work next door to a Sonic. One day I asked one of the car hops how the onion rings were made and she told me that it was ice cream milk and crushed graham crackers.

  11. JW

    Morning Prep at Sonic back in the day entailed shredding fresh lettuce, slicing fresh tomatoes, peeling onions…chopping of the ends…slicing them…the pushing out the centers to be used for diced onions and pushing out the rings into a bucket of ice water…it was a process that made everyone cry! lol Then you built trays of rings…usually seven or eight trays a day where I worked…

    The secret to Sonic back then…freshly prepped produce, those famous onion rings (not the same today) and the fryolators used animal fat!

  12. Scott B.

    Wasn’t it Borden’s Malted Milk? Maybe that was just my borther-in-law’s secret ingredient when he owned a Sonic…not sure.
    I have never heard of that suggestion before, malted milk, makes a malt, a malt. I don’t think that is the flavor that is in the onion rings. Maybe another viewer can shed some light on this.

  13. Super Dave

    I also made thousands of Sonic onion rings. We used 50/50 milk/ice cream mix, then in the flour, then in 100% ice cream mix, then cracker meal. Works great with squash or green tomatoes, etc.

    • Tom

      I worked for Sonic for one day in 1987. I needed some money til I got called to work at my “real” job so the manager agreed to let me work as little as one day or more. Turns out I got called for work that night, lol. My job at Sonic was to make onion rings. Yes. It was cracker meal, no way was it corn meal. But I don’t know what kind of cracker meal. It didn’t look like saltines but what else could it be? Graham crackers maybe? The unique things are that they dipped the ring in a milk solution (I don’t know what it was, but had the consistency of milkshake mix–so soft serve ice cream mix could very well be right), then into a flour mixture, then into the milk stuff again then into the cracker meal, then onto a big baking tray. Each ring leaned against the other to allow air between them. I remember they weren’t drippy wet and the rings didn’t really stick to each other as bad as you might imagine and the batter didn’t all run off. Everything held on nicely.

      I remember being impressed that if a ring broke, it wasn’t served. The manager of that store was highly particular about quality. I’ve eaten at other Sonic’s and not had the same quality at all.

      Once a tray was full of prepared rings, it would go in the freezer to be used later that day.

      I don’t remember what kind of onion they used–Vidalia, perhaps? It is a sweet onion, and a good five or six inches in diameter.

      Sonic literally makes their onion rings fresh every single day! Well they did in 1987 so I assume they do today as well. They had bags and bags of onions in the back room. Making rings for Sonic was one of the memorable pleasant experiences of my life.

      • Terri

        That’s how I remember it too back in 1984. The woman always made them by hand in the back room by the fridge/freezer. They are NOT prepackaged onion rings; they are made fresh every day in the AM before lunch. She always had a “wet” hand, and a “dry” hand to use so she didn’t get ingredients mixed. I ADORE Sonic Onion Rings! I made some this evening that was identical! I had a major craving–OMG! I have NEVER purchased store bought onion rings. 🙂 Thanks Tom for sharing!

      • Diana

        Terri- When you posted your comment in 2015 you said: “I made some [onion rings] this evening that was identical [to Sonic’s]” … could you please share your home recipe with us???

    • CuteBlackShortsCarhop

      This is true, I was a carhop in the early 90’s, but they used bisquick instead of flour, the rest sounds about right.

    • CuteBlackShortsCarhop

      This is true, I was a carhop in the early 90’s, but they used bisquick instead of flour, the rest sounds about right.

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