How to Make Coleslaw That’s Perfect for Barbecue Season

Creamy, tangy-sweet coleslaw is the perfect partner to any barbecue or meaty sandwich. Our Test Kitchen teaches you how to make coleslaw the easy way.

What would a cookout be without a bowl of coleslaw? This creamy, crunchy salad is practically addictive. Not only does it serve as a palate cleanser between bites of smoky meat—these pulled pork recipes come to mind—but its subtly sweet flavor also makes loading up a plate with it alone so tempting. Yes, you can buy coleslaw at the grocery store, but that can’t come close to the fresh flavor and crisp texture of homemade. It’s worth the little effort.

These coleslaw recipes get cabbage right!
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Follow along as our Test Kitchen walks through the ins and outs of making an irresistibly creamy coleslaw from scratch.

You’ll need:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 pound cabbage

Step 1: Core the cabbage

person cutting a v-shaped wedge out of a cabbage wedge with a knife

Coleslaw is all about the cabbage. Prepping it is the most work you’ll do for this recipe. To quickly chop a cabbage: Cut the cabbage in half. Make a V-shaped cut into each half to remove the core. Discard or compost the core. (Trying to add it to a veggie stock will overwhelm the flavor.)

Test Kitchen tip: Purple cabbage tastes just as delicious as its green counterpart. It will give your sauce, however, a lavender hue that probably won’t look too appetizing.

Step 2: Get shredding

The way you cut the cabbage is important. It determines how much water will be released when it sits. Chopped cabbage holds more water and stays crunchier over time. Shredded or grated cabbage releases more water, so it can become a bit softer. However you do it is your preference, but we’ve got two easy techniques.

Chop with a knife

person using a knife to cut a wedge of cabbage into thin strips

Using a sharp chef’s knife, chop your cabbage halves into wedges. Then, thinly slice across each wedge to shred the cabbage.

Use a food processor

person shredding cabbage in a food processor

A food processor (we like this one) makes shredding cabbage extra simple. You still begin by cutting the cabbage into wedges. Set up a chopping blade in your processor. One by one, drop cabbage wedges into the food chute. Pulse on high while pressing the cabbage down with the pusher. Your machine will be able to shred a huge head of cabbage in mere seconds.

Test Kitchen tip: Want to skip a couple of steps? Shredded mixes can be found at most markets. Often they’ll mix in ingredients like brussels sprouts or kale. These ingredients taste just as delicious in a slaw.

Step 3: Make the dressing

person pouring a vinaigrette over shredded cabbage

Whisk together the mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar and seasonings in a large bowl until smooth. Toss in the shredded cabbage.

Test Kitchen tip: If you’re planning on adding in onion, do so sparingly. As the coleslaw sits (like this overnight slaw does), the onion’s flavor will intensify over time, overpowering the other delicious flavors.

Step 4: Refrigerate

Put the mixture in the fridge for at least two hours. Coleslaw tastes better the longer it sits. If you can prep ahead a day or longer, the flavor will be worth the wait. (After several days, however, it will start to get soggy.)

Test Kitchen tip: Don’t forget to taste the slaw after it sits. It may need a little more salt and pepper.

Once your creamy coleslaw is ready, there are many ways to gobble it up. Go beyond BBQ and try sprinkling it over a tostada or packing it onto your burger bun. For a classic combination, pair it with this Southwest Pulled Pork or Crispy Beer Battered Fish.

Wanna go coleslaw-crazy? Add some macaroni!

Nicole Doster
Nicole is the Content Director of TMB's Strategy and Performance team. She oversees the brand's shopping and trend editorial teams and assists with content planning across Taste of Home, Family Handyman, Reader's Digest, The Healthy and Birds & Blooms. With over seven years of experience writing and editing in the food and home space, she enjoys sharing cooking tips, recipe picks and product recommendations that make life a little easier. When she's not hunched over her laptop, she's either practicing latte art or fixating on her latest DIY home renovation.
James Schend
Formerly Taste of Home’s Deputy Editor, Culinary, James oversaw the Food Editor team, recipe contests and Bakeable, and managed all food content for Trusted Media Brands. He has also worked in the kitchen of Williams-Sonoma and at Southern Living. An honor graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, James has traveled the world searching for great food in all corners of life.