What would a cookout be without a bowl of coleslaw? It’s a perfect palate cleanser between bites of smoky meat (these pulled pork recipes come to mind!). Yes, you can buy coleslaw at the grocery store, but you might not want to after making this creamy coleslaw recipe. Store-bought alternatives don’t come close to the fresh flavor and crisp texture of this easy coleslaw recipe.
How to Make Coleslaw
The best coleslaw recipe should also be easy to make, and this one is done in three simple steps. It starts with shredded cabbage. Choose one of our Test Kitchen’s ways to shred cabbage. You’ll find step-by-step instructions for the top methods below. Or, skip this step, and pick up a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix at the grocery store.
Up next is the coleslaw dressing. The dressing might be creamy like the one we use in this coleslaw recipe, or it could be vinegar-based. We toss the vegetables with the dressing, then let the slaw rest. Giving it at least an hour in the refrigerator lets the flavors come together.
How to Make Coleslaw Dressing
Coleslaw dressing is sweet and tangy, and it’s shockingly simple to make. It comes together in a matter of minutes! This easy coleslaw recipe uses mayonnaise as the base for the creamy dressing. The mayo adds a smooth consistency, and sour cream builds on that texture while contributing a light tangy flavor. Add in sugar, seasoned salt, ground mustard and celery salt, and you have a decadent dressing that perfectly coats each shred of cabbage.
How to Shred Cabbage for Coleslaw
First: Core the cabbage
Coleslaw recipes are all about the cabbage, and prepping it is the most work you’ll do for these recipes. To quickly chop a cabbage, cut the cabbage in half lengthwise. Make a V-shaped cut into each half to remove the core. Discard or compost the core. (Don’t add it to a veggie stock. It will overwhelm the flavor.)
Editor’s Tip: There are several types of cabbage. Purple cabbage tastes just as delicious as its green counterpart. However, it will dye your sauce a lavender hue that you might not want!
Second: Shred the cabbage
The way you cut the cabbage is important. It determines how much water will be released when it sits with the dressing. Hand-chopped cabbage holds more water and stays crunchier over time. Shredded or grated cabbage releases more water, making the slaw a bit softer. However you do it is your preference, but these are our top two easy techniques.
Chop with a knife
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
A food processor makes shredding cabbage extra simple. You still begin by cutting the cabbage into wedges. Then, set up a chopping blade in your processor. One by one, drop the cabbage wedges into the food chute. Pulse on high while pressing the cabbage down with the pusher. Your machine can shred a huge head of cabbage in mere seconds.
Creamy Coleslaw Ingredients
- Coleslaw mix: Premade coleslaw mix is a fantastic way to skip a lot of prep work. Most mixes contain cabbage and carrots, but you can also find blends with other ingredients (like Brussels sprouts, kale or jicama slaw). To substitute homemade coleslaw mix, you’ll need about 6 cups shredded vegetables to equal one 14-ounce bag of coleslaw mix. A good ratio is 1 cup shredded carrots and 5 cups shredded cabbage (green or red, or a combination of both).
- Mayonnaise: This is the base of our creamy coleslaw dressing. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can use homemade mayonnaise, but any store-bought variety works just fine.
- Sour cream: Most coleslaw dressings contain vinegar, but we use sour cream to make the dressing extra velvety. It still contributes a tangy note and adds rich flavor.
- Sugar: Sugar creates balance in the dressing. It counteracts the tart sour cream and adds a light sweetness.
- Celery salt: Celery seed provides a subtle, earthy note to the dressing.
Step 1: Make the dressing
In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, sour cream, sugar, seasoned salt, ground mustard and celery salt until smooth.
Step 2: Toss the coleslaw
Place the coleslaw mix in a large bowl. Add the dressing, and toss to coat.
Editor’s Tip: If you plan on adding onion, do so sparingly. The onion’s flavor will intensify over time, especially if the coleslaw sits like this overnight slaw. That can end up overpowering the other delicious flavors.
Step 3: Refrigerate
Store the mixture in the fridge, covered, until serving.
Editor’s Tip: Coleslaw tastes better the longer it sits. If you can prep ahead a day, the flavor will be worth the wait. (After several days, however, it will start to get soggy.)
Coleslaw Recipe Variations
- Include more spices: Add onion powder or garlic powder to the coleslaw dressing to amp up the savory vibes, or include fresh herbs in the cabbage mixture to give the slaw a fresh flavor. To kick up the heat, look to crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper.
- Add some tang: The best coleslaw recipes balance sweet and tangy flavors, but you may prefer your mix to lean toward the tart side. Add 1/4 cup lemon juice, white vinegar or cider vinegar to the dressing, or include a julienned Granny Smith apple in the cabbage mix (and use this hack to keep apples from browning).
- Make it colorful: Use a broccoli slaw mix to add a bright green color to this creamy coleslaw recipe. You can also add dried fruits like cranberries.
- Toss it with macaroni: Transform this easy coleslaw recipe into a meal by adding pasta. Macaroni coleslaw is filling on its own, but you could also top it with a protein to make the meal complete.
How to Store Coleslaw
Store coleslaw in the refrigerator, covered, for up to three days. You can make this coleslaw ahead of time to help blend the flavors, but the dressing will become thin over time as liquid releases from the cabbage. Whisking in extra mayonnaise can help fluff up the dressing before serving.
Coleslaw made with mayonnaise does not freeze well. If freezing is your intent, make a freezer slaw recipe with vinegar dressing instead.
Coleslaw Recipe Tips
What can you serve with creamy coleslaw?
Once your creamy coleslaw is ready, there are so many ways to gobble it up. Go beyond barbecue, and sprinkle it over a tostada, pack it onto your burger bun, or pair it with fried fish. Of course, it’s always a big hit served with pulled pork, so serve it alongside (or on top of) shredded pork sandwiches.
What is traditional coleslaw made of?
Traditional coleslaw recipes are made with shredded cabbage. Green cabbage is typical, although red cabbage is often added to provide a pop of color. You may find other shredded vegetables in slaw, such as carrots, Brussels sprouts or broccoli. The magic of coleslaw comes in the dressing, which usually uses mayonnaise for creaminess (although many fantastic coleslaws are vinegar-based, such as this sweet and sour coleslaw).
Why is sugar added to coleslaw?
Sugar provides balance in coleslaw dressing, taming down the tanginess created by vinegar or citrus juice. It’s responsible for creating the sweet-and-tangy profile that we know and love.
Can you make coleslaw a day ahead?
Yes, you can make coleslaw in advance. Making it a day before your event is a good idea, as the flavors will continue to meld and develop as it sits. That makes it perfect as a make-ahead potluck recipe.