German coleslaw is the coleslaw recipe we didn’t know we needed. Instead of being weighed down with a mayonnaise-rich dressing, this recipe creates a light, delightfully tangy vinegar coleslaw. Its crunchy texture and sweet-tart flavor pair perfectly with rich sausages, grilled meats and hearty braised dishes. This simple German coleslaw recipe comes together in only 15 minutes, but you can make it ahead so it’s ready to eat when you are.
What makes this coleslaw German?
Many coleslaw recipes contain cabbage, carrots and mayonnaise, but German coleslaw is slightly different. German coleslaw—sometimes called “German cabbage salad” or krautsalat—features cabbage tossed in a sweet-tangy dressing. It’s not creamy, and the dressing is prepared without mayonnaise. Instead, shredded cabbage and onions are tossed with a vinegar-based dressing that infuses every bite with a bright, balanced flavor. It’s light and refreshing, and it pairs perfectly with rich sausage and grilled meats.
Ingredients for German Coleslaw
- Cabbage: German coleslaw recipes traditionally call for white cabbage, which is similar to the common green cabbage found at most grocery stores. If substituting a store-bought coleslaw mix, we recommend angel hair coleslaw. It contains only green cabbage, whereas many other bagged mixes also contain carrots and red cabbage (not typically found in German coleslaw).
- Green onions: Green onions are milder than other types of onions, and they contribute the perfect pungency to this flavorful slaw. Finely chopped white or yellow onions are a suitable substitute.
- Vinegar dressing: We make a boiled dressing with sugar, vinegar, celery seed, salt and canola oil. The hot dressing gently wilts the cabbage so it’s crisp-tender. White wine vinegar and cider vinegar are fantastic picks for this dressing.
Step 1: Prepare the cabbage mixture
In a large heatproof bowl, toss together the shredded cabbage and sliced green onions.
Step 2: Make the vinegar dressing
In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, celery seed and salt. Bring the mixture to a boil.
Add the oil, and return to boiling. Cook until the sugar dissolves.
Step 3: Toss the pickled slaw
Pour the vinegar dressing over the cabbage mixture. Toss gently. Chill the coleslaw before serving.
Editor’s Tip: For a warm German coleslaw, serve immediately without chilling.
- Add bacon: Fold chopped cooked bacon into this German coleslaw just before serving. (Psst: Our Test Kitchen blind-tested bacon brands to find the best bacon on the market.)
- Include caraway seeds: These seeds are highly aromatic and make a fantastic addition to cabbage recipes like sauerkraut and German coleslaw. Use them in addition to—or instead of—the celery seeds.
- Finish with herbs: Chopped parsley, chives and dill would add a fresh flavor and colorful finish to this German coleslaw.
- Make it with red cabbage: If you replace the cabbage with red cabbage, use brown sugar to intensify the sweet-and-sour balance in the dressing.
- Add fresh fruits: Apples and pears are both great options. They add a crunchy texture and a burst of sweet flavor.
How to Store German Coleslaw
Once cool, cover the bowl tightly, or transfer the German coleslaw to an airtight container. Store it in the refrigerator for up to five days. The texture will soften over time, so it’s best to enjoy within three days.
German Coleslaw Tips
Should you serve German coleslaw warm or cold?
Serve German coleslaw warm or cold—it’s entirely up to you! To serve it cold, chill the coleslaw in the refrigerator before serving. Or you can serve it warm right after making it. To reheat the coleslaw, cook it in the microwave or over low heat in a skillet on the stovetop.
How do you shred cabbage for German coleslaw?
You can shred cabbage with a knife, a box grater, a handheld mandoline or the shredding attachment on a food processor. We recommend using a mandoline or a food processor for this recipe. The coleslaw tastes best when the cabbage is very finely shredded.