Traditional Coleslaw

5 from 7 votes

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Easy, classic, crunchy, and creamy, a classic coleslaw recipe that's perfect for barbecues, grilling nights, and as a sandwich side.

Old-fashioned coleslaw on plate with steak and grilled vegetables.

Even though coleslaw may feel expected for a summer menu, it can also uninspired. But it is so easy to make a delicious, simple slaw that goes with EVERYTHING and has people coming back for seconds. A perfect creamy dressing, not too heavy, not too drippy, and just the right amount of crunch. A traditional coleslaw is perfect as a barbecue or grilling side and a great thing to bring to a potluck (or ask someone to bring it to your potluck). Or pile it on a pulled pork sandwich!

This is a very flexible classic coleslaw recipe, so feel free to play around. Use any cabbage you have. I like napa, but you can definitely use regular green head cabbage, red cabbage, or a combo for an even more colorful blend. Any color bell pepper will work — or leave it out. Use more or less carrots as you like. Dial up and down the hot sauce. Change up the scallions for onions. Make sure all of the ingredients are very thinly sliced or shredded so that you can eat it easily with a fork.

Serve this with anything from a Grilled NY Strip Steak or Grilled Burgers or a sandwich like a BLT, a Sub, or a Club.

Old-fashioned coleslaw in glass bowl with spoon on picnic table.

Traditional Coleslaw, Easy, classic, crunchy and creamy, perfect for barbecues, grilling nights, and as a sandwich side.

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What Is Coleslaw?

First of all: cole slaw, coleslaw, or slaw? They are all valid. Dealer’s choice!

Coleslaw is a salad usually made from cabbage with a dressing that can be either mayonnaise-based (as this one is) or made with a vinaigrette-type dressing. Carrots, bell peppers, and radishes are other common ingredients, and you can make slaws with other firm, shred-able vegetables — see below for other unusual slaw recipes!

Classic Coleslaw Ingredients

  • Shredded cabbage – Some slaws are made from green cabbage, some red, some napa, and some a combination of different cabbages. My favorite is napa cabbage, which I think has a more delicate texture, but you may want to go for more color.
  • Shredded carrots – Aside from cabbage, this is the most common vegetable in coleslaw. Regular orange carrots are the most used, but if you want to play around with different colored carrots, you can keep changing up the look of your slaw!
  • Slivered bell pepper – Peppers add another type of texture and flavor to coleslaws. I like to use red, orange, or yellow bell peppers in my slaw, but you can also use green or purple varieties as well. Green peppers are not as sweet as the ones in the red-to-yellow category, so that’s a taste choice. Make sure to slice the peppers finely so they blend in with the shredded cabbage and carrots.
  • Scallions – Trim and thinly slice the scallions, using both the white and green parts. You can also use very finely sliced onions or shallots. This adds a little sharpness and heat to the slaw. 
Fork grabbing coleslaw from glass bowl.

For the Dressing

This is a very simple and classic mayo-based dressing with tanginess from vinegar for a classic, old-fashioned coleslaw.

  • Mayonnaise – Gives the dressing its creaminess and richness. I always use regular mayonnaise in coleslaw, but you can use a low-fat version, an olive- or avocado-based version, or whatever mayo you keep on hand.
  • Vinegar – Provides a light tanginess to the dressing. I like apple cider vinegar, which has a gentle tartness and flavor, but it’s a small amount, so use whatever you like. I also like rice vinegar for its mildness in creamy dressings.
  • Sugar – Just a teaspoon will do it. The tiny bit of sweetness rounds out the tanginess, and makes the slaw taste like an All-American slaw.
  • Minced onion – Adds a bit of a bite to the dressing.
  • Hot sauce – A little adds a bit of flavor, and more adds some heat — up to you!
  • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground pepper – Always!

Variations

There are so many takes on the shredded vegetable salads we know as slaws. Try one of these unusual slaw recipes!

Serving Creamy Blue Cheese and Bacon Coleslaw from white bowl.
Creamy Blue Cheese and Bacon Coleslaw

Do you Cut or Shred Cabbage for Coleslaw?

This is definitely a matter of preference! I think super thinly slivered cabbage makes the best slaws, but I don’t like the cabbage chopped too fine, which creates a mushy texture.

You can use the shredding or the grating blade on the food processor and process chunks of the cabbage. Or, you can use a box grater, using the side with the biggest holes. Or, use a flat grater with large holes. You can also use a large sharp chef’s knife and a cutting board. Cut the cabbage into chunks and slice down through the layers, trying to cut the cabbage as thinly as possible across the head to get fine slivers of cabbage.

How to Make Classic Coleslaw

  1. Make the dressing: In a large bowl, mix together the vinegar and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mayonnaise, onion, hot sauce, salt, and pepper, and blend well.
  2. Toss and season: Add the cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, and scallions and toss to blend well. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Glass bowl filled with classic coleslaw.

Make Ahead and Storage

You can chill the salad for up to a day before serving. This slaw is best served the day you make it, though leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.

FAQs

Is coleslaw healthy?

Look, this is a vegetable side, and cabbage, carrots, and peppers are very healthy. But let’s face it: the mayo dressing is not. This salad is not drowning in mayo, but it does have a nice amount of creamy dressing, and I think that coleslaw is meant to be enjoyed on the right occasions. You also don’t need a cup of slaw to fill your plate; a smaller scoop will do just fine. But seriously, you will likely make some lovely sautéed spinach or roasted broccoli soon enough, so why not make a slaw that tastes great and not think of it as health food?

Why is it called cole slaw?

According to BBQ expert Steven Raichlin, “coleslaw has been part of America’s barbecue landscape, since the founding of our nation – if not before.” The name comes from the Dutch words cole (which means cabbage) and slaw (which means salad), a reminder of when Manhattan was a Dutch colony. He says that Amelia Simmons mentions slaw in her cookbook “American Cookery” which was published in 1796. The Dutch word “Koolsa” translates to cabbage salad.

What type of cabbage is in cole slaw?

Green cabbage is most commonly used in cole slaw, but any type of cabbage would work. Red or purple cabbage makes a colorful slaw, while napa or savoy cabbage have a more delicate result. And you can always use a blend for even more textural and color variety.

What to Serve With Coleslaw

Picnic table with plate of sliced steak, grilled eggplant, and coleslaw.
Coleslaw with Grilled Rib-eye and Grilled Zucchini

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5 from 7 votes

Traditional Coleslaw

Easy, classic, crunchy, and creamy, a classic coleslaw recipe that's perfect for barbecues, grilling nights, and as a sandwich side.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
Servings: 8 People
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Ingredients 

For the Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • ¾ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion or shallot
  • Hot sauce (to taste)
  • Kosher or coarse salt and freshly ground pepper (to taste)

For the Coleslaw:

  • 6 cups finely shredded cabbage (preferably napa)
  • 2 carrots (peeled and shredded)
  • 1 red, yellow, or orange bell pepper (cored, seeded, and very thinly sliced)
  • 8 scallions (trimmed and thinly sliced; white and green parts)

Instructions 

  • In a large bowl, mix together the vinegar and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the mayonnaise, onion, hot sauce, salt, and pepper (be generous with the salt and pepper!), and blend well.
  • Add the cabbage, carrots, bell pepper, and scallions and toss to blend well. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Notes

You can chill the salad for up to a day before serving. This slaw is best served the day you may it, though leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Nutrition

Calories: 174kcal, Carbohydrates: 7g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 16g, Saturated Fat: 2g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g, Monounsaturated Fat: 4g, Trans Fat: 0.04g, Cholesterol: 9mg, Sodium: 308mg, Potassium: 215mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 4g, Vitamin A: 3199IU, Vitamin C: 42mg, Calcium: 38mg, Iron: 1mg
Like this recipe? Rate and comment below!

About Katie Workman

Katie Workman is a cook, a writer, a mother of two, an activist in hunger issues, and an enthusiastic advocate for family meals, which is the inspiration behind her two beloved cookbooks, Dinner Solved! and The Mom 100 Cookbook.

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6 Comments

  1. Monika says:

    Your food looks great. Xx

  2. Leslie says:

    Perfect recipe for a classic coleslaw recipe! So perfect to bring as a side dish for a get together!

  3. Helen at the Lazy Gastronome says:

    I’ve never been successful with homemade coleslaw – until now. This will forever be my go to recipe!!

  4. Audrey says:

    This was excellent for a side at a BBQ!

  5. Tiffany says:

    This is so good for a summer bbq! Refreshing and light!

  6. Nicole says:

    This is delicious! It’s a side that my family requests when we get together!