How To Make Classic Creamy Coleslaw

How To Make Classic Creamy Coleslaw

Emma Christensen
Jun 12, 2017
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

This coleslaw is a classic. As in, the classic, with green cabbage, shredded carrots, and creamy dressing. If you're looking for a solid, dependable coleslaw that promises to play nice with all the burgers and hotdogs at your next backyard party, then here it is.

Classic Creamy Cole Slaw: Watch the Video

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Turning Cabbage into Coleslaw

To me, this diner-style coleslaw is the epitome of what a good slaw should be: green cabbage, a few carrots, nothing more. It's nothing flashy, but that's as it should be. Slaw is the back-up dancer to flashy barbecue numbers. Its cool creaminess, crunchy texture, and tangy flavor balances out the richness of smoked and grilled meats.

This said, I'm not opposed to the occasional riff. Throw in some red or purple cabbage alongside the green — that mix of colors is so very pretty on the plate. I've also been known to toss a few chopped celery stalks or some bell peppers in there. Anything crunchy and fresh will only make the coleslaw better.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Choosing Your Dressing: Three Classics

There are three different coleslaw dressings that show up again and again in the classic American cookbooks:

  1. Mayonnaise dressing
  2. Buttermilk dressing
  3. Sour cream dressing

All three are typically cut with some vinegar — either white wine vinegar or cider vinegar is great — along with a little sugar and salt.

I'm a buttermilk girl, personally, but I respect other coleslaw choices. I also respect the addition of other flavorful things — a spoonful of mustard, a sprinkle of celery seeds, a bit of grated onion. Sure! Start with one of the three dressings as a base and dress it up however you like.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Avoiding Soggy Coleslaw

Freshly made coleslaw tends to be at its crunchiest, creamiest best if eaten within the day its made. The longer it sits, either on a picnic table or in the refrigerator overnight, the more liquid is released from the shredded cabbage, which can make the salad overly wet and soggy.

If you're hoping to make the slaw a day or two ahead, I'd suggest prepping the cabbage and carrots, and then storing them, undressed, in a container in the fridge until you need them. The dressing can be made in a mason jar or other small container; when you're ready to assemble the salad, just shake up the jar and pour.

There's one other option, too: salting the cabbage. This seems counterintuitive since salting the cabbage causes it to wilt, so this requires some trust. Once squeezed of liquid and mixed with the carrots and the dressing, the texture of the cabbage is actually quite crunchy, and the salad itself will keep for several days.

Let's Make Some Slaw!

Give the coleslaw about an hour to chill in the fridge before you serve it. This gives the flavors time to mingle and relax into each other. For that extra little kiss of coleslaw goodness, save a little bit of the dressing and drizzle it over the slaw just before serving.

Ingredients for Coleslaw

How To Make Coleslaw

Serves 10 to 12

What You Need

For the slaw:
1 small head (2 to 2 1/2 pounds) cabbage (green, red, or a mix)
2 to 3 large carrots (3 to 3 1/2 cups shredded)
1 tablespoon salt, optional
1 1/4 cup coleslaw dressing

For the dressing (choose one):

Mayonnaise dressing:
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Buttermilk dressing:
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Sour cream dressing:
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

Chef's knife
Food processor with a shredding blade, or box grater
Large mixing bowl
Small mixing bowl


  1. Shred the cabbage: Cut the cabbage in half and peel off a few of the thin outer layers. Cut each half into quarters, then cut out the tough core in the middle. Slice each quarter crosswise into thin shreds, or run the quarters through a food processor with a shredding blade. Transfer the shredded cabbage to a large mixing bowl.
  2. Salt the cabbage — OPTIONAL: Salting the cabbage helps it stay crisp a little longer if you're making the coleslaw ahead. Transfer the cabbage to colander and toss it with a tablespoon of salt. Let stand on a plate or in the sink for an hour or two. Squeeze as much moisture as you can from the cabbage, then continue making the coleslaw.
  3. Shred the carrots: Peel the carrots, then either cut them into very small matchsticks, or shred them using a food processor with a shredding blade or on a box grater. Transfer the shredded cabbage to the mixing bowl with the cabbage.
  4. Toss the shredded cabbage and carrots together.
  5. Whisk the dressing: Whisk together the ingredients for your dressing in a small bowl. Taste and add more salt, sugar, or vinegar to taste.
  6. Toss the slaw with the dressing: Pour the dressing over the shredded cabbage and carrots. Toss gently to combine, making sure all the shreds are coated evenly. (If you're making this more than an hour or two ahead of your party, save a little dressing to toss with the salad just before serving.)
  7. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving: Coleslaw has the best texture and flavor the day its made, but it still keeps well for several days in the fridge. If you're making this coleslaw more than a day ahead, don't skip the salting step above. For extra creaminess, drizzle a little reserved dressing over the top of the slaw, or fold an extra spoonful of mayo into the slaw just before serving.

Nutritional information has been calculated using mayonnaise dressing.

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