Recipe Review

I Tried Dolly Parton’s Coleslaw Recipe, and It’s the Only Side Dish I Want to Have for Grilling Season

published Apr 27, 2023
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cole slaw piled on yellow plate
Credit: Lena Abraham

With barbecue season around the corner, keeping a solid coleslaw recipe in your back pocket is crucial. Cool, creamy, and crunchy, it’s the perfect foil for smoky grilled meats, rich sides, and swelteringly hot days. We know it, we love it.

But what you might not know, is that country music icon Dolly Parton has a recipe for the stuff that’s got the internet buzzing. Pulled from her 1989 cookbook Dollywood Presents: Tennessee Mountain Home Cooking, this recipe looks a lot like a classic coleslaw, but she throws in some curveballs (sweet pickle juice and chopped dill pickles!) for a salad that has chefs swearing it’s the best they’ve tasted. Something told me that Dolly probably does know her way around a mayo-based dressing, so I had to try the recipe out for myself.

Get the cookbook: Dollywood Presents: Tennessee Mountain Home Cooking

Credit: Lena Abraham

How to Make Dolly Parton’s Coleslaw 

Dolly’s slaw starts the way most do, with a head of green cabbage. I grabbed a medium head that weighed around 2 pounds, which I later found to be a good size for the amount of dressing and seasonings. Mince or shred the cabbage into small pieces (more on that later) and transfer to a bowl large enough to accommodate a potluck-sized amount of slaw. To the same bowl, add one finely minced onion, one grated carrot, half a diced bell pepper, and a tablespoon of minced dill pickle (or relish, if you prefer). 

The ingredients for the dressing can be added directly to the bowl with the veggies, but I chose to whisk it together in a separate bowl so they could start dissolving and melding into each other before the big toss. It contains: 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/4 cup sweet pickle juice, 1/4 cup white vinegar, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt (I used Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt), and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper.

Pour the dressing over the veggies and toss well with a pair of tongs until the dressing completely coats the slaw. Cover and chill 15 minutes before serving.

Credit: Lena Abraham

My Honest Review of Dolly Parton’s Coleslaw 

I gotta hand it to Dolly, this recipe results in what I would consider the platonic ideal of a classic, mayo-based coleslaw. The dressing is expertly balanced; it’s both sweet and savory, creamy and acidic, rich and bright — quite literally the perfect adornment for shredded raw cabbage. There are hints of pickle-y flavors like celery seed that add a certain je nes sais quoi to the final dish, and the briny pops of chopped dill pickle are a welcome addition. Next time, I’d add even more of them. 

This slaw would of course be right at home on a potluck table beside pulled pork and potato salad, but it would also be the perfect topper for a fried chicken sandwich, or beside some beer-battered fish and french fries. It’s flavorful enough to hold its own, but not so overpowering that it would overshadow the dishes it accompanies.

It’s also ripe for customization: next time, I might add some caraway or celery seeds, a handful of chopped herbs, or maybe some minced jalapeño. It’s a great recipe to use as a jumping-off point. But the dressing? I wouldn’t change a thing.

Credit: Lena Abraham

3 Tips for Making Dolly Parton’s Coleslaw

  1. Use a mandoline if you’ve got it. You can’t beat the texture of cabbage that’s been shredded on a mandoline. Light, fluffy, and primed to be coated in dressing, I much prefer this method to hand-chopped or food processor-minced cabbage. It’s also a major time saver, as breaking down a head of cabbage requires some elbow grease. 
  2. Salt the cabbage to avoid watery slaw. Though the recipe calls for resting your slaw for 15 minutes before serving, I found that in that time, the cabbage and other vegetables had already lost a good amount of moisture, making the dressing a little more watery than I’d like. Salting your cabbage (for at least 15 minutes) to remove moisture is a great way to combat this. And if you don’t feel like prepping your cabbage beforehand, I’d recommend serving this salad as soon as you’ve tossed it together, for optimum crunch and the creamiest dressing. 
  3. Add that other half of the bell pepper (and anything else you like). Using partial portions of whole fresh ingredients is always a little annoying. Like, what am I supposed to do with this extra half of bell pepper? In this case, I’d recommend using the whole thing. This slaw has enough dressing to accommodate at least another cup of fresh ingredients, so feel free to shred another carrot, finely dice a couple sticks of celery, or mandoline that lonely head of the fennel at the bottom of your crisper drawer and add it to the party. The more the merrier!