How To Make the Best Creamy Coleslaw

updated Aug 31, 2023
summer
Creamy Coleslaw Recipe

Classic coleslaw with shredded cabbage, carrots, and a creamy dressing is the perfect side for your next backyard party.

Serves10 to 12

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Classic Creamy Coleslaw made of shredded green cabbage carrots and a creamy mayonnaise dressing
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

This coleslaw is a classic. As in, the classic, with green cabbage, shredded carrots, and creamy dressing. If you’re looking for a show-stopping creamy coleslaw that promises to play nice with all the burgers and hot dogs at your next backyard party, we have you covered.

What Is Coleslaw?

This recipe for creamy coleslaw is the epitome of what a good slaw should be: green cabbage, a few carrots, and a creamy dressing. It is a classic side dish to the cookout fare we’re all eating this time of year. 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 on the original (case in point: this Tri-Color Coleslaw recipe). Shred some red cabbage alongside the green for a pretty mix of colors. And don’t be shy about adding a few chopped celery stalks or some bell peppers in there — anything crunchy and fresh will only make the coleslaw better.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Three Creamy Dressings for Coleslaw

There are three different coleslaw dressings that show up again and again in the classic American cookbooks. No matter which version you try, each of these creamy coleslaw dressings are brightened with vinegar (white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar) and balanced with sugar and kosher salt.

  • Mayonnaise dressing: Makes a richer, slightly sweeter dressing.
  • Buttermilk dressing: Makes a lighter, tarter dressing.
  • Sour cream dressing: Makes for a rich and tangy dressing.

I’m a buttermilk girl, personally, but luckily there is a creamy coleslaw dressing for everyone. (And if there’s no buttermilk in the fridge, it’s quick and easy to make a buttermilk substitute.) Zuzh up any of these dressings with a spoonful of mustard, a sprinkle of celery seeds, or a bit of grated onion.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How To Make Coleslaw in Advance

Freshly made coleslaw is at its crunchiest, creamiest best if eaten on the day it’s 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 soggy.

If you must make coleslaw a day or two in advance, it is best to shred the cabbage and carrots, and then store them, undressed, in a container in the fridge until you need them. Mix up the dressing in a mason jar or other small container; when you’re ready to assemble the salad, just shake up the jar and pour.

Salting Cabbage is Essential for Extra-Crunchy Coleslaw

Salting the cabbage seems counterintuitive since the salt draws moisture from the cabbage, causing it to wilt. But, once sqeezed of that excess moisture the slaw is extra-crunchy, and the salad itself will keep without becoming waterlogged.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

How To Serve Coleslaw

Chill the coleslaw in the fridge for about an hour before serving. 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 to drizzle over the slaw just before serving.

More Coleslaw Recipes to Make

In the mood for something beyond the usual? Try one of these great recipes:

Creamy Coleslaw Recipe

Classic coleslaw with shredded cabbage, carrots, and a creamy dressing is the perfect side for your next backyard party.

Serves 10 to 12

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the slaw:

  • 1 small head

    green or red cabbage (2 to 2 1/2 pounds)

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt (optional)

  • 2 to 3

    large carrots (3 to 3 1/2 cups shredded)

  • 1 1/4 cups

    coleslaw dressing (options below)

Dressing Option 1: Mayonnaise

  • 1 cup

    mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup

    white wine or apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

Dressing Option 2: Buttermilk

  • 1/2 cup

    buttermilk

  • 1/2 cup

    mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup

    white wine or apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

Dressing Option 3: Sour Cream

  • 1/2 cup

    sour cream

  • 1/2 cup

    mayonnaise

  • 1/4 cup

    white wine or apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

Equipment

  • Chef's knife

  • Food processor with a shredding blade, or box grater

  • Large bowl

  • Small bowl

  • Whisk

Instructions

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  1. Shred the cabbage. Halve 1 small head green or red cabbage through the core and peel off and discard 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 fitted with a shredding disc.

  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 1 tablespoon kosher 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 transfer to a large bowl and continue making the coleslaw.

  3. Shred the carrots. Peel 2 to 3 large carrots, then either shred them using a food processor with the shredding disc, on the large holes a box grater, or cut by hand into very small matchsticks (3 to 3 1/2 cups shredded). Add the carrots to the bowl with the cabbage and toss to combine.

  4. Make the dressing. Place all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Taste and season with more kosher salt, sugar, or vinegar as needed.

  5. 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.)

  6. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. Coleslaw has the best texture and flavor the day it's 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.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

The nutritional information has been calculated with the mayonnaise dressing.