My Golden Rule to Keep Coleslaw From Getting Watery (It Works So Well!)

published Jul 4, 2024
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overhead shot of coleslaw in a shallow white bowl.
Credit: Photo: Erik Bernstein; Food Styling: Rachel Perlmutter

Coleslaw comes in many forms. There’s the classic creamy slaw, taco slaw with red cabbage, and no-mayo coleslaw. No matter the recipe, cabbage-based coleslaws all have one thing in common, they’re all tossed in a dressing or sauce. It’s where they get the bulk of their flavor, and it’s also what leads to one of the biggest slaw pitfalls — sogginess.

No one wants to be the cookout host who serves limp coleslaw. Just as no one wants to be the guest with a plate full of watery, mayo-laced coleslaw liquid soaking into the bottom of their hot dog bun. Luckily, there’s a very simple step you can take to prevent soggy coleslaw forever: salt the cabbage.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How Salt Prevents Soggy Coleslaw

Salt draws the moisture out of vegetables — think about when you salt tomatoes before adding them to a sandwich or shredded zucchini before adding it to a bread or muffin batter. Soggy coleslaw is an unfortunate side effect of skipping the salting step before tossing the shredded cabbage with salted dressing. 

As the coleslaw sits, the salt in the dressing leaches moisture from the cabbage, watering down the dressing itself and adding extra liquid to the slaw. Taking the extra step of tossing shredded cabbage with salt and then letting it sit to drain before adding the dressing takes that extra moisture out of the equation and keeps the cabbage crisp.

How to Salt Cabbage for Coleslaw

  1. Place shredded cabbage in a colander. Set the colander in the sink or over a large bowl. 
  2. Add salt. Add about 2 teaspoons of salt per head of cabbage and toss to coat. 
  3. Wait. Let the cabbage drain for at least 1 hour. It should look slightly wilted by the time you’re ready to use it.
  4. Rinse. This is an important step, even though it might seem counterintuitive. Rinse the cabbage in cool water to remove the excess salt. 
  5. Dry thoroughly. You can pat the cabbage dry with paper towels or a clean dish towel, or spin it dry in a salad spinner.
  6. Make the coleslaw. Proceed with your favorite coleslaw recipe. You can salt, rinse, and dry cabbage up to 24 hours ahead of time and store in the refrigerator in a zipper-lock bag.