Why Salting the Cabbage Is a Must for Extra-Crunchy Coleslaw

published Jun 27, 2023
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Classic Creamy Coleslaw
Credit: Joe Lingeman
Classic Creamy Coleslaw

Dolly Parton’s coleslaw recipe turned up at the perfect time this spring — just as I planned the first potluck of the season. The country music queen’s coleslaw was just the thing to complete the menu. 

I was intrigued by the culinary curveballs Dolly includes in her version of the classic dish, like chopped dill pickles and sweet pickle juice. But I noticed that she skipped a simple step that I consider vital. For the crunchiest coleslaw, always salt the cabbage first. 

What Makes Coleslaw Soggy Sometimes?

Dolly calls for letting the slaw rest for 15 minutes before serving. As noted in our review, this resulted in a watery dressing. Why did this happen? It is all because the cabbage was not salted in advance. 

In the creamy dressing is salty pickle juice and salt. As the coleslaw mixture sat, the salt pulled moisture from the freshly cut cabbage and diluted the dressing. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Science Behind Salting Coleslaw Cabbage

You need to salt the cabbage first to draw out excess moisture before dressing the slaw. The scientific process involved is called osmosis, and it is the same concept applied when you dry brine your Thanksgiving turkey

When the cut cabbage is sprinkled with salt, water from inside the cabbage is expelled from the cells. By salting the cabbage first, you can discard the excess moisture rather than allowing it to water down your dressing. 

How to Salt Cabbage for Crunchy Coleslaw

  • Salt the cabbage. Toss 1 head of prepared cabbage with 1 tablespoon kosher salt. 
  • Let it sit. Place salted cabbage in a colander over a bowl for 1 to 2 hours. The salt pulls moisture out of the cabbage, seasons it, and leaves you with a super-crunchy texture that isn’t raw or tough-tasting. 
  • Rinse! Rinse well to purge the salt. 
  • Get rid of the excess water. Squeeze cabbage dry with paper towels or take it for a spin in a salad spinner to remove the excess water. 
  • Make your favorite coleslaw recipe. Our classic creamy coleslaw is my go-to.