The Classic Coleslaw Recipe.

There are a LOT of things I love about this classic coleslaw recipe that my family has been making for years. It’s crunchy, creamy, sweet and vinegary – all in one mouthful. Plus it’ll keep in the refrigerator for dayssssss. This is not an adventurous coleslaw or an innovative one. It’s better than that – it’s an old timey delicious one.

You’ve got your cabbage, your carrots, your mayo, sugar and vinegar. What you don’t have is a good old fashioned coleslaw recipe that you know you’re going to love. I would like you to take your finger, point it at yourself and declare out loud – I DO NOW.

Your search for a traditional coleslaw recipe that you actually like is over. It has ended right here on this Internet page. The same Internet that often lies to you. The same one that convinced you to add butter to your morning coffee and assaulted you with videos of people making Spaghetti-O pie for dinner.

If you don’t know how to make coleslaw I’m gonna lay it out for you right now.

How to make coleslaw

You shred some cabbage and carrots and mix it up with dressing. That’s it. (you can also add other things like celery, onions etc. etc.) But at its heart coleslaw is raw shredded carrots and cabbage.

The dressing

Coleslaw dressing falls into 2 categories: creamy or vinegary. This is what often alarms people. If you’re looking for a creamy coleslaw, the kind you’d get at KFC for instance, you’ll be disappointed if you use a recipe that’s for a vinaigrette based dressing.

Creamy coleslaw dressing (like the one in this recipe) does contain vinegar, but it also has mayonnaise which gives your slaw that creamy consistency.

How to shred that cabbage!

The two easiest ways to shred cabbage are with an electric food processor or with a plain old chef’s knife.

  1. If you have a food processor, fit it with the shredding attachment and feed slices of your cabbage through the tube. You’ll end up with a finely shredded cabbage.
  2. You can also shred it by hand by just cutting it thinly with a knife. I cut the cabbage in half and then with the flat side on the counter cut straight through the cabbage at less than 1/4″ intervals.

Because I like to complicate things whenever possible, I shred my cabbage both ways for my coleslaw. I think it creates the best texture to have both the finer slaw which is great at absorbing the creamy dressing, and the bigger slaw for bigger crunch.

Do I think this is the best coleslaw recipe? Yes I do. I’ve been eating it for years and declaring those exact words every time I eat it.

Will you think it’s the best? I can’t say 100% for sure because we really don’t know each other that well – but I think so, yes. For instance, I absolutely knew you weren’t going to like butter in your coffee.

How long will it last in the fridge?

This coleslaw is going to last 3-5 days in the fridge. The further away from day 1 you are the less crunchy the slaw will be. By day 5 it will still indeed be crunchy but not nearly as much as it is on day 1 or 2.

This recipe tastes best after a day of marinating in the fridge so feel free to make it the day before you plan on taking it to a picnic, BBQ or bed with you.

karen bertlesen

I usually make this with only a green cabbage but it looks much better visually when you add some red cabbage to it. Why? Because red cabbage was officially declared the most beautiful of all the vegetables. By me, just now, in a desperate attempt to appear authoritative and “in the know.”

You don’t need a ton of carrots, one or two big ones will be fine. Once everything is diced and shredded you can mix up your dressing.

The dressing is white vinegar, water, sugar, mayo, and salt. But you can change it up depending on how wild you’re feeling or what you have in the kitchen.

Swapping ingredients

Swap White vinegar with – Apple cider vinegar (use the same amount)

Swap Sugar with – Honey (use 1/3 cup honey, instead of 1/2 cup sugar)

Swap Mayo with – Greek yogurt (make sure it’s plain yogurt,) or even sour cream (use the same amount)

Once you’ve shredded your ingredients, you just add them to the dressing and mix it up, add a sprinkling of celery seed and you’re done. You can either put it in the fridge to marinate or eat it right away, but it really will be better the next day. Like chili!

Before you ask where I got the matte black bowls, I got them at my local grocery store (Loblaws in Canada) years ago but I did find similar 10 oz matte black bowls on the dreaded Amazon.

The Recipe

Traditional coleslaw in a small black bowl lined with a red cabbage leaf.

Classic Coleslaw Recipe.

Yield: 8 cups
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Additional Time: 1 day
Total Time: 1 day 15 minutes

A classic, creamy coleslaw that takes no time to make and lasts for days in the fridge. Crunchy, creamy, sweet, vinegary.

Ingredients

  • SLAW*
  • 1 large green cabbage (shredded)
  • 1 onion diced small
  • 1-2 carrots (shredded)
  • 1 tsp. Celery seed
  • DRESSING
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp salt

Instructions

Slaw

  1. Shred your cabbage and carrots either by hand or in a food processor.
  2. Dice your onions and mix with cabbage.

Dressing

  1. Mix together sugar, vinegar, water, mayo, and salt and whisk until combined and there's no grainy sugar feeling when you rub a bit of the dressing between your fingers.

Mix

Combine the vegetables and the dressing and sprinkle with celery seed. Let marinate in the fridge for 1 day. (You can eat it immediately, it just tastes better after a day)

Notes

*You can also add diced celery, green pepper, red pepper or a handful of shredded red cabbage for colour.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 16 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 143Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 10gCholesterol: 7mgSodium: 269mgCarbohydrates: 9gFiber: 1gSugar: 8gProtein: 0g

What goes with coleslaw?

Almost ANYTHING BBQ or grilled. The sweet and sour of the coleslaw marries perfectly with the smoky flavours of the grill.

Have your coleslaw with:

Or as I mentioned earlier, bring the whole bowl to bed with you and crunch your way to a restful slaw induced dream state. Also you’ll need to probably wash your sheets in the morning. FYI.

Who has the best coleslaw recipe? You do now. Trust me on this. Even though the Internet lies – I don’t.

HAHAHAHAHAHA. I lie all the time, just not about coleslaw recipes. Go forth, try it and let me know what you think.

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35 Comments

  1. Gaye says:

    Similar to my recipe. Way less sugar and either champagne vinegar or homemade pear vinegar is our fav. For a change of pace we add grated fresh ginger , cilantro and a little slices of red raddishes.
    And with the vinegar it lasts a week for regular slaw.

  2. Sharon says:

    You often have crazy ideas but this recipe was NOT one of them ;)
    Just made it and even without sitting overnight it’s really, really tasty !

  3. Julie M says:

    Agreed, wise one. Red cabbage is a true work of art. However, I learned the hard way many years ago to not add it to my coleslaw if I want to store it for a couple days. Sadly, it turns the slaw into a very unappealing wet, pink confetti.

  4. Michael Cataline says:

    Hi Karen! I love this recipe! I substitute red wine vinegar and add half a bunch of freshly chopped cilantro in with my slaw mix. Excellent slaw for barbecue sandwiches or slaw dogs!

  5. Renate says:

    This is almost my dressing recipe (maybe with less sugar). But the thing that puts it over the top is a dash of pure sesame oil. You should try it!

  6. Connie in Tucson says:

    My family’s version must include the key ingredient – celery seed. And the creamy sweet/vinegary dressing. Great recipe for every holiday. Thx

  7. Jan in Waterdown says:

    If anybody out there is looking for a great vinegary coleslaw, Moishes from Costco (Canada, don’t know about elsewhere) is really really very good. And it lasts forever in the fridge.

  8. Petra says:

    Yeah, I’ll bet it’s delicious and totally more-ish, but that much sugar is big trouble for me (cuz I’m old and arthritic.) So I’d have to sub in some grated apple or a teeny bit of honey or even (!) maple syrup (just a smidge). Or just make it your way for everybody else. Yechh, getting old sucks.

  9. Mary W says:

    As Mary Poppins would say, there is a change in the air – as Mary W would say, that means hot dogs with coleslaw. I was tempted to not read this post as I DO NOT like vinegar on my hot dogs, I want sugar. So many people love sour coleslaw but not me. I love cabbage and eat it raw in huge chunks but for my slaw it must be sweet. I eat my breakfast cereal without sugar as I like the flavor of the grain. I am American and eat most of my veg from the garden raw w/o sugar, but my slaw SUGAR please. Anyway, I’m so pleased to know the Karen is a sweet slaw lover, also. I have my hot dogs with butter and sweet slaw. Weird but I’m from Wisconsin and butter was on everything while growing up. My tongue would think it had been transplanted if it tasted a hot dog without butter or with vinegar slaw. (I make my own vinegar and pineapple is my favorite and love vinegar if I make it from scratch. Almost as much as I love Karen’s blog!!!

  10. Susan says:

    My dressing is similar to Karen’s. Though instead of straight vinegar I use the liquid from yum yum pickles which already has some sugar in it. I make sure that I don’t contaminate the liquid when I’m eating the pickles—no finger diving though I’m often tempted. Makes delicious coleslaw.

  11. ErinG says:

    Looks like my mental recipe. The only thing I do differently is adding the salt directly to the veggies and let them sit a while before mixing into the dressing. My aunt adds cream to her coleslaw and baby, it’s amazing. Not sure I wanna start down that road…

  12. NinaMargo says:

    Karen, thanks for a great column (as always!) and great recipe! I tweak every recipe I use (can’t help it), so here goes: I’d sub rice vinegar for the vinegar and water, eliminate the sugar, and maybe use liquid Stevia if I thought it needed a sweet touch. (Rice vinegar is sweet by nature, so maybe you don’t need to add sugar or stevia.) I’ve added cabbage, etc to my list, and got a craving going, better check to see if my favorite BBQ place is open today, since it’s Labor Day!

  13. Kathy Copp says:

    I am going to try this… Making my grocery list now. Anything with mayo has to be good! My go to slaw is Brookville cole slaw… Which came from a charming restaurant in tiny Brookville, Kansas. Family style chicken dinners served in a very old hotel built back when they moved cattle with horses. I lost my recipe so googled it hoping another person from around here would have put it on the net.. totally shocked to see it being used all over the US. (The art of doing stuff has become my favorite place to visit)

  14. Lee Hoy says:

    Our recipe is similar to this one and it was from the back of the Hellmanns jar cir. 1980’s. However, there is sweetened condensed milk in it. P.S. My luffas are huge this year.

    • Karen says:

      Excellent! I have one that’s looking huge and the others are very definitely just medium sized, lol. But I got them into the ground LATE this year. Good luck with yours! ~ karen!

  15. Danni says:

    Poppy seeds are a good addition, but finely minced jalapeños really do it for me!
    Yup, that’s my recipe basically, and of course you have to mix it often while chilling in the ‘fridge…
    Who am I kidding, I just leave a fork in it because I’m scarfing down some every time I’m within range.

  16. Katie Hughes Murphy says:

    So close to my Mama’s I’m going to the grocery today to get the ingredients! Gotta be Hellman’s (I am a mayonnaise snob, sorry!) and will use buttermilk instead of water (again, Mama) and some celery and dill seeds (she was German). Just wish my husband was still alive, he would have loved this!

  17. Pam says:

    Very similar to my recipe. I put celery seed in mine and use buttermilk instead of water.

    Can not make my baby back ribs and not have the coleslaw and a pot of spicy pinto beans to balance out the sweetness of the barbecue sauce. Oh, I make homemade French bread too because It is written in a holy manuscript someplace, in the menu section, that Homemade bread is required under penalty of death.

  18. Claire says:

    Sorry to be a party pooper but you know, it’s always interesting to throw a devil’s advocate into the mix. (I don’t mean throw one into the coleslaw mix though, too hot and spicy 🌶 😈). BUT, my issue is a simple one. WHY PUT SUGAR IN??? Is it an American thing to add sugar to almost anything? I’m sure it adds something , I don’t deny it probably makes it moreish but I bet it’s still delicious without and then way less diabetes inducing! Doesn’t need honey or any form of sweetener other than the carrots themselves imho. But hey, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a huge slab of hot chocolate fudge cake for afters! So I’m not that squeaky clean…. Love your posts btw x

    • Pam says:

      Karen’s Canadian so she usually puts maple syrup in every recipe.

    • Jane says:

      I haven’t tried the recipe yet, so I can’t comment on the amount of sugar. But adding a bit of sweetener in salty/vinegary things usually enhances the flavour and elevates it to a whole new level.

    • Karen says:

      Well I’m actually Canadian, so I can’t speak to it being an American thing, lol. There are definitely other coleslaw recipes that call for no or very little sugar. But not this one. This is a sweet and sour flavour profile. ~ karen!

  19. Jani Wolfe says:

    Can you swap out the mayo and use miracle whip instead? Going to make this tomorrow but I don’t have mayo.

  20. Linda says:

    Instead of water, my family recipe uses milk. Makes it even creamier! When my jar of Dukes Mayo is less than 1/3 full, I add the other ingredients to transform the Mayo to coleslaw dressing and store it in the fridge so that it’s always on hand.

  21. Sande says:

    Just like mom used to make!

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