How to Make Coleslaw, According to Professional Chefs

Skip the pre-made stuff and learn the secrets to making coleslaw like a pro.

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Still life with bowls of Mauritian pickled coleslaw (zasar)
Photo: BRETT STEVENS/Getty Images

Whether it's a backyard barbecue or potluck picnic, chances are there's a big bowl of colorful, crunchy coleslaw on the table. It's just one of those classic summer side dishes that pairs well with anything from burgers and hot dogs, to flaky grilled fish and slow-cooked ribs. Despite countless recipes out there, it all comes down to whether you prefer coleslaw that's rich and creamy or tangy and acidic (hint: there's no wrong answer.)

No matter what type of coleslaw your family fancies, one thing is for sure—nothing beats a fresh, homemade batch. Though convenient to grab a container at the supermarket, trust us: The store-bought stuff isn't nearly as delicious. Use our tips from professional chefs to craft your own flavorful coleslaw at home. You'll be surprised at how easy it is!

How to Make It

Follow this recipe for a classic, creamy coleslaw comes out perfect every time.

For the coleslaw:

  • Head of green cabbage
  • Head of red cabbage
  • 2 carrots
  • Fresh herbs (such as parsley and chives)

For the dressing:

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (white or apple cider)
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  1. Thinly slice both heads of cabbage and place in a big bowl.
  2. Using a mandolin or peeler, carefully shave the carrots and add to the bowl.
  3. Chop fresh herbs, sprinkle them over the vegetables in the bowl, and then set aside.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix all the dressing ingredients and taste, and then adjust as needed.
  5. Pour dressing over the cabbage and mix thoroughly so everything is coated.
  6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Tips and Tricks

The best thing about making coleslaw is that it's easy to make and it's easy to put your own creative spin on it. When customizing, keep these tips and tricks from professional chefs in mind.

Try an alternative base. There are plenty of ways to customize the base of your slaw using vegetables you have on hand. Chef Thomas Boemer of Revival in Minneapolis suggests ingredients like Napa cabbage, broccoli, and bok choy as great options.

Remove the moisture: Is there anything worse than soggy, watery coleslaw? Since cabbage is made up of about 92 percent water, according to Dan Snowden, chef and Director of Culinary Operations for Chicago-based restaurant group Land and Sea Dept., it's absolutely key to remove as much moisture ahead of time. "The easiest way to extract water from cabbage is by salting it," he explains. "Shred, chop, or mince the cabbage and toss it in a bowl with salt, then, let the salted cabbage sit in the fridge for at least an hour. Lastly, drain the cabbage in a colander, pressing down to squeeze out as much liquid as possible."

Make it crunchy: While cabbage adds the perfect crunch, Gabriel Glasier, former executive chef, restauranteur, and founder of Chef Travel Guide, suggests adding seeds and nuts for additional texture. "The options are nearly unlimited, ranging from sunflower seeds to roasted walnuts." He recommends using pepitas or pumpkin seeds because they add a nice nutty flavor.

Control the sweet: If you don't like your coleslaw on the sweeter side, Glasier suggests swapping the sugar or honey with dried fruit, which lowers overall sweetness and replaces it with small bites of sweet fruit flavors. "Cranberries and dried cherries work really well, especially alongside roasted pistachios or pecans."

Experiment with different flavors: Who says coleslaw can't take on a different flavor? Christina Bailey, a Michelin-star restaurant alum of Thomas Keller's Bouchon Bistro and culinary instructor for Cozymeal, urges you to spice up a traditional coleslaw dressing. For example, if you enjoy Eastern flavors, she suggests "tamarind, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, palm sugar, and chopped peanuts" for a fun Pad Thai-inspired slaw. For a Mediterranean-style dish, she recommends flavors like turmeric, curry paste, red pepper, or a bit of harissa paste.


Armed with our professionals' tips and tricks, check out this roundup of simple coleslaw recipes, and then experiment to create your signature style.

Turkey Sloppy Joes With Coleslaw
Raymond Hom

Turkey Sloppy Joes With Coleslaw - You don't have to be a kid to enjoy this classic that pairs rich, saucy sloppy joes with crunchy coleslaw—a perfect weeknight meal. Get the recipe.

Slow-Cooker Barbecue Pork Sandwiches With Crunchy Coleslaw
The sweet, tangy, spicy pork matches well with the crisp, creamy slaw. Get the recipeSlow-Cooker Barbecue Pork Sandwiches With Crunchy Coleslaw. Romulo Yanes

Slow-Cooker Barbecue Pork Sandwiches With Crunchy Coleslaw - Nothing pairs better than tangy pork sandwiches and creamy coleslaw. Impress your guests by making this dish at your next summer get-together. Get the recipe.

Slow-Cooker Open-Face Pulled-Pork Sandwiches With Tangy Broccoli Slaw
Coat the pork with a mixture of tomato paste, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and Cajun seasoning to impart sweet, tangy flavors while it cooks. Get the recipeSlow-Cooker Open-Face Pulled-Pork Sandwiches With Tangy Broccoli Slaw. Marcus Nilsson

Tangy Broccoli Slaw - This recipe calls for unique ingredients like crunchy broccoli, dried sour cherries, and unsweetened kefir instead of mayo. It pairs perfectly with a simple piece of grilled salmon or steak and is just one of those dishes that tastes even better the next day. Get the recipe.

Two shrimp tacos with citrus and cabbage slaw are served on a white plate.
Get the recipe. Anna Williams

Shrimp Tacos With Citrus Cabbage Slaw - The easiest way to elevate any taco is with a zesty, citrusy slaw. This recipe boasts a Mexican-inspired flair by adding jalapeños and corn to standard cabbage—and the result is delicious! Get the recipe.

Carrot and Parsnip Slaw
Buy pre-shredded carrots or use a food processor to easily cut the hearty root vegetables into bite-size matchsticks. (Very mature parsnips can sometimes have a hard, woody core. To remove it, quarter each parsnip lengthwise and cut out the dark core.) Then, toss the whole lot with a simple and slightly creamy yogurt vinaigrette. Get the recipe. Danny Kim

Carrot and Parsnip Slaw - If cabbage isn't your thing, this carrot and parsnip slaw is for you. It calls for a few simple ingredients—lime, plain yogurt, and fresh dill—and is ready in 15 minutes. Doesn't get much better than that! Get the recipe.

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