Expert Tips for Making the Perfect Coleslaw

Secrets to ensure your slaw is a standout.

When making coleslaw, there’s one major decision that inevitably comes to mind: whether to go the creamy route (mayo, buttermilk, sour cream, yogurt) or the vinegar one (white wine, red wine, apple cider vinegar). The debate between the two is so great, in fact, that Erik Niel, chef and owner of Easy Bistro & Bar and Main Street Meats in Chatanooga, Tenn. referred to it as the “Slaw War.” See below for our take, plus five more tips for perfecting the barbecue standby.


Rather Than Choose, Combine the Two. 

Photo by Stuart West (c) Dorling Kindersley/Getty Images

Though a bit untraditional, the best kind of slaw may be a combination of creamy and vinegar. “One of the more successful [slaws] I’ve ever made was a hybrid of the two, and I ran that one on my menu for a long time,” Niel says. “It made both camps pretty happy.” Chef Richard Blais, winner of Bravo’s Top Chef All-Stars, agrees that one kind doesn’t reign supreme. “I don’t discriminate when it comes to coleslaw!” When combining, he suggests two parts creamy to ¼ part vinegar.


Go for the Green. 

It may seem boring, but “regular old green cabbage is about the best way to go,” says Niel. And Blais agrees. Purple cabbage will bleed into the slaw as it marinates (see tip four), defeating the purpose of a colorful, green-and-purple slaw. To ensure each piece of cabbage is uniformly sized, Niel shreds his on a mandolin (we’re partial to this Oxo one), while Blais opts to shred using a food processor (he uses this BLACK+DECKER one, which includes a shredding disc).


Don't Skip the Salt. 

To ensure the coleslaw stays nice and crisp, it’s crucial to salt the cabbage before mixing in the remaining ingredients. The salt squeezes out any excess moisture, so the coleslaw will stay crunchy for days. “Toss the raw cabbage in salt, and rest for at least 30 minutes,” Blais says. “Then give it a quick rinse.” This step is particularly important for creamy slaws, which are especially prone to sogginess.


Give It Some Time. 

While slaws can be thrown together in a pinch (Niel’s “quick and dirty slaw” consists of buttermilk, salted cabbage, and Tabasco), it’s best to let the mixture marinate for a few days. You’ll know the slaw is ready to eat when the flavors have developed, but it's still crunchy, Niel says. The slaw should last another three to four days, but should be tossed when it starts to get mushy.


Continue to Season as It Sits. 

Because the flavors will continue to develop as the slaw marinates, don’t worry about perfecting the seasoning when you first make the batch. “If it’s not hot enough, add more seasoning,” Niel says. “Don’t feel like you’ve got to get it right on the first mix. The flavors develop. You can continually season it.”


Serve It on the Side. 

We’re not opposed to serving slaw atop a barbecue pork sandwich, but a really delicious slaw tastes best as a side. Try it as an accompaniment to fried seafood (think fried shrimp, fried oysters, or fried trout) or alongside a sloppy Joe.