How To Make The Best Coleslaw

These little changes will make a big difference.

coleslaw in a bowl after chilling for 2 hours
Photo: Will Dickey

Let's be honest: Coleslaw is often an afterthought. A bowl of slaw is an automatic addition to a cookout menu, right next to the potato salad and baked beans. We eat it, but do we ever take a second helping? Do we ever say, "Wow, that's great coleslaw"? Maybe that's the problem—coleslaw actually does require a little thought.

Wait! Don't close this tab! I'm not talking about adding foraged ingredients, or a 10-hour cook time. Coleslaw is a simple dish and should be take minutes to whip up. But these small tweaks can take it from mundane to memorable. And these tips can be used with just about any recipe, whether you like your coleslaw classic or not classic at all.

Don't skimp on the acid

Green cabbage is naturally sweet, which is why it pairs so well with a tangy dressing. Whether you prefer a creamy, mayonnaise-based dressing or a vinaigrette, be sure to add enough acid.

Apple cider vinegar is my favorite choice for coleslaw. It has a subtle, fruity sweetness that balances out the vinegar's sharpness. Our Classic Coleslaw recipe calls for cider vinegar.

Or you can use a combination of acidic ingredients. Our Buttermilk Coleslaw uses buttermilk and apple cider vinegar. This South Carolina Slaw also calls for apple cider vinegar, and Dijon mustard adds some tartness, too.

Whatever you choose, taste the dressing after you stir it together, and then after you mix in the cabbage and other ingredients for the slaw. Like an extra dash of salt or pepper, the coleslaw might need an extra splash of vinegar once everything comes together.

Use freshly ground black pepper

Speaking of pepper, don't you dare use the pre-ground stuff. You really shouldn't use the pre-ground stuff ever (it tastes like spicy dust), but especially not in coleslaw. A generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper adds a much-needed pop of heat, which livens up the cabbage.

Don't dress it in advance

Coleslaw is not a make-ahead dish. If you leave a bowl of dressed slaw in your refrigerator overnight, you'll end up with soggy cabbage and a pool of dressing.

However, it's a great prep-ahead dish. You can mix up the dressing several days in advance and store it covered in the fridge. An hour or so before you're ready to serve the coleslaw, add the dressing and mix it well. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

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