Classic Coleslaw


There's nothing fancy about this creamy, slightly sweet coleslaw—and that's what makes it so good.

Classic Coleslaw
Photo: Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox
Active Time:
12 mins
Total Time:
42 mins

Although coleslaw shows up at pretty much every picnic, backyard barbecue, or fish fry, it often plays second fiddle to the flashier dishes at the gathering. But when you have a really good coleslaw, you stop and take notice.

My grandmother's coleslaw was always that for me. There were no long strands of carefully sliced cabbage; it was in little bits, similar to fast-food coleslaw. It was always creamy and slightly sweet—but not so sweet that it lost the "bite" of the cabbage. It was simple. And it was delicious.

Although my grandmother passed away many years ago, through memory I've been able to replicate her recipe. Even my teenagers, who usually don't eat coleslaw, had second helpings of this one and gave me the best disgruntled-teen compliment I could ask for: "Mom, this is actually really good."

How to Make Classic Coleslaw

This recipe starts with an easy dressing made by whisking together mayonnaise, sugar, cider vinegar, salt, and pepper.

coleslaw dressing in a bowl with a whisk
Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Then you shred cabbage, carrots, and a Vidalia onion on the large holes of a box grater—or use a food processor, like my grandmother did in her later years. Since you're shredding everything into small bits, you can even use the core of the cabbage for less waste.

coleslaw ingredients in a bowl
Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Then you'll stir all the shredded veggies into the dressing. Chill the coleslaw for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to marry, and that's it!

coleslaw in a bowl with a wooden spoon
Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

Classic Coleslaw Ingredients

Humble ingredients are all you need. The mayonnaise is the base of the dressing, so use one you really love; I always use Duke's for its superior creaminess and slight tang.

Granulated sugar dissolves easily into the dressing and lends general sweetness; brown sugar would assert itself too much with its caramel-molasses notes.

Cider vinegar delivers acidity that's softer and sweeter than what you'd get from white vinegar or lemon juice.

Mild green cabbage is the one to go with here, as red cabbage would taste too peppery.

Carrot adds pops of color and sweetness, and Vidalia onion is the secret to the depth you taste in every bite. The mild-flavored onion lends some backbone without overpowering; since it's shredded, it "melts" into the coleslaw. People who don't like raw onion (like my kids) don't even detect it, except that they know this coleslaw tastes more complex than typical ones.

You might notice that this recipe does not include celery seed, which many coleslaw recipes call for. My grandmother didn't use it, and I don't care for its flavor (musty and bitter to me), but if you like it, by all means add some!

coleslaw ingredients
Photography: Caitlin Bensel; Food Styling: Torie Cox

What to Serve with Classic Coleslaw

This is your go-to side to serve alongside fried fish, a shrimp boil, fried chicken, chicken wings, hot dogs, burgers, pulled pork, smoked brisket, and any grilled meat. You can also scoop it up with a slotted spoon and serve it on burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork sandwiches, tacos, or fried fish sandwiches.

How to Store Coleslaw

Classic Coleslaw will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 5 days. Give it a good stir before serving; the dressing might pool on the bottom of the container, and you want to re-coat everything with that goodness. It is not a great contender for freezing, as it will be watery when it thaws.


  • 1 cup mayonnaise

  • 6 Tbsp. sugar

  • ¼ cup cider vinegar

  • 1 ½ tsp. kosher salt

  • 1 tsp. black pepper

  • 1 small (2-lb.) green cabbage head

  • 2 large carrots (about 5 oz.)

  • 1 small Vidalia onion (about 6 oz.)


  1. Whisk together mayonnaise, sugar, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

  2. Cut cabbage head into quarters; shred on the large holes of a box grater. Shred carrots and onion on box grater. Add cabbage, carrots, and onion to mayonnaise mixture; stir well to combine. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.

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