This basic coleslaw recipe is sure to be a hit at your next summer cookout.
Basic Coleslaw Recipe
Credit: Jamie Vespa MS, RD

Creamy, crunchy, and tangy all at once, coleslaw really is the quintessential summer side. This cooling cabbage salad is a game changer when it’s too hot outside to cook, and it's a refreshing complement to meaty mains like baby back ribs, brisket, burgers, and more. Plus, colelsaw can easily serve—and please—a crowd.

What’s the best way to make coleslaw? There's million and one methods for it, from Peach-Ginger Slaw to Broccolini Slaw, but what about a basic, foolproof recipe? We’re talking about the kind that pops into your head when you hear the word coleslaw. It's the irresistibly comforting kind with cabbage—and a heaping of creamy mayo.

So, we’ve crafted a basic coleslaw recipe guaranteed to cut through summer heat. With crunch, acidity, creaminess, and a touch of earthiness, our coleslaw recipe is everything you want from the much-loved side. Plus, it looks damn good on a picnic table.

Below, we break down how to make the crunchiest, creamiest coleslaw you’ve ever experienced into three easy steps. Note: this recipe will make about 10 cups of coleslaw—so it can easily feed a crowd (about 12-14 people).

What You’ll Need:

  • ½ head green cabbage (about 5 to 6 cups sliced)
  • ½ head red cabbage (about 4 cups sliced)
  • 4 medium carrots, sliced (about 2 ½ cups)
  • 2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • ½ cup mayo
  • 1-2 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • ½ tsp celery seed
  • ½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

Step One: Slice the Cabbage and Carrots

Basic Coleslaw Ingredients
Credit: Jamie Vespa MS, RD

Jamie Vespa MS, RD

Without the crunch, coleslaw simply wouldn’t be coleslaw. It’s one of the most satisfying elements of coleslaw, and it’s the perfect contrast to the texture of burgers and pulled pork.

So, how do we get that crunch? We use a colorful trifecta of green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots—but there are plenty of possibilities. Honestly, you could use any type of crunchy veggie. Napa cabbage, bok choy, sliced radishes, bell peppers, or broccoli stems are all delicious options.

Yes, slicing cabbage and carrots by hand is labor-intensive, but trust us—it’s seriously one of the best ways to improve your knife skills. A razor sharp knife yields the cleanest, most precise slices, but a long serrated knife also works. If you’re in a rush, you can use a box grater to shred the veggies, but they won’t be as crisp—or pretty. Bagged coleslaw mix is acceptable in a pinch (even if it's kind of cheating).

Slice the cabbage thin and julienne the carrots—then place everything into the largest mixing bowl you own. While you can certainly just start hacking away, there's easy methods for slicing both veggies that will make your prep work go much faster. For a prettier coleslaw, cut the cabbage and carrots slices the same length.

How to Slice Cabbage

1. Quarter the cabbage: First, remove the tough outer leaves, then slice the cabbage in half lengthwise. Slice each half once more so you end up with four wedges.

2. Remove the core: The core is located above the stem, and you’ll be able to see a small piece of it on each wedge. Remove it by making a triangular cut around the core, then gently work it out of the wedge. Rinse each wedge under cool, running water, then pat dry with paper towels.

3. Slice the wedges: The red cabbage is good to go—but because green cabbage tends to be a bit larger, you'll want to slice the wedges in half once more (so you have 8 wedges). Next, slice each wedge into thin ribbons (this is where a sharp knife makes all the difference).

How to Julienne Carrots

How to Julienne Carrots
Credit: Jamie Vespa MS, RD

Jamie Vespa MS, RD

1. Prep the carrots: Wash and peel the carrots. Slice each one in half or into thirds (depending on the size).

2.Square off the pieces: Flattening one side of the carrot pieces makes them much easier to cut. Do this by slicing off one side of each piece so that it’s able to lie flat on your cutting board.

3. Cut them into planks: Carefully slice each piece into thin “planks,” then lie them across your cutting board.

4. Julienne the planks: Slice each plank as thinly as possible, then combine with the sliced cabbage. You can mix everything with tongs—but clean hands are effective too.

Step Two: Make the Dressing

Coleslaw Dressing Ingredients
Credit: Jamie Vespa MS, RD

Jamie Vespa MS, RD

The creamy dressing is the main flavor carrier for your coleslaw and it binds all the other ingredients together. Make sure your dressing is well-seasoned—so that the flavors will shine once you combine it with the cabbage.

Our coleslaw dressing packs a creamy mayo base, tangy champagne vinegar for balance, plus additional flavorings for complexity. Make the dressing separately in a small bowl before combining it with the cabbage mixture, so you can fine tune the flavors as needed. Here’s a breakdown of each ingredient:

Mayo: For a wholesome, full-fat flavor that makes your coleslaw super satiating, good old mayo is the way to go. We won’t go into types of mayo to use—but Duke’s Mayonnaise has a hardcore following (at least in the South). For a healthier dressing, you could also use equal parts Greek yogurt and mayonnaise.

Champagne Vinegar: Many traditional coleslaw recipes use apple cider vinegar, but we love the punched-up tanginess of champagne vinegar. The flavor is ultra-crisp, clean, and delicate—a perfect balance to the richness of mayonnaise.

Flavorings: In addition to kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, fresh herbs like dill, add an earthy element to your slaw—while celery seed lends a grassy, subtly bitter flavor.

Step Three: Mix It Up

Coleslaw Dressing and Cabbage
Credit: Jamie Vespa MS, RD

Jamie Vespa MS, RD

Now, it’s time to put all the pieces together. Slowly pour the dressing into the cabbage mixture and mix well with tongs or a rubber spatula. Chill the coleslaw in an airtight container for about an hour to let the flavors combine. You can slice the veggies and make the dressing the night before, but don’t mix everything together until the day you’re serving it. (The cabbage tends to lose its crunch if you add the dressing too early.)

So, there you have it—easy, basic coleslaw that’s sure to be a hit at your next cookout. Learn this recipe, memorize it, then customize it however you like. Make it with a different type of vinegar, swap in different types of cabbage (like napa or bok choy), or toss in dried cranberries or chopped nuts.

By Elizabeth Laseter and Elizabeth Lasseter