Classic Coleslaw

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Need a classic side dish or a crunchy sandwich topping? This easy coleslaw recipe mixes colorful shreds of cabbage and carrots with a delicious creamy dressing.

Classic coleslaw in a white bowl

Tastes better from scratch

Homemade coleslaw delivers nutritious phytonutrients from the vibrant plant pigments. It’s also a quick and flavorful summer side dish that goes with your favorite barbecued foods. I personally love it on a pulled pork sandwich for extra crunch. My three-ingredient base includes chopping up two types of cabbage and shredding carrots.

What makes this salad amazing is the creamy coleslaw dressing. The goal is to create just the right texture to cling to the shredded vegetables but not be too heavy. The solution is to balance the mayonnaise base with tangy ingredients like sour cream, lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar. A touch of honey adds just a hint of sweetness.

If you’re a fan of this dish, be sure to give my vinegar coleslaw and Asian slaw a try too!

shredded cabbage and carrots in bowls

How to make coleslaw

Use green cabbage as the base with a smaller amount of red cabbage to give a pop of purple color. Cut the cabbage into thinly sliced shreds about ¼-inch thick. You can use a chef’s knife or kitchen graters like a mandoline or box grater.

Peel and shred the carrots or purchase pre-shredded carrots. Combine the shredded cabbage and carrots in a large bowl. Whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, honey, vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and celery seeds. Toss half of the dressing with the coleslaw mix. Add more or serve on the side.

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Seriously the best creamy dressing

Learning how to make coleslaw dressing is easy! Mayonnaise is the base. It’s a permanent emulsion, so it’s simple to add in the other flavoring agents and still have a luscious texture. I like to make my homemade mayonnaise for this recipe, so I can use a healthier olive oil.

You can, of course, use store-bought products if you’re in a pinch for time. The acidic ingredients help to cut through the richness of the mayonnaise. For a more pungent taste, add some Dijon mustard to the dressing. Whole celery seeds also add a nice subtle contrast to the creamy and tangy taste. It can be omitted if you can’t find it at the store.

whisking creamy dressing in a bowl

Can this be made ahead of time?

Yes! Coleslaw can be made up to 1 day ahead of time when mixed with the dressing. However, the mixture will become watery with a diluted flavor, and the cabbage will not be as crunchy. Make sure only to toss half of the dressing with the vegetables, drain off some of the liquid that pools at the bottom of the bowl after sitting.

Drizzle the reserved dressing over the coleslaw right before serving for better taste and texture. You can also precut the cabbage and carrots, which are hearty and store very well when refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 5 days, then toss it in the dressing, which can be made 3 days ahead of time, right before serving.

shredded cabbage and carrots in a bowl before being mixed

Preventing and fixing watery coleslaw

I cut the cabbage about ¼-inch thick so that it has a nice crisp bite without being too large in size. The thinner the cabbage, the more water will release due to the surface area and the more wilting that will occur. The water released is inevitable over time, so it’s best to wait to mix. That’s why I add only half of the dressing, then serve extra on the side.

Another option is to sprinkle some salt, about 1 teaspoon over the cabbage and allow it to draw out the moisture for about an hour, rinse, drain, and pat dry between paper towels before adding the dressing. This will season the cabbage and reduce seeping of the water, however, this technique loses some crunch factor.

What to serve with this

close up of colorful coleslaw in a bowl

Why does coleslaw become watery?

When the salt in the dressing is combined with the shredded cabbage, it draws the moisture out of the cell walls of the exposed cut sections. That moisture moves out of the cabbage and overtime into the dressing, which gets watery and bland. This also dilutes the flavor of the salad if dressed too soon.

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Classic Coleslaw

Easy homemade coleslaw recipe mixes crunchy shredded cabbage and carrots with a creamy dressing perfect for a side dish or sandwich topping.
Pin Print Review
4.21 from 24 votes
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time0 mins
Total Time30 mins
Servings 6 servings
Course Side
Cuisine American


  • 4 cups shredded green cabbage, ¼-inch thick slices
  • 2 cups shredded red cabbage, ⅛-inch thick slices
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seed, optional


  • Securely hold the green cabbage, and carefully cut down through the stem to create two halves. Place the cut side down on the cutting board. Cut each cabbage half into quarters by cutting down through the stem. Flip the quarters over and carefully remove the thick core with a knife. There should be four wedges. Repeat the process with the purple cabbage.
  • Use a chef's knife to cut the green and green cabbage into ¼-inch thick slices, or use a mandoline to shred the cabbage.
  • Peel and shred the carrots using a grater, peeler, or cut them into ⅛-inch thick slices.  For convenience, pre-shredded carrots can be used.
  • In a large bowl combine the green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots.
  • In a medium-sized bowl whisk together mayonnaise, sour cream, honey, apple cider vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and celery seeds if using.
  • Right before serving, drizzle half of the coleslaw dressing and toss to combine. Add more dressing as desired or serve the rest on the side.

Recipe Video


  • Quicker Version: Use pre-shredded cabbage and carrots, and store-bought mayonnaise.
  • Yield: The dressing makes ¾ to 1 cup.
  • Make-Ahead: The dressing can be made ahead of time and stored for up to 3 days in an airtight container. Add right before serving for the best vegetable texture.

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Nutrition Facts
Classic Coleslaw
Amount Per Serving
Calories 176 Calories from Fat 135
% Daily Value*
Fat 15g23%
Saturated Fat 3g15%
Cholesterol 10mg3%
Sodium 347mg14%
Potassium 220mg6%
Carbohydrates 10g3%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 7g8%
Protein 2g4%
Vitamin A 3978IU80%
Vitamin C 36mg44%
Calcium 43mg4%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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10 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Gary says

    I prefer a non-dairy sweet and sour dressing with rice vinegar, honey, grainy mustard, California olive oil (I like the rich taste), celery seed, salt/pepper. My biggest issue is getting the cabbage cut correctly. My food processor cuts chunks rather than long, fine lengths. I have to try cutting it manually instead.

  2. Kris says

    We loved this recipe, thanks Jessica! Thanks for the tips, too. I cut up the cabbage and carrots the day before and stored them tightly covered in the fridge.
    I prepared the dressing exactly as written, and opted not to use the celery salt this time. The honey added just a hint of sweetness, and the combination of mayo and sour cream was perfect. This will be my go-to coleslaw recipe from now on!

  3. Nora says

    Yum. I left out sour cream because I didn’t have it and used a little more mayo. I added about 1/2 cup of some grated daikon radish I wanted to use up and a little grated red onion. Love the depth of flavor the honey adds in place of sugar.

    The whole family loved it and wanted me to make a second batch before we cleaned up after dinner.

    Served with BBQ pulled pork and corn on the cob.

  4. Maria Terry says

    I’ve been searching for a slaw dressing for a long time. I finally found it! Made this last night to go with some pulled pork and it was delicious. Not too tangy, not too sweet. Just right. Not fond of celery seed, glad it was optional.

  5. JJ says

    Is this a recipe that tastes great fresh, but even a bit better a day older? Let the flavors meld? Prep-ahead for those big outdoor/entertainment gatherings?

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