This classic coleslaw is called classic for a reason. It has a creamy mayo dressing made with mayonnaise, buttermilk, sugar, salt, vinegar, and lemon juice tossed with cabbage and scallions and left to rest until the flavors are perfectly mingled. A must have at every BBQ, picnic, and cookout.

A blue ceramic bowl filled with classic coleslaw.

Folks are calling this the best coleslaw they’ve ever experienced. It’s creamy, it’s only subtly sweet, it boasts the slight tang of vinegar, and retains all the crunch of cabbage. Very much like old-fashioned creamy coleslaw yet with a sorta contemporary flair.–Renee Schettler Rossi

A blue ceramic bowl filled with classic coleslaw.

Just Like Grandma’s Coleslaw

What makes us—okay, maybe just our editor-in-chief—partial to this classic coleslaw is the fact that it’s uncannily like her grandma’s coleslaw, made fresh each day during summer with just-picked cabbage from the garden, her grandma’s upper arm all a jiggle as she would vigorously stir together milk, vinegar, and sugar in a small dish and then dribble the sweetly tart elixir over a heap of sliced cabbage. The milky, sugary, tangy concoction was sweet relief from the boring bitterness of most veggies—then and now. This recipe finesses the classic with the addition of buttermilk and mayo, ensuring just the right tang. Trust us when we assure you that this coleslaw is one that your friends and family and yourself will be craving all summer long, whether as a stand-alone side or a plop of something crunchy and sweet atop a pulled pork sandwich.

A blue ceramic bowl filled with classic coleslaw.
A blue ceramic bowl filled with classic coleslaw.

Classic Coleslaw

5 / 5 votes
This classic coleslaw is called classic for a reason. It has a creamy mayo dressing made with mayonnaise, buttermilk, sugar, salt, vinegar, and lemon juice tossed with cabbage and scallions and left to rest until the flavors are perfectly mingled. A must have at every BBQ, picnic, and cookout.
Servings6 to 8 servings
Calories184 kcal
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time2 hours 10 minutes
Total Time2 hours 25 minutes


  • 6 cups finely sliced cabbage (from 1 small head)
  • 8 scallions (including green parts), thinly sliced
  • 3 to 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup milk (preferably whole)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk (either low-fat or full-fat)
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice


  • In a large bowl, toss together the cabbage and scallions.
  • In a separate bowl, stir together the sugar, salt, pepper, milk, mayo, buttermilk, vinegar, and lime or lemon juice. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if desired.
  • Pour about 2/3 of the dressing over the scallions and cabbage and stir. If desired, stir in some or all of the remaining dressing. Cover and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  • Serve cold. Stir to combine again thoroughly just before you sit down at the table. Originally published July 1, 2015.

Adapted From

The Little Smoker Book

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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 184 kcalCarbohydrates: 13 gProtein: 2 gFat: 15 gSaturated Fat: 2 gPolyunsaturated Fat: 8 gMonounsaturated Fat: 3 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 9 mgSodium: 536 mgPotassium: 200 mgFiber: 2 gSugar: 10 gVitamin A: 277 IUVitamin C: 30 mgCalcium: 66 mgIron: 1 mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2014 Franz-Christoph Heel. Photo © 2014 David Leite. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is one of the most pleasant coleslaws I’ve ever tasted. It’s creamy, cool, crunchy, and refreshing. The dressing is smooth and creamy with a slight tangy-sweet balance to it.

It only took me about 20 minutes to put the entire recipe together. I used most of my small head of green cabbage (about 20 ounces). I was nervous when it came to the amount of milk in the dressing, as I thought it might leave the dressing too thin. I decided to whisk the dressing after I added each ingredient. By the time I was finished adding all the ingredients, I had used 2/3 cup mayonnaise and the dressing was the consistency of a thick, pourable custard or béchamel sauce. The completed dressing measured 1 1/4 cups dressing. I only had time to chill the coleslaw for 2 hours before I served it, but it presented beautifully and was delicious!

Some people scooped it atop their barbecue sandwich, but most ate it on its own as a side salad. Everyone said it was the best coleslaw they’d ever eaten. The coleslaw didn’t have any liquid at the bottom when I served it. As I was putting leftovers away, I noticed a lot of liquid at the bottom of the bowl once most of the slaw was gone. I used a slotted spoon to put the remaining coleslaw into a different container.

This is an excellent coleslaw. The dressing is creamy, flavorful, and a perfect complement to grilled pork butt.

I quartered the head of cabbage, which made it very easy to remove the center core. The recipe required about 25 minutes hands-on time and at least 2 hours in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld. There was a very small amount of liquid in the bottom of the bowl after the time in the refrigerator, but it was minimal and certainly not enough to warrant draining off. The 6 cups slaw is enough to top at least 12 pork butt sandwiches.

This is the coleslaw I’ve been looking for all my life…seriously! There is an iconic French dip restaurant in Los Angeles founded in 1908 called Philippe The Original, and they make the best old fashioned coleslaw. Even after multiple phone calls inquiring about their secret ingredients (they told me milk, sugar, and vinegar), I could never get a result similar to their sweet yet tangy slaw. Philippe’s coleslaw always has a pool of the sweet, light, and milky dressing in the bottom of the hotel pan to add with a serving of coleslaw, or you can order it “dry” if preferred. Either way, the coleslaw tastes fresh, ever so slightly creamy, sweet, and satisfying. Well, much to my surprise, this coleslaw recipe delivered the same textures and sweet and tangy flavors of Philippe’s slaw.

One new element in this recipe is the green onions, but those were enjoyed by all. I used 1 small head cabbage, cut out the core, and thinly sliced it, leaving the slices 1/4 of the width of the cabbage. I think thin slices rather than shreds work better for this recipe. I used between 1/2 cup to 1/3 cup mayo and opted for lemon juice over lime, and the dressing thinned out within the 2-hour mark and left a lovely dressing at the bottom of the bowl. I retossed prior to serving.

I even had a little fun with the recipe and added some slivered almonds to my portion, and it added some extra crunch and flavor. I bet sesame seeds would make a great addition as well. This classic coleslaw recipe will replace all other coleslaw recipes I have tried but never ultimately loved over the years. Thanks Leite’s!

This is a solid and basic recipe for a creamy and sweet slaw, with an emphasis on sweet. It features just 2 simple ingredients—cabbage and scallions—bathed in a milky, sugary, and tangy dressing.

I’d happily make this again but with less sugar than is called for in the recipe. I started with a small head of green cabbage. I used lemon juice, whole milk, and whole buttermilk in the dressing along with Hellman’s light mayo. My slaw was in the refrigerator for 4 1/2 hours before serving, and there was some liquid accumulated at the bottom of the bowl that I drained off when serving.

We ate the slaw alongside poached salmon, boiled new potatoes, and steamed asparagus.

I’m always on the lookout for a coleslaw that doesn’t feel too heavy and isn’t too liquid-y—getting this really right is hard. This classic coleslaw hits all the right notes and it’s REALLY easy to make.

I used pre-shredded cabbage, which I happened to have on hand. I used Hellmann’s mayo (not the light stuff), and it was the perfect amount. There was a tiny amount of liquid in the bottom of the bowl when I went to serve it (~8 hours after I made it). I left out the sugar because I tasted the dressing and didn’t think it needed it. I was right—perhaps it could use a touch of sweetness but certainly not 5 tablespoons.

We ate it as a side salad (and also, ahem, out of the bowl I made it in, standing by the kitchen counter). I’ll be making this again. Thank you. Store-bought coleslaw, begone!

The sweet and tart slaw is family-approved! This classic coleslaw is perfect as a sandwich topping or as a side dish to any grilled meat. It seemed like there was not enough dressing to bind all the cabbage and scallions, but the cabbage wilted down.

The slaw produced 10 to 12 servings. This is a quick and simple slaw that everyone should add to his or her recipe file. Great for summer barbecues!

Anyone can make coleslaw. Everyone has his or her own recipe. Most are average at best. We tend to allow the other items in our meal to be the star and simply toss an unmemorable coleslaw on the plate for contrast. But this coleslaw is easily the star of the meal. The flavor is layered, rich, and a bit sweet with a nice tanginess and hint of salt.

I shredded a smallish head of green cabbage in a food processor. I used Duke’s mayonnaise and some fresh lemon. It takes about 10 minutes to prepare and is just as good the next day as it is after refrigerating for a couple of hours. Make it a day ahead and try leaving it alone for 24 hours. Good luck and enjoy!

I made this coleslaw for a family cookout. It was delicious and everyone loved it. There wasn’t any left over. It served 10 people. I’d definitely make this again because it tastes great, is easy to prepare, can be made ahead, and the ingredient list is short and affordable.

I started with a small head of cabbage and used the whole thing to get 6 cups. I used Hellman’s reduced-fat mayonnaise. I used dehydrated buttermilk because I usually have it on hand for baking and it worked perfectly. I’d use it again when making this recipe. I refrigerated the coleslaw for 2 hours and it did not need to be drained.

This classic coleslaw is quite close to my mom’s and grandma’s version. I think they both added celery seed to it, though I prefer it the way this recipe is done. Nice crunchy texture and well balanced flavor.

One nice thing about buying a bag of shredded cabbage is that you not only save a lot of work at home, but you can usually find some with a nice bit of color added, through the addition of shredded carrot and shredded red cabbage. The dressing makes quite a bit. If you prefer a slightly drier slaw, start by adding just 2/3 of the dressing to the mix. You can always add more to your liking.

Originally published July 03, 2019

About David Leite

David Leite has received three James Beard Awards for his writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I’ve been on a search for a cole slaw that doesn’t scream, but melts in my mouth. I think this is it; not too much of anything, it just works. If you choose to, add more of whatever you’d like, but this is a great jumping off place for the cole slaw of old. For personal preference, I added a splash of apple cider vinegar, celery seed, grated carrots for color and a bit more freshly ground black pepper. Oh-and it ages well!

    1. Some of that is inevitable, Sam. You could first salt the cabbage before you toss it with everything else and let it drain in a colander or strainer for 30 or so minutes. Then rinse, drain again, and proceed. That will take some of the liquid out of the cabbage sooner rather than letting it weep while it’s combined with the other ingredients. And since the liquid drains off, it shouldn’t get soggy, though it will lose a little crunch. Let us know how it goes!

  2. 5 stars
    I’ve been making this recipe for years (similar to the KFC copykat recipe), and it’s always a winner. I add shredded carrots for some colour.

    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to let us know, June! Yes, it is like that good old KFC slaw, isn’t it? I love the added color. And I usually add a little extra black pepper just to lend a little more sharp heat to contrast against the sweet.

  3. 5 stars
    The creamy coleslaw on your site has been my go-to ever since I discovered it years ago. Every once in a while you get an itch to try something different so today I gave this one a try. Loved it! So refreshing, lighter in taste than the other. Awesome to have two excellent coleslaws in my repertoire.

  4. David, I like a really simple coleslaw with a mayonnaise dressing. This is a little different from mine but looks very good! I’d cut back on the sugar and salt, but that’s just me. I’d have only one complaint if you handed that bowl of coleslaw to me — it’s waaaaay too small! 😀

    1. Jean, I hear you about the size. Way too small for me. too. But with 8 servings, that 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt, and the sugar is a suggested amount.