Classic Coleslaw

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 coleslaw yet with a sorta contemporary flair.–Renee Schettler Rossi

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.

Classic Coleslaw

  • Quick Glance
  • (3)
  • 15 M
  • 2 H, 25 M
  • Serves 6 to 8
5/5 - 3 reviews
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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.

Print RecipeBuy the The Little Smoker Book cookbook

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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.


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  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. 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. 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! 😀

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