Big Mama's Chow-Chow Recipe | Cook the Book

Until recently, I thought there was only one type of chow chow—the furry breed of Mongolian dog that Martha Stewart adores. As it turns out, there's another breed of chow-chow, differentiated by a mere hyphen. This one is a pickled relish that is a staple in the South, usually consisting of cabbage, salt, sugar, and a few other vegetables.

Depending on the preparation, chow-chow's flavor profile falls somewhere between sauerkraut, vinegar-based cole slaw, and giardiniera. It can be served hot or cold; as a side dish or condiment. The name comes from the French word for cabbage, chou, which leads me to think the dish has Acadian roots.

Big Mama's Chow-Chow in Big Bob Gibson's BBQ Book is a bit sweeter than your everyday chow-chow. It's an ideal accompaniment for any type of barbecue since the sweetness and acidity cut right through the fattiness of the meat. Take a look at the recipe and just imagine a few spoonfuls atop a pulled pork sandwich.

In preparation for Labor Day weekend, I made a big batch of chow-chow based on this recipe but with a few touches of my own. I cut the sugar down to about a cup and added some sliced chiles and corn to the mix. Still warm from the pot, it tasted great—sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. I'm going to jar it up and let it sit until the weekend. I can only imagine what flavors will intensify before then.

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Recipe Facts



Total: 0 mins
Makes: 3 pints

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  • 1 medium head of cabbage, cored and shredded
  • 4 green bell peppers, cored, seeded, and diced
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 green tomatoes, or 5 husked tomatillos, diced
  • 1/2 cup of salt
  • 3 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon celery seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric


  1. In a medium nonreactive stockpot, combine the cabbage, bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes (the raw vegetables should equal 2 1/2 to 3 quarts). Stir in the salt, cover the pot, and let the vegetables stand at room temperature for 4 to twelve hours. Drain well in a colander.

  2. Rinse the pot and add the vinegar, sugar, celery seed, and turmeric. Bring to a boil. Add the drained vegetables, return to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour stirring occasionally. Serve hot or cold.