Vinegar Coleslaw

This sweet and tangy side is a perfect accompaniment to rich barbecue.

Vinegar coleslaw served inside a small bowl

Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Why This Recipe Works

  • A sugar-and-salt mixture purges the cabbage of excess moisture, leaving it tender, but still crunchy and well-seasoned.
  • An equal amount of vinegar and sugar gives this slaw a tangy and sweet character.
  • Celery seeds add a light celery flavor and some pleasing texture.

Growing up, I assumed that coleslaw was some sort of joke. Why would I ever want that sorry little paper cup of tough, bland cabbage? You know, the kind that comes as a paltry afterthought with your towering sandwich at the local Greek diner? I always figured it was just a steady, meticulous way to rid the world of a vegetable no one really wanted, one sandwich at a time.

Barbecue and a side of coleslaw with cornbread.

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

And that was pretty much my view for over a decade, right up until I found the Gospel of Barbecue. With the great tradition of smoked meats, I was presented with coleslaw alongside pulled pork, ribs, and brisket, served in portions that made it seem like something you'd actually want to eat—and best of all, it was!

A barbecue sandwich topped with coleslaw.

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

Good coleslaw provides a light and fresh contrast to heavy, barbecued meats, with a tang that manages to cut through (at least some) of the deliciously greasy fat. So I stopped shying away from slaw and started to embrace it, getting to know a range of variations that have turned me from an uncompromising hater to a full-on lover of all things cabbage salad.

A large bowl of coleslaw.

Serious Eats / Joshua Bousel

Over the years, I've experimented with making slaw at home, but I never really thought I was killing it until Kenji gave coleslaw the Food-Lab treatment last summer. The trick is to purge your slaw vegetables of all excess moisture, leaving behind a well-seasoned mix that's nice and tender with just the right amount of crunch. The process itself requires simply mixing the shredded vegetables with sugar and salt for about five minutes before giving it a good rinse and a ride in the salad spinner.

Now that I've got that perfect traditional slaw down pat, I've shifted my efforts to varying the dressing flavors. Here is a classic vinegar slaw, but there are variations. There’s Lexington-style red slaw, mustard slaw, tangy apple slaw, and spicy slaw with a kick.

Vinegar slaw was my gateway slaw, the first I ever remember really loving. We met at the second Big Apple Block Party in New York back in 2004 and, while I can't remember exactly who was slinging the vinegar slaw that year, a very close approximation has since showed up in Mike and Amy Mill's book, Peace, Love, and Barbecue.

The dressing is simply a one-to-one mix of cider vinegar and sugar with a little bit of garlic, oil, and celery seeds, which add a light celery flavor and a bit of texture. It may be simple, but it works so darn well; those straightforward tangy, sweet flavors pair harmoniously with the more complex rubs and seasonings found in most barbecue. Because of its bright, fresh character, I also love it as a sandwich component.

June 2014

Recipe Details

Vinegar Coleslaw

Prep 15 mins
Active 30 mins
Total 15 mins
Serves 10 to 12 servings

This sweet and tangy side is a perfect accompaniment to rich barbecue.


For the Dressing:

  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic (about 1 medium clove)

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon celery seeds

For the Slaw:

  • 1 large head green cabbage (about 3 1/2 pounds), finely shredded on a mandoline or by hand

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater

  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely sliced on a mandoline or by hand

  • 2/3 cup sugar

  • 1/3 cup kosher salt


  1. For the Dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, oil, garlic, black pepper, and celery seeds.

    Vinegar, sugar, oil, garlic, black pepper, and celery seeds whisked together in a small bowl

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  2. For the Slaw: Combine cabbage, carrot, and onion in a large bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and salt and toss to combine. Let stand 5 minutes, then transfer to a large colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water.

    Cabbage, carrot, and onion combined in a large bowl and tossed with sugar and salt, and a colander under running water rinsing cabbage

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  3. Transfer vegetables to a salad spinner and spin dry. Alternatively, transfer to a large rimmed baking sheet lined with a triple layer of paper towels or a clean kitchen towel and blot mixture dry with more towels. Return to large bowl.

    Vegetables spun dry inside salad spinner

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

  4. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss to coat. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt, pepper, and/or sugar.

    Vegetables coated in dressing inside large bowl

    Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Special Equipment

Mandoline (optional)

Read More

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
137 Calories
4g Fat
26g Carbs
2g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 10 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 137
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 4g 5%
Saturated Fat 0g 2%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 87mg 4%
Total Carbohydrate 26g 9%
Dietary Fiber 3g 10%
Total Sugars 21g
Protein 2g
Vitamin C 50mg 252%
Calcium 73mg 6%
Iron 0mg 2%
Potassium 311mg 7%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)