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As a kid my favorite side from KFC was always their coleslaw, it’s blend of creamy and sweet flavors and the crunch of the cabbage and carrots. As an adult, it is still one of my go-to sides for summer meals, but I believe my version is the best. This quick and easy recipe for Southern-style coleslaw is the perfect side for smoky barbecued meats or piled on to a pulled pork sandwich. The dressing in our recipe is a twist on my mother’s and is a balance of sweet and tangy with a little creaminess from the mayo.
Southern-style coleslaw is a delicious and versatile side dish that can be enjoyed with a bunch of classic Southern dishes. It is also a great way to use up leftover cabbage. So next time you have some cabbage on hand, why not try making Southern coleslaw?
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
There are lots of prepared coleslaw mixes in bags at the grocery store, and for a time crunch, those are fine. Taking the time to chop up your own will be repaid with a much more vibrant taste that can hold up to the dressing.
The complete ingredient list and measurements are listed in the printable recipe below.
- Cabbage: There is a combo of both green and red cabbage in this recipe. Red cabbage (which is also called purple) has a more intense, almost peppery taste compared to green cabbage. This recipe can be made with just green cabbage, but it will be missing a little something.
- Green onions: They add that key savory note to balance out the sweetness of the honey, but if you are not a fan you can leave them out or substitute with a little red or yellow onion.
- Carrots: Besides adding color, carrots will add some crunch and sweetness to the slaw.
- Mayonnaise: The mayo makes the dressing creamy and gives it a slight tang. You can use sour cream or Greek yogurt as a substitute for mayo but the flavor will be a little different.
- Vinegar: This recipe already uses both apple cider and white vinegar. The apple cider vinegar cuts down on some of the harshness that white vinegar can have, but if you don’t have any you can just use distilled.
- Honey: One of the reasons KFC coleslaw tastes so good is the sugar. We opted for honey instead of sugar but you can use either.
- Celery Seed: Not to be confused with celery salt which is a mixture of celery seed and salt, celery seed gives the dressing a unique flavor. If you use celery salt instead be sure to cut back on any additional salt.
How to Make Creamy Southern Coleslaw
Here are the quick step-by-step instructions with visuals; you can find the full instructions with the exact ingredients in the recipe card below.
Pro-tip: Coleslaw tastes best when it has been allowed to chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours allowing all the flavors to meld together.
1. Prepare the cabbage: Cut the red and green cabbages in half, from the top through the core, and then cut those halves in half again in the same direction. Remove the remaining core and then chiffonade two of the green cabbage quarters and one purple cabbage quarter (cut the cabbage into very thin slices 90 degrees to the layers). Add the shredded cabbage to a large mixing bowl and set aside while the other ingredients are prepped.
2. Chop the other vegetables: Shred the carrots on the coarse side of a box grater and add to the bowl with the cabbage. Finely chop the green onions and toss them into the bowl with the cabbage and carrots. Add the salt and ground black pepper to the slaw and mix one last time.
3. Make the dressing: In a small mixing bowl combine the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, white distilled vinegar, honey, and celery seed and whisk until smooth and creamy.
4. Serving: Combine the slaw and dressing and refrigerate for at least 30-45 minutes before serving.
What to Goes with Coleslaw
Coleslaw is a must-have at any Southern bbq, picnic, or potluck. But it is also a delicious topping on fish tacos, chicken street tacos, and even beef fajitas. It can be piled high on a pulled pork sandwich or on hot chicken sandwiches. Creamy coleslaw is also the perfect side to fried chicken, crab cakes, wings, or a grilled flank steak.
Make-Ahead and Storage
Make-Ahead: Coleslaw can be made up to 8 hours in advance before it starts to get a little watery and lose some of its crunch. You can also make the dressing and prep the veggies 1 to 2 days in advance and store them separately in the refrigerator.
How to Store: Homemade coleslaw can last 3 to 4 days stored in an air-tight container in the refrigerator, although the coleslaw will only retain its crunchiness for about 1 to 2 days. After 2 or 3 days it would be best used as a condiment on a sandwich, especially for the turkey-based version of a Ruben called a Rachel or any other sandwich that is grilled.
Recipe Tips and Notes
- Use a sharp knife or a food processor to shred the cabbage.
- The salad and dressing should be combined 30-45 minutes prior to serving, allowing the cabbage to soften and for the flavors to meld together.
- There is mayo in the dressing so don’t let the coleslaw sit out at picnics too long.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, but there are a few things to consider. Pre-shredded cabbage can contain preservatives to prevent it from wilting which can alter the flavor. You also will not get to control how finely the cabbage is shredded.
Yes, if you like your coleslaw more finely chopped then you can run it through a food processor with the grater attachment and pulsing it two or three times until you get the size you like. You can also use a box grater.
Other Recipes to Try
If you enjoy this Southern coleslaw recipe, we recommend checking out some of these other side dishes:
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Creamy Southern Coleslaw
- ¼ head purple cabbage, 7-8 ounces
- ½ head green cabbage, 15-16 ounces
- 5 ouces grated carrots, about 2 medium
- 1 ounce chopped green onions, about four stalks
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon cracked black pepper
- ¾ cup mayonnaise
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- ⅛ cup distilled white vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ¾ tablespoon celery seed
- Cut the red and green cabbages in half, from the top through the core, and then cut those halves in half again in the same direction.
- Remove the remaining core and then cut very thin slices 90 degrees to the layers, called a chiffonade, using two of the green cabbage quarters and one of the purple. Add to a large mixing bowl and put the remaining cabbage in the fridge in a plastic zipper bag.
- Shred the carrots on the coarse side of a box grater and add to the bowl, mixing them with the carrots thoroughly with your clean hands.
- Finely chop the green onions mixing, them into the slaw with your hands as well. Add the salt and pepper to the slaw and mix one last time.
- In a small mixing bowl combine the remaining ingredients whisking until smooth and creamy. The coleslaw does benefit from being dressed a little in advance to allow for the cabbage to soften a bit.
- Once you've mixed the slaw and dressing, transfer it to a serving bowl.
Update Notes: This post was originally published on September 7, 2022, but was republished with new photos, instructions, tips, and FAQs in August of 2023.