Memphis-Style Creamy Coleslaw

Looking for a classic coleslaw to make and serve? This Memphis-Style Creamy Coleslaw recipe strikes the perfect balance and is simple to put together. Pair it with your favorite barbecue dishes or tacos for a creamy, tangy and crunchy topping.

A bowl of coleslaw next to a bowl of baked beans

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Memphis-Style Creamy Coleslaw Recipe

Barbecue season (AKA summer) is here, and I can’t wait for all the deliciousness. From pulled pork to brisket, sign me up for all of it.

I hail from Memphis, Tenn., which is the home of pork barbecue, but now I live in Texas, where beef barbecue is king.

I’m still Team Pork all the way, but my Texan friends and I can agree on one thing: the side dishes rule.

Mac and cheese, baked beans, potato salad are something all barbecue fans can get behind. (And don’t forget the butter biscuits.)

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    Crunchy slaw is another must-have side.

    This Memphis-style slaw is similar to the recipe I grew up eating at local restaurants. It sure tastes like home to me!

    It’s a good, solid, classic coleslaw recipe, made with simple ingredients and a mayo-based sauce. (If people don’t like mayo, my Honey Mustard Coleslaw is the go-to. Bless their hearts.)

    Why I love this recipe:

    This Memphis slaw is the perfect side dish for BBQs and other outdoor events. It goes with so many classic barbecue dishes and is wonderfully satisfying to eat.

    It’s also an excellent dish to serve for game day festivities because, well, it serves a crowd and pairs with so many other recipes. (More on this in a bit.)

    The crunchiness of the cabbage paired with the creamy mayo-based sauce is perfection. This is the coleslaw for pulled pork sandwiches… for me.

    We love this easy recipe for a few reasons:

    • When fresh, the cabbage is nice and crunchy. I love a little crunch with my barbecue.
    • The sauce is creamy and tangy and just a little sweet, thanks to the sugar and carrot. It’s not too sweet, like some slaw recipes can be, so it strikes a nice balance between savory and sweet.
    • You can make parts of it in advance, which is always a win.
    • This makes a BIG batch. Perfect for parties! You can halve it, too.

    More slaw recipes to try: Pear Slaw | Apple Slaw | Avocado Slaw

    Close up of creamy coleslaw in a bowl

    What is coleslaw?

    Some people think “coleslaw” means “cold slaw,” and yes — coleslaw is served cold. But that’s not where the name comes from.

    The name “coleslaw” harkens back to the Dutch word koolsla, a compound word comprised of kool (meaning “cabbage”) and sla (meaning “salad”). So essentially it means “cabbage salad.”

    Most coleslaw recipes combine cabbage with vinegar, mayonnaise and/or other sauces to make a cold side dish. It’s often served with meats like pulled pork but can also be a topping for sandwiches tacos.

    What is Memphis-style barbecue?

    There are four main styles of barbecue in the United States: Texan, Carolina, Kansas City and Memphis. (They are all wonderful in their own right, but Memphis barbecue was my first love.)

    Memphis barbecue typically features either pork ribs or pulled pork. Both are traditionally seasoned with a Memphis Barbecue Dry Rub that includes paprika, garlic and up to 40 more spices(!).

    The meat is then cooked in a big pit. No glaze or sauce is applied during the cooking process. The flavor of the barbecue comes from the dry rub and the hickory wood it’s cooked with.

    Memphis barbecue even has its own sauce, a tangy, tomato-based sauce that’s served on the side.

    Ingredients to make homemade coleslaw in bowls on a marble countertop with a dark blue towel

    What you need to make this recipe:

    The Speckled Palate participates in affiliate programs. As an Amazon Associate, I earn a commission from qualifying purchases. Please refer to my disclosure page for more information about these affiliate programs.

    Let’s talk ingredients!

    In addition to the tools above, you’re going to need some ingredients to make this recipe, too! Chances are, you might already have some of them in your fridge or pantry. Scroll down to the recipe card for the full measurements and instructions.

    Here’s what you’ll need:

    • Green cabbage — you’ll need one head that’s about 2 ½ lbs. before chopping and removing the center or about 2 lbs. after
    • Carrot — I recommend shredding a fresh carrot for the best flavor, but you can use the bagged shredded carrots if you need a shortcut.
    • Kosher salt — Sea salt works too. Just don’t use table salt.
    • Mayonnaise — We like Duke’s brand, but any brand will do. You can use homemade mayo (or homemade garlic aioli), too.
    • Apple cider vinegar — ACV gives this slaw a sweetness and tanginess all at once.
    • Granulated sugar — white sugar is what you want for this recipe, but brown sugar can be used in a pinch.
    • Yellow mustard — you can use a seeded mustard instead if you like.
    • Celery seed — Celery seeds add a coolness to this slaw and a hint of celery flavor. Do not skip these… they make the flavor of the slaw for me!

    Customizations and substitutions

    You can use white wine vinegar or red wine vinegar instead of apple cider vinegar.

    Add shredded red onion or yellow onion for a little oniony flavor.

    Red cabbage (or purple cabbage) can be added alongside the green cabbage for more color. I personally do not like using it because it stains everything reddish purple, but you do you!

    While real mayo is the best for cole slaw, it can be made lighter with fat-free mayo. Try a vegan mayonnaise if needed for dietary concerns.

    If you want to make a smaller batch, halve the recipe. Use a bag of slaw mix instead of the whole cabbage.

    You can always add salt and black pepper, if necessary, to the sauce.

    How to make Crunchy Coleslaw

    This is an easy homemade coleslaw. Let’s take it step by step.

    Finely shred or chop the green cabbage, removing the tough center stem. You can use a food processor for this if you have the right attachment, but otherwise a sharp knife works great.

    Shred the carrot, too. This can be done in the food processor, with a cheese grater or even a vegetable peeler for thinner ribbons.

    Then place the shredded cabbage and carrot in a large colander and season with salt.

    Let the veggies sit in the colander in the sink for at least 15 minutes, but up to an hour. This is going to pull moisture out of them. I recommend putting a tray underneath or placing it in the sink.


    While the veggies sit, mix up the dressing. In a smaller bowl, measure in the mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, granulated sugar and mustard. Whisk to combine.

    It might be a little lumpy, and that’s OK — coleslaw is lumpy! But If this bothers you, throw it in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

    Then stir in the celery seed after blending.

    Next, rinse the cabbage and carrot mixture with water to remove the salt. Let as much water as you can drain off, then transfer it to a salad spinner. Spin, spin, spin — until dry!

    If you want to do this part ahead of time, you can. Let the mixture hang out in the fridge to both crisp and let more water release.

    Then pour the cabbage/carrot mixture into a large bowl. Pour the slaw dressing on top of them, and toss to combine. You want all the pieces of cabbage and carrot coated in the mixture.

    This delicious coleslaw recipe is best served immediately. If you keep it in the fridge, it can become watery, depending on how long it sits.

    Close up of slaw drizzled with dressing

    How to store coleslaw

    Coleslaw can hang out in the fridge after making it but it’s best served immediately after mixing.

    That’s because the slaw will get juicy and watery as the cabbage releases more moisture. This is normal and natural, but it can lose its flavor.

    If you need to make it ahead of time, make the dressing and store in an airtight container.

    Just be sure to keep it separate from the cabbage and carrot mixture.

    Drain the cabbage mixture and spin it, then let it rest in the fridge. Give it a final spin before stirring in the dressing.

    Coleslaw is tossed in a silver and black bowl with tongs

    Erin’s Easy Entertaining Tips

    Honestly, coleslaw is a favorite way of mine to add creamy coolness to a pulled pork sandwich or any other dish. It adds texture and creaminess, and it’s satisfying.

    Since this recipe makes a large batch, it’s great for entertaining. See my tips for hosting a backyard barbecue.

    Here are some recommendations:

    • This recipe can be halved if you do not want a big batch. A pre-made coleslaw mix bag would be excellent for this.
    • Make the dressing and slaw mixture ahead of time, but keep them separate. Mix them up just before serving for the freshest taste.
    • Serve slaw in a big bowl with a serving spoon or tongs for guests to scoop on their plates. You could also serve it pre-portioned in cups for people to grab and go.
    A bowl of coleslaw on a gray textured surface next to a sandwich and a bowl of baked beans

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What does the cole mean in coleslaw?

    “Cole” comes from the Dutch word kool, which means cabbage. The word “slaw” comes from the Dutch word for salad, sla.

    What meat goes well with coleslaw?

    Coleslaw is a classic side for both pork and beef barbecue, as well as fried chicken and pulled chicken. It can also be served on burgers, sandwiches or tacos, including fish tacos.

    Where did coleslaw originate?

    Coleslaw is a Dutch recipe, and the name means “cabbage salad” in Dutch. American settlers from The Netherlands brought their recipe for this dish and recipes similar to modern coleslaw have been found dating as far back as the 1700s.

    Homemade creamy coleslaw recipe on a bun on a white plate
    Add slaw to the toasted bottom bun before adding BBQ pulled pork

    Quick tips and tricks to making the best coleslaw

    • Coleslaw is best served immediately after mixing. If not, the slaw will get liquidy and can lose its flavor in the process.
    • Make both the dressing and cabbage mixture ahead of time, then combine just before serving.
    • Since this recipe has just a few ingredients, quality matters. Choose the best ingredients you can afford.
    Close up of a pulled pork sandwich drizzled with BBQ sauce

    What to serve with coleslaw

    This Memphis Coleslaw is delicious served on the side of classic BBQ dishes, whether they are pork, beef or chicken.

    It’s the perfect topping for sandwiches like BBQ Chicken Sandwiches or Memphis Style Turkey Burgers. It’s also fantastic on classic BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwiches (made with slow cooker pulled pork) or even pork sliders.

    Classic sides include Honey Cornbread, Instant Pot BBQ Baked Beans and Oven Fried Okra!

    The coolness of coleslaw makes it a great accompaniment for spicy dishes. Try it with Spicy Baked Beans or barbecue made with Homemade BBQ Sauce.

    Coleslaw is also fun served with BBQ-inspired dishes, like Pulled Pork Egg Rolls, BBQ Nachos or BBQ Pizza.

    It’s also great on tacos, like fish tacos, blackened shrimp tacos and pulled pork tacos,

    More barbecue side dishes:

    A bowl of coleslaw next to a bowl of baked beans
    Yield: 12 servings

    Memphis-Style Creamy Coleslaw

    Prep Time: 20 minutes
    Inactive Time: 1 hour
    Total Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

    Looking for a classic coleslaw to make and serve? This Memphis-Style Creamy Coleslaw recipe strikes the perfect balance and is simple to put together. Pair it with your favorite barbecue dishes or tacos for a creamy, tangy and crunchy topping.

    Ingredients

    • 1 head of green cabbage (about 2 ½ lbs. before chopping and removing the center; about 2 lbs. after)
    • 1 large carrot, shredded (1 cup / 120g)
    • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
    • ½ cup mayonnaise (115g)
    • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
    • ¼ cup granulated sugar (50g)
    • 2 tablespoons yellow mustard
    • 1 teaspoon celery seed

    Instructions

    1. Finely shred or chop the green cabbage, removing the tough center stem.
    2. Shred the carrot.
    3. Place the shredded cabbage and carrot in a large colander. Season with salt.
    4. Let the veggies sit in the colander in the sink for at least 15 minutes, but up to an hour. (This is going to pull moisture out of them.)
    5. While the veggies sit, mix the dressing. Combine the mayonnaise with the apple cider vinegar, granulated sugar and mustard. Whisk to combine. It might be a little lumpy, and that’s OK. If this bothers you, throw it in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the celery seed after blending.
    6. Rinse the cabbage/carrot mixture to remove the salt. Transfer to a salad spinner, and spin them until dry. You may do this early and let them hang out in the fridge to both crisp and let the water release.
    7. Pour the cabbage/carrot mixture into a large bowl.
    8. Pour the slaw dressing on top of them, and toss to combine.
    9. Serve immediately.

    Notes

    How to store: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days. Please note that coleslaw is best served immediately after mixing. The slaw will become watery as the cabbage releases more moisture as it sits in the fridge. This is normal, but it can lose its flavor the longer it sits.

    Make ahead tip: Make the dressing but keep it separate from the cabbage & carrot mixture. Drain it and spin it, then let it rest in the fridge. Give it a final spin before stirring in the dressing.

    Nutrition Information:

    Yield:

    12

    Serving Size:

    1

    Amount Per Serving: Calories: 107Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 4mgSodium: 307mgCarbohydrates: 11gFiber: 2gSugar: 7gProtein: 2g

    Nutrition facts are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate.

    How much did you love this recipe?

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    About the Author:

    Erin Parker is a Southern gal living in Texas with her husband and two daughters. She started The Speckled Palate to share what she was cooking as a newlywed… and over the years, it’s evolved to capture her love for hosting. Specifically, the EASIEST, lowest key entertaining because everyone deserves to see their people and connect over good food. Learn more about her

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