June 15th, 2011
09:05 AM ET
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There are places in this very country where - and I'm not saying this is right or wrong - people think it's a fine idea to put raisins or pineapple in their cole slaw. There are other places where - and I'm not saying this is right or wrong (though it's totally right) - that such behavior would be met with public shunnings and possibly legal action, were they to inflict such an abomination upon the unsuspecting public.

After all, there is only one acceptable way to make cole slaw: the way you ate it growing up.

For me, that'd be the scoops of bog standard shredded green or purple cabbage and carrots, drowning in mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar and soaking through pleated paper cups in a goodly chunk of the nation's diners at this very moment. Maybe some pickle chunks or a smattering of poppy seeds if I'm feeling my oats. That's how we side-dressed burgers and topped school cafeteria sloppy joes (which they had the chutzpah to call "barbecue") in Northern Kentucky, but it's a different story where my husband's from.

He hails from High Point, North Carolina, where "barbecue" means Lexington-style slow-smoked pork shoulder on a bun, and it's inevitably topped with or nestled next to a pool of a most idiosyncratic concoction called "BBQ slaw" or "red cole slaw" (recipe below). You can go ahead and hold your mayo; this rendition calls for very finely chopped green cabbage, slathered in a mixture of vinegar, a few seasonings and either ketchup or barbecue sauce.

In a marriage, you learn to compromise, embrace and eventually celebrate the differences between yourself and your beloved's folkways and traditions, but that one...took a while.

For the purposes of our discussion, let's rein in our definition of cole slaw - or coleslaw - to mean chopped or shredded cabbage, covered in a dressing that includes at least a splash of vinegar. Broccoli slaw, bok choy slaw (which you simply must try), snow pea slaw and the like are delicious in their own right, but "kool sla" - Dutch for "cabbage salad" - is second only perhaps to potato salad for sort of debate that will tear a newly-formed family asunder.

Let's say you've all made peace with your differences in religion, sports affiliations and thoughts on Mitt Romney. You're ready to sit down to a rehearsal dinner cook-out and some well-meaning aunt or cousin starts ladling out the raisin-studded, celery seed dusted, cream-lashed or egg-laced slaw to folks who take their cabbage with a splash of cider vinegar, and not much else. At the very least, there may be a raised eyebrow or a tight lipped, "So that's how your family makes cole slaw. Interesting..." At worst, there will be - well, hopefully the deposit on the banquet hall and honeymoon suite are at least partially refundable.

Okay, that may be exaggerating a tad, but people do get quite passionate and particular about their cole slaw methodology. One person may insist upon the delicate crunch or celery seeds, while another may feel kinship with our Twitter follower @emilycbaker who asserted "I HATE CELERY SEEDS WITH FIRE OF 1000 SUNS" after we ran a speed poll on slaw preferences the other day. Some may slather in Hellmann's or Duke's while others, like blogger Michelle of Simplify, Live, Love may eschew mayo for health reasons or fear of its quick spoilage in hot weather.

And that's just one of the many things that makes this country so dandy. We can take a staple of another land and make it our own with individual twists and tweaks - a hot dressing, a dollop of cream, a pinch of paprika, a sprinkling of seeds and yes, even raisins. We'll argue with passion, poise and pride and in the end it's still all the same dish - with a bit of regional flavor stirred in.

How do you make your cole slaw? Share your thoughts, credos, rules and recipes in the comments below and we'll post your best - or most entertaining - musings in an upcoming post.

Lexington Style BBQ Slaw (a.k.a. Red Slaw)
(Originally published at Slashfood)

1 lb green cabbage
4 tbsp ketchup or BBQ Sauce
3 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Finely chop or hand grate cabbage. Mix together other ingredients (scaling back seasonings to taste if BBQ sauce is used instead of ketchup), and pour over cabbage. Stir to coat, and chill, covered in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes - preferably longer to allow flavors to blend.

See all our best grilling advice at Grilling 101

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Filed under: Books • Cole Slaw • Dishes • Make • Recipes • Sides • Staples • Vintage Cookbook Vault • Vintage Cookbooks


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soundoff (147 Responses)
  1. quotemedo

    Shredded apple is really good in coleslaw too!

    March 29, 2013 at 4:28 pm |
  2. ELK

    2 ways are acceptable here in Texas...version one: equal portions white and red cabbage & carrots shredded very finely, mixed with mayo – the end. version two: white cabbage roughly shredded mixed with vinegar and sesame seeds. version one should be served with seafood meals, and version two should only be served with BBQ. NOTICE, THERE IS NO SUGAR IN EITHER ONE – you cant mix sugar in with your veggies.

    July 27, 2011 at 10:38 am |
  3. Susie Q

    Gotta add a little onion. So little that people don't even know it's in there! And Duke's mayonnaise, vinegar, salt and pepper. There can be a little variation but the mayonnaise has to be in there and really - no celery seeds. They tend to overpower the goodness of the coleslaw!

    July 1, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
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