Southern Vinegar Coleslaw

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Good coleslaw is a staple of the southern table and this easy-to-make vinegar slaw recipe will satisfy your taste buds. This dish has four simple ingredients, cabbage, sugar, water, and vinegar. It’s delicious with BBQ chicken or fish for dinner and makes an excellent side dish. Give it a try today!

Spoon with vinegar slaw being held over a glass bowl.

A go-to favorite to serve at summer barbecues is coleslaw. But the question in my family is whether or not it should be creamy coleslaw or a vinegar-based coleslaw. Personally, I prefer creamy. My husband likes his made with vinegar. Either way, both versions are the quintessential side for all things barbecue.

This easy side dish recipe is based on my dear sweet mother-in-law’s recipe that she used for years. It’s a simple recipe and as basic as can be. No mayonnaise, apple cider vinegar, black pepper, or celery seed in this version.

This tangy coleslaw can be served as a side dish or a topping and it’s the perfect side dish for picnics and potlucks. Just make sure to bring enough for everyone!

If you’re looking for ways to customize this recipe, try adding ingredients like diced bell pepper, onion, carrot, or jalapenos for extra crunch and flavor. You can also change up the type of vinegar used in the recipe to suit your taste. However, I recommend that you try the classic vinegar recipe first before trying it with any add-ins.


For this easy coleslaw recipe, you need the following ingredients:

  • shredded green cabbage or prepackaged coleslaw mix
  • white sugar
  • white vinegar
  • water
Measuring cup with vinegar on a black surface.

Shredding cabbage is an easy task that can be done with a sharp knife or mandoline. If you are using a knife, cut a head of cabbage in half and begin slicing thin strips from one end to the other. Make sure to remove any tough portions of the core as you slice.

If you are using a mandoline, place the cabbage on the device and carefully adjust the blade to your desired thickness. Once you have shredded all of the cabbage, place it in a bowl and mix it with your choice of ingredients for an easy, delicious coleslaw.


To make it, combine the sugar, vinegar, and water in a saucepan and heat over low-medium heat until the sugar dissolves.

Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes. Place shredded cabbage in a large bowl and pour the vinegar mixture on top. The heat from the warm liquid slightly wilts the cabbage.

Bowl of shredded cabbage with vinegar covered with plastic wrap.

Put the coleslaw in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours before serving. It’s even better the next day. Store leftover coleslaw in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-5 days.

This coleslaw is good paired not only with barbecue but on it, too! That’s right – place a nice, large spoonful on top of a pulled pork sandwich. Take a hamburger bun, add a layer of barbecue meat, add a little bit of barbecue sauce, a layer of slaw, perhaps a pickle, and then the top bun.

What is the difference between vinegar coleslaw and mayo-based coleslaw?

Vinegar coleslaw and mayo-based coleslaw are two different types of coleslaw. Vinegar coleslaw has a vinegary, tart taste, which is usually achieved by using white vinegar or apple cider vinegar as the acid component.

Mayo-based coleslaw uses mayonnaise in place of vinegar to make a richer, creamier version of the traditional coleslaw. The mayonnaise helps to bind the vegetables together and create a delicious dressing for the slaw. Mayo-based coleslaws are often dressed with sweeteners such as sugar or honey, and additional flavorings including herbs, spices, and other ingredients like mustard. Both versions can be dressed with a variety of different ingredients, so the flavor possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference and which type of coleslaw you prefer. 

Like BBQ? Be sure to check out these other delicious recipes at Southern Kissed that are great for grilling/BBQ season:

Spoon with vinegar slaw being held over a glass bowl.

Vinegar Coleslaw

This dish has been around for years throughout the south as one of our favorite side dishes with BBQ chicken or fish.
4.39 from 34 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Side Dishes
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 134kcal


  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ¾ cup vinegar
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 package coleslaw blend or shredded cabbage


  • Place all ingredients except for coleslaw blend in a small saucepan and heat on medium setting until sugar has dissolved.
  • Remove from heat and pour over coleslaw blend in a large bowl.
  • Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.


I like to use a bag of Angel Hair cabbage to make this dish.  
You don’t have to use a bag of prepared cabbage or coleslaw mix.  You can shred or thinly slice cabbage and use that in its place.


Serving: 1 | Calories: 134kcal | Carbohydrates: 28g | Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 1mg | Sodium: 218mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 27g
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Scoop of vinegar coleslaw.

Be sure to come back and tell us how your vinegar slaw turned out!

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    1. Great catch! Thank you so much for pointing that out to me. I edited the recipe and added 1 cup of water to the ingredients list.

  1. When I was little (under 10) there was a seafood place near us that people came to on the weekends from 50 miles away. I never liked seafood much, but they had the best spaghetti a girl could ask for, with a deep dark red tangy sauce. It also came with coleslaw that was made with vinegar. It was my absolute favorite! It squeaked on your teeth as you ate it, lol! I have never known how to make it and don’t know any places around me that have anything like it. That particular restaurant closed down many, many years ago. I’m going to try this recipe because it sounds like it might just be right. Thanks for posting it!

  2. I grew up eating the vinegar based coleslslaw in Tennessee-my absolute favorite.on a chopped pork.sandwich. I have lived in Texas for a long time (great state!) but can’t seem to acquire a taste for the creamy, mayo.based slaw–

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