Tips For Making Cabbage Rolls (Which Cabbage, Prepping The Leaves)

Cabbage rolls are one of the most delicious stuffed and braised dishes. Though it may seem like a lot of work, making cabbage rolls is actually pretty straightforward and fun. This article covers help on all the stages of the process.

Tips for making cabbage rolls:

  • Different cabbages can be used but green and savoy cabbages work best
  • Remove the core with a sharp knife cut around the base
  • Soften and separate the leaves by blanching in hot water
  • Trim the stalk to help roll the leaves up

If you are making cabbage rolls for the first time or are simply looking for tips to make the process easier, we have everything you need. This article provides genius tips and tricks to help you create cabbage rolls with confidence.

Which Type Of Cabbage Is Best For Making Cabbage Rolls?

While technically, you can use any type of cabbage for making cabbage rolls, some of them are easy to work with due to their texture. There are four main types of cabbages, namely;

Green Cabbage For Making Cabbage Rolls

Green cabbage is the most popular cabbage of all as it is the one that first comes to mind when we hear the word cabbage. Green cabbage is perfect for braises, stir-fries, and soups, and although they taste a bit peppery when raw, they become sweeter when you cook them.

Savoy Cabbage For Making Cabbage Rolls

The waffle-knit texture and ombre green colors of Savoy make it the prettiest cabbage of the lot. It also has the best elasticity, making it an ideal type to make cabbage rolls. They have a rather mild and earthy flavor, and they are less crispy than other types of cabbages.

Red Cabbage For Making Cabbage Rolls

The texture of red cabbage is identical to that of green cabbage; however, they are dark purple, and they taste a bit earthier than green cabbage.

Napa Cabbage For Making Cabbage Rolls

Out of all the types of cabbage, Napa cabbage is the most tender. Many people refer to Napa cabbage as Chinese cabbage. This type of cabbage is softer and a bit sweeter than green cabbage, and they are perfect as a dumpling filling.

Choose A Big Cabbage

Whichever type of cabbage you decide to use to make your cabbage rolls, be sure to select the biggest one in the batch. 

As you peel away the layers, the cabbage leaves get smaller and smaller, and eventually, the leaves will become too small to use at all.  Make sure you get a big one that can give you lots of big leaves.

How Do You Remove The Core From The Cabbage?

If you choose to use Napa cabbage, no coring is required, and you can easily remove the leaves from the head. However, green, red, and Savoy cabbage have compacted leaves that require you to remove their stem without beading the whole head apart.

If you don’t core the cabbage, you will have great difficulty removing the leaves, even after steaming or blanching.

1. Secure With A Fork

Poke a fork into the middle of the core to create a handle for when you start coring your cabbage. This will prevent you from putting your hand at risk.

2. Cut Out The Core “Cone”

Use a sharp knife and be careful. When you start to cut around the fork, make sure that the knife’s point points inward (to the center of the core). Gently cut in a circular pattern until you can remove the piece of the core that is the shape of a cone. 

Finally, pull the core out by gently pulling on the fork. If the core does not come out easily, use the knife a final time to cut the core a little bit deeper. You don’t need the core for anything, so you can go ahead and throw it in the bin.

How Do You Separate Cabbage Leaves For Cabbage Rolls?

Cabbage leaves need to be separated from the main head for the filling step.

They need to be soft and pliable so they can be rolled otherwise they struggle to hold their rolled shape and will snap. They can be made softer by:

  • Blanching/boiling
  • Microwaving
  • Freezing

How To Boil Cabbage For Cabbage Rolls?

When we boil cabbage, we refer to it as blanching. The blanching method is a little tedious but works effectively. It involves submerging the cabbage in boiling water and removing leaves periodically, leaving you with perfectly tender cabbage leaves that are ready for rolling. Boiling the whole thing for too long wilts the outer leaves too much.

It would be best to have a large pot of boiling water on the stovetop for this method. Stick a serving fork into the core of the cabbage as a handle to remove the cabbage every time you need to peel off another layer.

Keep the cabbage submerged in the water until the outer leaves are soft, then remove it from the pot, peel off the softened leaves and return it to the pot to soften the next layer. You need to repeat this step until all the layers have been removed and you only have the core left.

How To Separate Cabbage Leaves For Cabbage Rolls Using A Microwave

Microwaves don’t only heat food, but you can use them for steaming too. That is why this method is perfect for softening and steaming cabbage leaves. The leaves need to be softened first because they are very firm and tightly bound to the head of the cabbage.

All you need to do is place the cabbage on its core in any microwavable-safe dish and add ½ cup (125ml) of water. Lastly, place the lid on the dish to cover, and microwave it on high for several minutes. Check if the outer leaves are soft and remove them if so.

Keep repeating until you have softened and removed all the leaves.

If you find some leaves are still firm, place them back into the microwave until the leaves are nice and tender.

How To Separate Cabbage Leaves In The Freezer

If you don’t want to boil the cabbage, you can achieve similar results by placing your cabbage heads in the freezer which will wilt the leaves. You just have to wait until it freezes and defrosts – a couple of hours for each stage – so you need time.

Firstly, core the cabbage and rinse it thoroughly. Place each cabbage head into their own freezer bags and place them in the freezer.

The cabbage leaves will absorb water, and when you thaw them, they release the water, which causes the leaves to wilt and allows you to remove all the leaves at one time. You can use the microwave’s defrost setting to speed up the thawing process.

Why Is The Cabbage On My Cabbage Rolls Tough?

So, you have done everything according to the recipe and yet your cabbage on your cabbage rolls is tough. What to do?

Avoiding Tough Cabbage Rolls: Tip 1

You did not remove the thick ridge – Before you start rolling, remove the thick ridge situated at the bottom of each leaf by cutting out a narrow triangle. By doing so, your cabbage rolls will be tender instead of tough. You can also lie the cabbage leaf flat and trim any excess height from the ridge.

Avoiding Tough Cabbage Rolls: Tip 2

Your cabbage rolls have not had enough braising time – If you have already removed the ridge, you could always try to braise the cabbage rolls a little bit longer at a medium heat

Tips For Rolling Your Cabbage Rolls

How To Roll

Time to start rolling! Lay a cabbage leaf flat with the stem end at the bottom and position the filling near the bottom. Fold in the sides of the leaf to make a neat parcel.

Roll upward over the filling and continue to roll until there is no more leaf left to roll. If the leaf is small then overlap another small one to help.

Lay it seam-side down to prevent it from unrolling or use cocktail sticks.

Remove The Hard Stem

Removing the harder stem by cutting out a triangle near the base can help you roll. These cut ends can be overlapped to roll upwards.

Cooking Your Cabbage Rolls

Cabbage rolls can be cooked on the stovetop in a skillet, heavy pan, or Dutch oven. Or they can be baked in the oven, usually in a flat oven-proof dish or pan. They can also be done in the slow cooker.

Line up the cabbage rolls, pour over your sauce and bake for 75-90 minutes at 350F/180C.

Try These Delicious Cabbage Roll Recipes

Can You Freeze Cabbage Rolls?

While it is possible to freeze cooked cabbage rolls for another time, it’s more likely they will go soggy and fall apart when you thaw them.

Better is to freeze your uncooked rolls.

When you want to use them, simply place them in the refrigerator to thaw slowly overnight. Finally, remove them from the refrigerator and let them rest at room temperature for thirty minutes before you use them.


Hopefully, you have more information on what cabbage is best for cabbage rolls, along with removing the core and separating the leaves. Try one of the delicious recipes linked in this article next.

Have any questions? Ask me in the comment section below and I’ll get back to you.

Tom Hambly

Tom Hambly is the founder of Boss The Kitchen. With a background in cooking and building websites, he enjoys running this site to help other cooks improve. About Tom Hambly.

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