Coleslaw is a delicious and easy side to make for a barbeque or summer lunch. But it’s so disappointing when you’ve prepared your coleslaw in advance only to open the fridge and find your coleslaw has wilted and – even worse – got soggy and watery. How can you prevent it from going soggy? How far in advance can you make coleslaw?
Coleslaw is best made up to 8 hours in advance of eating, or else it will go soggy and watery. To avoid soggy coleslaw, keep the ingredients separate until the last minute and salt the cabbage in advance. Vinegar-dressed coleslaw will also stay crisper than traditional mayonnaise dressings.
The best way to avoid coleslaw from getting soggy is to make it at the last minute – but life doesn’t always work out like that. You’re not condemned to eating soggy coleslaw forever, though. There are ways to make coleslaw in advance and prevent it from getting soggy.
Want to know about the best cabbage and dressings for coleslaw? See my post on making better coleslaw.
How Do You Keep Coleslaw From Getting Soggy?
There are two main reasons that coleslaw made in advance goes soggy and watery:
- Cabbage contains a lot of water, which when mixed with salt, seeps out the longer the coleslaw stands.
- The acid in the vinegar in the dressing wilts the raw vegetables, which makes your coleslaw soggy.
To avoid soggy coleslaw, you need to solve these two problems. Here’s how.
Tip 1: Keep the ingredients separate until just before serving
If you know you’re not going to have time to make your coleslaw on the day of serving, you can still prepare all the ingredients ahead of time, such as pre-shredding your cabbage and mix them at the last minute. You can do these preparations up to 24 hours in advance, while coleslaw dressing can last for days in the fridge.
- Chop your cabbage, salt it, and dry it.
- Place your coleslaw in a covered container in the fridge.
- Chop and refrigerate other vegetables you want to use (such as peppers or carrots).
- Mix your dressing and refrigerate.
- Toss the slaw together when ready to serve.
Tip 2: Salt your cabbage first
The key to crisp, crunchy coleslaw is preparing the cabbage properly. Most people don’t realize that cabbage contains a great deal of water, which needs to be drained before making coleslaw. This extra step can be done a few hours in advance and requires very little effort.
- Chop or shread the cabbage and place it in a colander over the sink.
- Stir through one teaspoon of salt per head of cabbage to evenly distribute it.
- Let the salted cabbage stand for between one and four hours. This process allows the salt to draw excess water from the cabbage and helps to preserve its crispness.
- By now, you’ll notice how much water has been drawn from the cabbage. Gently press the cabbage, easing out as much liquid as you can – without squeezing or wringing the cabbage.
- Rinse the cabbage with fresh water to remove the salt.
- Pat dry with paper towels.
- Make your slaw as usual.
Tip 3: Use the freshest ingredients possible
It may sound obvious, but the quality of your ingredients will influence the quality of your coleslaw. Use the freshest vegetables possible so that they will stay crisp for longer.
Tip 4: Less is more with dressing
Overdressing coleslaw can also make it go soggy and unappetizing. Of course, too little dressing will leave you with a pile of chewy cabbage, so a good balance is best. Instead of dumping all the dressing on the vegetables and then mixing it in, add it slowly and mix it in bit by bit until you get the perfect coleslaw consistency.
Should Coleslaw Sit Overnight?
A coleslaw that sits overnight will have a stronger flavor from the ingredients mixing, especially onion. But the vegetables will be more wilted and the dressing watery from the salt and vinegar drawing out moisture. Therefore, it is down to personal preference.
Personally, I prefer a crisp coleslaw and opt to not let it sit overnight. If I need to prepare beforehand, I will shred the vegetables and make the dressing but keep them separate until a few hours before serving. I also eat leftover coleslaw the next day and still enjoy the stronger flavors it brings.
- Generally, all coleslaw improves if it sits in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before eating.
- Coleslaw with a mayonnaise dressing tends to get slightly softer if left overnight and lose a little crispness, but it will still be tasty.
- Vinegar-dressed coleslaw gets a delightful, pickled flavor the longer you leave it.
Vinegar Vs. Traditional Coleslaw
Traditional coleslaw has a mayonnaise-based dressing, while vinegar coleslaw is dressed with vinegar and seasonings.
According to The Joy of Cooking, America’s food bible, “There are probably as many versions of cole-slaw as there are people who make it. The one constant is raw cabbage … After that, all bets are off.”
There are two main approaches to making coleslaw: the traditional mayonnaise dressing and the vinegar slaw version. Both are equally delicious, but vinegar slaw lasts longer and is low-fat.
Coleslaw with a mayonnaise dressing is popular for its creamy, crunchy mouthfeel and fresh flavor. Cabbage mixed with mayo is a basic coleslaw, but most recipes include other fruit and vegetables, including apples, carrots, and onions. The mayonnaise dressing is made with a dash of vinegar, a spoon of sugar, and even caraway seeds, herbs, and crumbled bacon. Martha Stewart likes to include Dijon mustard and sour cream for an indulgent coleslaw.
How far in advance can you make traditional coleslaw?
Mayonnaise coleslaw is best made only an hour or two in advance and then refrigerated before eating, as the combination of fats, vinegar, and sugar begins to break down the vegetables and make them watery. This coleslaw can be kept for three to five days in the fridge.
Coleslaw with a vinegar dressing is an older invention than mayo-based coleslaw and, in the South, is often referred to simply as “slaw”. Usually, a combination of cabbages is used, as well as other vegetables, covered in a dressing of vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, and other seasonings.
Because there’s no mayo, vinegar-based coleslaw is a healthier, low-fat option and suitable for vegans. Be careful you don’t add too much vinegar.
How far in advance can you make vinegar coleslaw?
If the cabbage is salted and drained in advance, vinegar-dressed coleslaw can be prepared the day before. Some recipes recommend making a hot vinegar dressing to pour over the cabbage and leaving it to “pickle” overnight. This kind of coleslaw will last for a week in the fridge before it goes soggy.
Substitutes For Vinegar In Coleslaw
Although vinegar can be a culprit in making coleslaw soggy, you can’t leave it out of coleslaw altogether – even mayonnaise on its own contains some vinegar. Some acid is necessary to create the characteristic “tang” of coleslaw.
Substitutes for white vinegar in coleslaw
If you want to avoid using ordinary white vinegar in your coleslaw, try some of these refreshing substitutes:
- Red wine, white wine are less acidic and harsh than white vinegar.
- If you’re making an Asian slaw, try using rice vinegar for a sweet-sour touch.
- Apple cider vinegar is especially good if you include apples in the coleslaw or if you’re making a hot dressing.
- Pickle relish adds interest to coleslaw and provides the acid notes.
- Don’t use balsamic vinegar as it will give your coleslaw a peculiar dark appearance and odd flavor. Yes, I’m speaking from experience.
Substitutes for vinegar in coleslaw
Many coleslaw lovers are put off by the harshness of vinegar in coleslaw and prefer a sweet, creamy slaw. To avoid vinegar but still include a sour note in your coleslaw, try combining your mayo with one of the following:
- Lemon or lime juice brightens up a slaw without the lip-puckering vinegariness.
- Greek yogurt adds sourness and creaminess. For a low-fat coleslaw, replace the mayonnaise with Greek yogurt.
- Sour cream makes a rich, creamy dressing.
- Buttermilk will act like yogurt, with an even sourer flavor.
- Ketchup contains a little vinegar, so it adds that burst of flavor but with the sweetness of the tomato.
To learn more about substituting vinegar in coleslaw, see my whole post 9 Substitutes for Vinegar in Coleslaw.
Making coleslaw in advance can be tricky as you run the risk of the coleslaw going soggy and watery. To avoid soggy coleslaw, salt and drain the chopped cabbage in advance to get rid of excess water. You can also prepare all the vegetables in advance and then combine them just before serving. Vinegar-dressed coleslaw tends to last longer than mayonnaise-dressed slaw, so choose a vinegar slaw if you need to make it in advance.