Why I Wish I'd Grilled My Coleslaw All Along

July  4, 2018

In the summer, the division of labor in my household goes something like this: My husband mows, I weed. He does the kids’ camp drop-off, I do the pick-up. He smokes pork shoulders and briskets on the weekends, I make the sides and salads.

Is it even summer if there isn't a big bowl of coleslaw? Photo by Ty Mecham

Almost always, a big bowl of coleslaw is involved. You just can’t have smoked meats without it. Or fried chicken or grilled brats or burgers in the backyard, for that matter. I love all varieties of coleslaw: mayo-based, vinegar-based, mayo- and vinegar-based. A well-made coleslaw is crunchy, refreshing, and bright—a perfect counterpunch to rich, fatty meats.

But one day last summer, while looking out of our kitchen window at the curly cues of smoke wafting from our Big Green Egg, I started thinking: Why does coleslaw always play second fiddle to the protein on the plate? What if we grilled cabbage over hardwood coals until charred and kissed with smoke, just like meat and other vegetables? And how about a rub or marinade on the cabbage to ratchet up its flavor?

This led me to the grill, with a tray of marinated cabbage and tongs in hand.

First, about that marinade: Mayonnaise is one of my very favorite marinades for grilled vegetables (my husband applies it to grilled chicken with equal effect). It imparts such a rich flavor, gorgeous char, and a bronzed, blistery crust on all kinds of vegetables. (Case in point, this Grilled Bread Salad With Broccoli Rabe & Summer Squash.) For grilled coleslaw, a mayo marinade makes so much sense. And because I love apple cider vinegar in coleslaw, I add a lot of it—enough to punch through the richness of the mayo and to leave its tangy bite. I cut the cabbage in wedges to maximize the surface area for charring and to speed up the grilling.

Off the grill, I chop up the cabbage into bite-size pieces, slide it into a big bowl, and toss with shredded carrots, thin slices of red bell pepper, slivered almonds, and lots of parsley and chives. I add a little more apple cider vinegar, just enough to brighten all of the flavors. Nothing else is needed—no dressing, no additional mayonnaise, no drizzle of oil. I like to think of it as an inside-out version of coleslaw.

And the taste? Bold, smoky, and feisty—words I’ve never used for coleslaw.

Serve this to people who say they don’t like mayo-based coleslaw (or mayonnaise at all), and watch them eat their words. There’s no watery, soggy, or limp cabbage in sight. It’s amazingly good both warm and cold (not many coleslaws can make that claim) and can be made several days in advance. It’s right at home served alongside barbecue or anything that calls out for a big pile of coleslaw.

You can even slip in some shredded rotisserie chicken, flaky fish, or crumbled bacon for a mealworthy salad. This is a coleslaw so good it can lead—and the meat can follow.

Would you try mayo-grilled coleslaw? Let us know in the comments below.

What to do with leftover cabbage

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Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.