Sweet and Spicy Homemade Coleslaw Recipe for BBQ

This summer we added a built in smoker to our growing list of cooking methods and have been perfecting smoked BBQ ribs. And let’s be honest, any good BBQ requires equally as good sides. BBQ can be rather fatty and is often paired with mac and cheese, so I was looking for a more refreshing and tangy slaw to cut some of the fat and this slaw is it! It is hands down the best coleslaw recipe to pair with BBQ. It is sweet and spicy and slightly creamy with tangy flavors and just enough acid to compliment BBQ plates. It can be made as a side dish or as a topper for pork sandwiches or tacos! No matter how you decide to serve this American staple, it will definitely become a family favorite! Full recipe card below.

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What is Coleslaw

Most of us know coleslaw as the easy side dish you volunteer to bring to the next family BBQ because you can easily pick up a premade version in the deli section at your local grocery store. But by definition coleslaw (or cole slaw as it is sometimes spelled) is really just shredded cabbage tossed in a dressing often made from creamy mayo or vinegar-based dressings. Either way, it’s definitely a summer BBQ favorite.

Basic Coleslaw Ingredients

Most coleslaw recipes have a few simple ingredients that are consistent across the board. I will break down what I use and why and what ingredients will give you the best results.

Coleslaw Mix – The main ingredient in coleslaw is shredded cabbage. I like to keep things easy and buy a bag of pre-shredded cabbage mix. I like using the tri-colored slaw which is a mix of green cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots. You can definitely shred your own cabbage and carrots if you like, but it’s definitely not necessary.

Mayonnaise – I know people have strong feelings about mayo and their brand of preference and I am no different. I prefer real mayonnaise but feel free to use whatever brand you like. If you are not a fan of mayo, you can use sour cream instead, but you will not have the same tangy coleslaw. Mayonnaise adds a lot of the tang here.

Onion – Onions can add a ton of flavor to a dish and I put onions in almost everything! For this recipe I used my go to white onion because it is less intense than a yellow or red onion. If you use a red onion it will have a spicier flavor since the onions are raw in this recipe, but any of the three would be fine here. I don’t recommend using a sweet onion though since they have a completely different taste and will not add that oniony bite.

Red Bell Pepper– I added several mini sweet peppers to my slaw but one regular sized red, orange, or yellow bell pepper would work here. They add a little bit of extra color and sweetness as well as some extra veggies. Note, a green pepper can also be used but will add a different and less sweet taste.

Jalapenos – I like things spicy and almost always use jalapenos when I cook. For a mild spice remove the seeds from the jalapenos before adding them to the slaw. For a spicier slaw leave the seeds in for half or one of the jalapenos. For a very spicy slaw, leave all the seeds in. If you do not like any spice, use a green pepper instead or omit entirely.

Green Onion – Adding fresh green onion to coleslaw adds a depth of flavor that intensifies as it chills and is definitely different than regular onion.

Apple Cider Vinegar – This will add acidity to the coleslaw and elevate that tangy flavor that pairs so well with BBQ foods. If you do not have apple cider vinegar you can substitute it with rice vinegar, lemon juice, lime juice, or white wine vinegar in a 1:1 ratio.

Mustard – For this recipe I used regular yellow mustard which gives it a little extra flavor. If you do not have yellow mustard you can use Dijon in a 1:1 ratio or 1/3 tsp dry mustard.

Celery Salt – I know this one is a little less common so if you don’t have it, you can either use regular salt or onion salt in its place.

Cumin  – This is one of my favorite spices and adds a lot of flavor! Cumin has an earthy flavor with a lot of depth. If you don’t have this, get some! It is a versatile spice and found in many styles of cooking and spice rubs. Cumin is also found in most homemade BBQ sauce recipes.

Cayenne – This is another one of my favorite spices. A little goes a long way to add heat to a dish, sauce, or spice rub. Also often found in smoked BBQ rubs and sauces.

Other seasonings – Definitely do not skip the salt and pepper! This dish needs seasoning like all others.

NOTE: This recipe is gluten free depending on the type of vinegar and mustard you use. It is your responsibility to confirm the ingredients you use are indeed gluten free. 

How to make coleslaw

There are a few schools of thought on this one. Some people believe you should mix your vinegar, mayo, and mustard together first to make a dressing and then pour it over the other ingredients. But I am going to keep it super simple for you. One of my favorite ways to make slaw is to use a large bowl with a lid and dump everything in. Then I put the lid on and shake it until everything is combined. No extra dishes required! If you don’t have bowls with lids you can use a plate as the lid or just simply stir the ingredients until mixed.

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Sweet and Spicy Homemade Coleslaw Recipe for BBQ

  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 servings 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free


Sweet and spicy homemade coleslaw recipe is the perfect side dish or topping for BBQ pork, pork tacos, or pork sliders! The perfect side dish for your next summer BBQ or potluck. No matter when you make it, this sweet and spicy slaw has just enough heat and tangy flavor to keep you coming back for more!



14 oz bag Tricolor Coleslaw Mix

1/2 White Onion diced

1 Red Bell Pepper diced

2 Jalapenos diced with seeds removed

3 Green Onions chopped

1/2 cup Mayonnaise

1 tsp Yellow Mustard

1 tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar

4 tsp White Sugar

1/4 tsp Cayenne

1/4 tsp Celery Salt

1/4 tsp Cumin

1/8 tsp Salt

1/8 tsp Black Pepper


  1. Dice the white onion, bell pepper, jalapenos, and onions. To speed up chopping I use this slicer.
  2. In a large bowl, add the coleslaw mix and all the diced veggies.
  3. Mix in the mayo, mustard, and apple cider vinegar until all the shredded cabbage and veggies are coated.
  4. Stir in the remaining sugar and spice mixture until combined.
  5. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving.


The flavor in this coleslaw develops the longer it sits. For best results allow at least 30 minutes in the fridge before serving.

This is a mayo based slaw and should not be left out at room temperature for long periods.

I do not recommend freezing this recipe.

For a spicier slaw leave some of the jalapeno seeds in.

This recipe is gluten free depending on the type of vinegar and mustard you use. It is your responsibility to confirm the ingredients you use are indeed gluten free. 

  • Prep Time: 15
  • Chill: 30
  • Category: Sides
  • Method: No Cook
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: summer, BBQ, sides, slaw, sweet and spicy, tangy, mayo, apple cider vinegar


Leftover coleslaw should be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days in an airtight container. As the slaw sits it will become more runny and soggy. For a crunchy coleslaw use within a day or two.

When to make coleslaw

This easy coleslaw recipe is a great addition as a side dish or a compliment to a main dish. Pair with your favorite BBQ ribs or use in pork tacos for your next family dinner. You can also add this crunchy slaw to a brioche bun and top a pulled pork sandwich with it! The sweet and spicy flavor is the perfect addition to your summer BBQ or as a side when you smoke a brisket, ribs, or a pork butt. You can even make it for your next potluck or summer picnic. No matter when you decide to make it, I am confident you will love it!

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