When you’re at a barbeque, how often is coleslaw the star of the table? This perennial favorite serves as an excellent complement for burgers, pork chops, and steaks — and it’s not hard to see why.

Originating in the late 1700s, coleslaw was brought to the United States by Dutch settlers, with the name a derivation from the original Dutch "koolsla," or "cabbage salad" (per Culinary Lore). Since then, it has scarcely been off dinner tables, with people coming back again and again to the seemingly irresistible mix of traditionally made cabbage, carrots, and other shredded vegetables or fruit tossed in a tangy sauce (via Delighted Cooking).

But while coleslaw is a fan favorite, it can also be a serious dud. For something that seems pretty simple, coleslaw is pretty easy to get wrong, and there are some crucial mistakes that people make when putting together their slaw. Whether it’s your cabbage prep, your dressing, or your storage method, here are the major no-nos you should definitely avoid.

Not washing your vegetables first

A great coleslaw takes preparation, and it all begins with what you do with your vegetables. Before you even begin shredding your carrots and cabbage, there’s one key mistake to avoid: Don’t leave them unwashed.

It’s easy for fresh fruit and vegetables to pick up contaminants at any point in their path to the grocery store, with Listeria, E. coli, and Salmonella all potentially residing on your food (via the CDC). Although cooking vegetables will kill some harmful bacteria, as you won’t be doing that for a raw-food coleslaw, the best thing to do is to wash your produce thoroughly.

Remember that the cleanliness of your work surface is also important, as if you’re placing freshly-washed produce on a dirty surface, you may just end up contaminating it again. You can use a produce brush to get into the nooks and crannies of certain hard-to-clean vegetables, like carrots that are a little misshapen and have dirt lodged in them. For soil that’s especially hard to shift, try soaking your produce for a few minutes in a water bath before rinsing and scrubbing thoroughly. This should help loosen up any hard dirt.

Forgetting to salt your cabbage

It goes without saying that coleslaw is nothing without adequate seasoning. But did you know that one of the biggest mistakes you can make is only using salt in the dressing? Coating your cabbage with salt before it even goes into the coleslaw is a vital step, and not for the reason you might think.

Like many vegetables, cabbage is naturally pretty full of water, with roughly 92% water content, according to Healthline. When you throw it into a coleslaw without doing anything first, this water can leak out into the rest of the dish, creating a water-logged slaw with a diluted dressing.

The solution? Before putting your shredded cabbage into the mix, salt it, leave it to rest, and then drain. Although it may look as though your cabbage has become too soft, once you’ve squeezed out the excess water, it should stay crisp and crunchy in your salad. It may be a good idea to do a quick taste test of the cabbage before you throw it in, though, because if you added too much salt, you may make your food unappetizing. If this is the case, simply throw it into a colander, rinse it thoroughly, and then leave it to dry or pat it with a paper towel.

Leaving your coleslaw for too long before serving

We all like to stay a step ahead when it comes to meal prep, but there is such a thing as being a little too prepared. And with coleslaw, one of the worst things you can do is make it a bit too far in advance.

It’s fine on a food safety level to make coleslaw a day or two in advance, but its quality might deteriorate, and you may not get the fresh taste you’re looking for. It’s also worth noting that the warmer the environment you store coleslaw in, the quicker it will lose its appeal, and potentially become hazardous to eat.

Instead, it’s best to make your coleslaw on the same day you’re going to eat it, or up to eight hours in advance (per Boss The Kitchen). Once you’ve made your coleslaw, it should keep for several days in the fridge before it becomes unsafe to eat, although you should always throw away any coleslaw that’s started to smell or look a little funky. If you’re dealing with store-bought coleslaw, you should eat it no later than three days after buying it, and pay close attention to its use-by date.

You didn’t shred your carrots

One of the key advantages of coleslaw over other salads is that it all coalesces into an easy-to-consume mixture, perfect for picking up with forks and shoveling into grateful mouths. But this isn’t the case if you’re dealing with large chunks of carrots. Even chopping carrots by hand can leave you with hard, unwieldy batons in your coleslaw that ruin its easy-to-eat consistency. Shredding your carrots, on the other hand, breaks the vegetable down into softer, more manageable pieces.

And shredding carrots is a piece of cake — all you need is a box grater. Simply wash your carrots thoroughly, peel them, and then grate them down the side of your grater, making sure to take care of your fingers (via Better Homes & Gardens). If you want even smaller pieces, just use one of the sides that has a finer grate. If spending time stooped over a grater doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, you can also use your food processor. Attach the shredder plate and push your carrots through the hole in the top to get a great shred every time.

Dressing your coleslaw too far in advance

The moment your dressing goes on the coleslaw, you know you’re in for a real treat. But if you put the dressing into your vegetable mix way before serving, it can pretty much ruin your slaw, turning it into a waterlogged mess. The reason this occurs is due to two key elements that make coleslaw taste as good as it does: acid and salt (per Boss The Kitchen). If you put the dressing on too far in advance, the acid will soften your vegetables, while the salt pulls water out of them. This combo results in a sloppy slaw.

Instead, put your dressing in later rather than sooner. It can be helpful to give your dressing and vegetables a little time to flavor each other, but you shouldn’t wait any more than eight hours once the dressing’s incorporated before serving. Also, remember that when it comes to dressing, a little can go a long way. Avoid the temptation to throw it all in at once. Instead, mix it in gradually, tasting now and again to ensure that you’re not overdoing it.

You forgot to microwave your cabbage

Wait … What? Bear with us, we’ll explain. While we know that coleslaw is a raw vegetable salad and microwaving your cabbage in any capacity might sound like the last thing you want to do, doing this could actually take your coleslaw to the next level.

One of the main issues people have with their coleslaw is it getting watery, which usually occurs because the cabbage releases water into the mix. While salting your cabbage beforehand can counteract this issue, this is a process that can take several hours, as you’ll have to wait for the salt to pull the moisture out.

Instead, you can shred your cabbage, place it into a microwave-proof bowl with some salt and sugar, and blast it for a few minutes. Take it out, and let it cool fully. Then, squeeze out the excess water, and you should be left with crisp cabbage that won’t end up diluting your dressing. Pretty cool, huh? Once it’s fully cooled, you can then throw it into your coleslaw and dress accordingly.

Putting in too much vinegar

Coleslaw is nothing without that trademark tang, but it’s all too easy to take things too far. And as anyone who’s ever had to endure vinegar-soaked coleslaw at a party can tell you, too much acid can ruin a slaw immediately, creating a salad with an overpowering taste (via Boss The Kitchen). The best way to avoid this, of course, is to not put too much vinegar in the first place — but that’s easier said than done. So, how do you remedy coleslaw that’s too vinegary? Add another element to dilute it.

Adding in fat can help to take the edge off the vinegar, with creamier fats like avocado or mayonnaise mellowing out the sharp flavor. You can also amp up the sweetness a little more by putting in a touch of sugar or honey. Additionally, a pinch of baking soda can have a neutralizing effect on acids, but make sure you use it sparingly, as putting in too much can leave you with a chalky taste. Finally, if you feel that you’ve overdressed the salad entirely, you can add in more chopped vegetables, which will spread the dressing more thinly. You can then re-balance it by adding less vinegar and more of the other elements.

You served your coleslaw immediately

Present a bowl of coleslaw at the table, and it’s a sure thing that it’ll get hoovered up pretty quickly. But if you bow to the pressure of presenting that special slaw too fast, you might end up with some quietly disappointed guests. Although you might think that serving up coleslaw immediately after dressing it is the best way forward, when you do so, you’re not giving your salad time to settle and develop its flavors properly. Additionally, your vegetables might still be a little too crunchy.

To avoid this, make your coleslaw in good enough time so you’re not rushing to serve it, and then let it rest. By doing this, the components of the dressing can work their way into the vegetables a little, making them slightly more tender while intensifying and deepening the flavors of the dish. Finally, don’t forget to do a taste test before serving it, to add any final seasonings into the mix before dishing it up. We promise you that your guests won’t mind the wait once they taste your slaw.

Adding copious amounts of salt

Under-seasoning any dish is a cardinal sin, and that’s as true for coleslaw as it is for anything else. But in your zeal to create flavor, don’t be too generous with the salt. Adding in too much salt will simply make your dish unpalatable, while also causing the vegetables to lose their moisture content more quickly, resulting in a soggy, salty mess. And that’s all before you consider the risks of oversalting food in general, with regular overconsumption of sodium in the diet leading to a higher risk of chronic conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure (via the CDC).

Remember that some components of your dressing (like store-bought mayonnaise) may already have salt in them, so make sure you account for this accordingly. If your coleslaw has become too salty, one of the best things to do is balance it with a little more sweetness. This will help to take the edge off the salty taste. If you have some extra vegetables to hand, you can also shred some additional cabbage and carrots and mix them in to make things less salty. Just remember to add in some more of the other dressing ingredients, too.

Making too much coleslaw (and throwing it away)

So, your coleslaw went down a storm at the dinner party, but not enough for people to finish it all. But what do you do with it? Well, we implore you not to throw it in the trash — not only is it wasteful, but it’s also a mockery of your hard work. Instead, freeze it!

It may come as a surprise, but it’s entirely possible to freeze some types of coleslaw. Vinegar-based coleslaws are especially good for freezing, thanks to their stability and ability to retain flavor and crunch once they’re out of the freezer (per Miller’s Cafe Kitchen). Simply spoon your coleslaw into an airtight container and put it in your deep freeze. Then, when you’re ready to eat it, thaw it in your fridge, making sure to drain any excess liquid before serving (via CopyKat).

If you’ve made mayo-based coleslaw, however, it might be wise to avoid the freezer. Freezing mayonnaise can make it turn a little sour. Coleslaws made with fruit (e.g., apples) may also fare less well in the freezer. Lastly, don’t freeze your shredded vegetables without dressing them — the vinegar in the dressing will help keep the texture fresh and crunchy.

You put in too much sugar

A good coleslaw has a certain combination of vinegary sharpness, a touch of salt, and a sweet edge. But if you’re not careful, it’s easy to mix in a bit more sugar than necessary. Making your coleslaw too sweet is a common mistake, and it can result in your salad tasting like a less ideal accompaniment to the other savory elements on your plate.

Fortunately, it’s possible to rectify things if you’ve put too much sugar in your coleslaw. Adding more acid should be your first port of call, recommends Top Cooking Stories. Pour in a little more vinegar (making sure that you’re not watering the coleslaw down too much), or squeeze in a bit of lemon or lime juice. Adding a little bit of fat can also remedy a too-sweet slaw.

Also, since one of the best ways to combat something sweet is with something savory, why not try some unexpected ingredients? Miso paste or soy sauce will supply a rich umami taste to your oversweetened coleslaw dressing, helping to balance the dish. Tahini can also give your coleslaw more of a savory taste while supplying fat and creaminess.

You refrigerate half-eaten coleslaw

There’s nothing quite like a barbeque on a hot summer’s day, and no barbeque is complete without coleslaw. But wrapping up what’s left at the end of the afternoon and taking it home could be a serious mistake that may harm your health.

Although mayonnaise and vinegar are naturally acidic (which can kill some bacteria when you mix them in with vegetables), this can make your food more susceptible to harboring contaminants, explains NC State University. Add in hot weather and multiple hands grabbing serving tongs, and bacteria can start to thrive.

As a general rule of thumb, follow the "two-hour rule." Once your coleslaw’s been out of the fridge for two hours, it probably needs to be thrown away, according to the USDA. This timeframe gets shorter the warmer it is, and for temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, it should be left out for a maximum of an hour before it needs to go back in the fridge. Refrigerating coleslaw that’s been out all day will mean you could end up storing bacteria like Salmonella, Campylobacter, and E. coli with your other food items, which is something you certainly don’t want to happen.

You don’t mix up your recipe

Many of us are creatures of habit in the kitchen. And if you’ve been making coleslaw the same way for years, why should you fix what ain’t broken? Well, maybe because you’re missing out on a world of flavors that you could be enjoying.

Spicing up your standard coleslaw with elements of heat, additional seasonings, or additional vegetables can make your slaw game pop. Try making a Mexican-inspired coleslaw by substituting mayonnaise for sour cream, lime for vinegar, and adding in garlic and chipotle sauce, as chef and Wahaca co-founder Thomasina Miers suggests (via SheerLuxe).

Additionally, the quality of the products you use will make a big difference to your eventual dish, according to Miele GB’s Cesar Fernandez. He recommends using Japanese mayonnaise to give your coleslaw a creamier, slightly tangy edge. And remember, your coleslaw doesn’t have to be entirely comprised of vegetables. Adding in seeds (as chef Paul Bough does) can boost your coleslaw’s protein and fiber content while introducing even more crunch. Lastly, scattering some chopped herbs like parsley or mint over the top of your coleslaw before serving can give it more freshness while simultaneously improving its aesthetic quality.