What Makes Lexington-Style Coleslaw Unique

When you hear the word "coleslaw," your mind may wander to visions of summer barbecues or potluck dinners on a Sunday afternoon. Americans love their coleslaw — and where you live likely determines which one you like best. So, for those living near Lexington, North Carolina, the best slaw out there is the reddish-orange Lexington-Style coleslaw. 

In Lexington and the surrounding areas, coleslaw isn't just a summery side dish; It's a staple at every barbecue joint and seldom just on the side. Lexington-Style coleslaw is served right on top of your favorite barbecue meats for an added crunch and a sweet heat that only Lexington-Style coleslaw offers. 

All of North Carolina is known for its barbecue, but what makes Lexington-Style barbecue unique is the coleslaw that comes along with it. In fact, the coleslaw and the barbecue in the Lexington area have one major thing in common — the sauce.

How it's made

Lexington-style red slaw stems from another popular fare in the Lexington North Carolina region: Lexington-style barbecue. The sauce for their infamous barbecue, especially barbecued pork, is made with a base of vinegar with ketchup and sugar added for sweetness, and hot sauce added for heat. As you can see, the red comes from the sauce, not red cabbage, which people sometimes assume. The same ingredients that are used for their barbecue are also used for the red slaw, and you'll often find red slaw as a topping on Lexington-style barbecue.

To make Lexington-style red slaw, you only need your cut up cabbage and carrots, vinegar, ketchup, sugar, salt and pepper, and your favorite hot sauce, though in Lexington they prefer Texas Pete hot sauce. The tangy sweetness and just enough heat, plus the crunch, make it the perfect side dish for barbecue. 

There are variations, of course, and Mike Swing, who owns Lexington Style Trimmings restaurant tells The Fayetteville Observer, "The taste of it here in Lexington with the barbecue places we have in town is all over the map. Some are fairly sour. Mine is fairly sweet. It just depends on how much ketchup and sugar you put in and it goes all over the place."

Comparing red slaw to other coleslaws

Although in the Lexington region of North Carolina you can expect to get a heaping scoop of red slaw on top of your barbecue pork sandwich, it can also be served as a side dish or as a topping for your hot dog. Use it anywhere you want a little sweet, some heat, and added crunch. Because its ingredients mimic North Carolina's barbecue sauce, you really can't go wrong topping anything with his slaw.  

The red color and heat are the main differences between red slaw and other types of coleslaw. You might find another sweet coleslaw, such as the traditional mayo based coleslaw, or the tangy Asian-style, but you won't find another one with the light shade of red from ketchup — at least not a regional favorite. The same can be said for the heat. There are recipes out there, such as jalapeño coleslaw, but they aren't traditional ones like the red slaw in Lexington. 

Every area of the country has their own thing, especially when it comes to coleslaw, and that can make it tough to try something new. Some people are leery of the uniquely colored Lexington-style coleslaw at first, but once it's tasted alongside some Lexington-style barbecue, there's no turning back.