Smoked Pickled Onion Coleslaw

5 from 4 votes
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Not your average backyard cookout coleslaw. This mayo-free and allergy-free coleslaw is made with smoked pickled onions and is fantastic loaded onto pulled pork or chicken sandwiches or as a great side dish for your next party.

Smoked Pickled Onion No Mayo Coleslaw in a large black bowl
Pickled red onions create a burst of flavor for this mayo-free coleslaw.

I can’t stand mayo! I know I may be in the minority, but I just can’t do it. The texture, the smell, none of it. Plus it’s no good to have in a salad you wish to have out at a backyard party or picnic on a hot summer day. Because spoilage.

You may remember our Easy Mayo Free Coleslaw recipe. This one is pretty different, yet similar in that they both require zero mayonnaise… because I just can’t do it! And this one has a special ingredient giving it an incredible WOW factor. Smoked Pickled Onions.

What are Smoked Pickled Onions?

Smoked pickled onions are onions that are placed in a pickling liquid, then cooked on the smoker at a low temperature to infuse with a sweet smoke infusion.

I’m a sucker for all things pickled (true story). Pickled everything, including onions. And these are great in this coleslaw.

Check out our easy quick pickling guide for more ways to add flavor.

How to make Smoked Pickled Onions 

  1. Start by slicing onions into thin strips. For this you don’t need any special tool, just a sharp knife and a focused eye (or two). We recommend slicing the onions from the poles.
  2. Add them to a baking dish (we use a square 8×8 glass dish). Add some apple cider vinegar and sugar and then place the dish in your smoker, set to 225 degrees, for about 2 hours (tossing once or twice).
  3. Remove the smoked pickled onions from the smoker, let cool, and then strain the onions (MAKING SURE TO SAVE THE LIQUID!!!). Reserve that delicious liquid vinegar/onion infused smoked goodness for later. It will come in handy!
Strain and reserve the pickling liquid.

Next up, prep the rest of your coleslaw ingredients.

How to make coleslaw without Mayo

Instead of going the creamy mayo route, think of other, brighter, more acidic flavors to add enhancing your coleslaw. Think of it more like a vinaigrette vs. a creamy dressing in a salad. We’re brightening up the flavors with apple cider vinegar from the pickling liquid.

And to jazz things up even more, we’re making it with smoked pickled onions, which have so much flavor you don’t even need a dressing!

You can use a pre-bagged coleslaw mix, or save money by slicing it yourself with a sharp knife or mandolin.

using a mandolin to slice cabbage

CAUTION: Be super duuuuuper careful using a mandolin, my friends! These damn things can cut your finger off! I know, I’ve had a couple accidents that weren’t too pretty! Protect your precious fingers (or ask your husband/wife/partner/friend/mom to do it for you like I did).

Now that you’ve shredded your cabbage, assemble all the rest of your ingredients.

Coleslaw Ingredients

This coleslaw recipe is about simplicity but big flavor.

  • cabbage (both red and green cabbage)
  • cilantro (because it’s delicious and flavorful)
  • shredded carrots (for good measure, sweetness, and color)
  • smoked pickled onions and pickling liquid
Ingredients for Pickled Onion Coleslaw

Toss together with some of that reserved liquid along with some salt, pepper, and cumin. Stir up and adjust flavors based on taste.

Chef’s Tip: We like to add one tablespoon of the pickling liquid at a time until we like the flavor. Store any leftover smoked onions you don’t use in a mason jar and cover with the remaining pickling liquid. It will last up to two weeks in the refrigerator.

Main Dish Ideas With Coleslaw

The options are endless! This mayo free, gluten free, dairy free, egg free, nut freebasically completely allergy free –– coleslaw is going to be your BFF this summer. Plus how cool is it that you smoked and pickled your own onions. You are officially a badass.

Smoked Pickled Onion Coleslaw in a bowl
This coleslaw makes for a great salad.

This recipe was first published in May of 2018 and updated in 2022 with new photos and steps for the pickling process.

If you like this recipe we’d truly appreciate it if you would give this recipe a star review! And if you share any of your pics on Instagram use the hashtag #vindulge. We LOVE to see it when you cook our recipes. 

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Smoked Pickled Onion No Mayo Coleslaw
5 from 4 votes

Smoked Pickled Onion Coleslaw Recipe

This no mayo coleslaw is made with smoked pickled onions and is fantastic loaded onto pulled pork or chicken sandwiches or as a great side dish for your next backyard BBQ. Fresh and completely mayo free!
Prep: 10 minutes
To Smoke the Onions: 2 hours
Total: 10 minutes
Servings: 6 people


For the Smoked Pickled Onions

  • ½ red onion, sliced
  • 2 cups apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup sugar

For the Coleslaw

  • 3 cups green cabbage,, sliced thin using a mandolin (or sharp knife)
  • 1 cup red cabbage,, sliced thin using a mandolin (or sharp knife)
  • 1 large carrot,, shredded (or 2 small)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro,, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon reserved liquid from the smoked pickled onions,, start with 1 tablespoon and adjust from there
  • ½ tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt,, adjust to taste
  • teaspoon ground pepper (or 4 turns from a grinder)


To Make the Smoked Pickled Onions

  • Prepare: Pre-heat smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit using fruit wood. In a glass baking dish, add apple cider vinegar, sugar, and sliced onions. The vinegar may not completely cover the onions, that is ok, we’ll be stirring.
  • Smoke Onions: Place dish uncovered in the smoker for two hours, stir once or twice to move around the onions in the pickling liquid. Remove from smoker, drain and reserve the pickling liquid, and then set aside onions.

To make the Coleslaw

  • Make Slaw: In large bowl add sliced red cabbage, yellow cabbage, carrots, onions, chopped cilantro, cumin, salt, pepper, and smoked apple cider vinegar and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings to preference. Serve with your favorite dishes or as part of a sandwich.
  • Extra Onions: Place extra onions in a mason jar and cover with the reserved liquid. Store for up to two weeks for a quick pickled red onion.


Calories: 72kcal | Carbohydrates: 14g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 410mg | Potassium: 210mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 1914IU | Vitamin C: 23mg | Calcium: 37mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Prep Time: 10 minutes
To Smoke the Onions: 2 hours
Total Time: 10 minutes
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American, BBQ, Barbecue
Servings: 6 people
Calories: 72
Keyword: no mayo coleslaw, pickled onions, smoked pickled onions
Like this recipe? Leave a comment below!

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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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  1. 5 stars
    Love this! i cant stand soggy coleslaw! good cookbook to check out here……..

  2. 5 stars
    This looks so yummy! Love the addition of the smoked onions, and that mandolin slicing is on point!

  3. I get SO EXCITED when I go to a BBQ and the coleslaw isn’t that soggy, yucky mayonnaise glop. Three cheers for this delicious looking recipe!!!