Did you think cabbage was just for coleslaw? We break down how to cook cabbage to transform this crunchy brassica into a crave-worthy bite that's sweet and tender.
Cabbage is one of those vegetables that gets overlooked. When cooking, many of us reach for other brassica vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower or broccoli. Meanwhile, cabbage gets passed over, consigned to its role of adding crunch to salads or coleslaw.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Some of our favorite cabbage recipes are cooked, like cabbage rolls, grilled cabbage wedges or stir-fried cabbage. Once you know how to cook cabbage, you’ll be amazed at the depth and flavor of this incredible vegetable.
Different Types of Cabbage
Green cabbage is one of the most common varieties, and you can find it in almost every grocery store. It looks like iceberg lettuce, but you can tell the difference between the two based on the rigidity of the leaves. Green cabbage leaves are stiff and tightly wound around each other in an orb, whereas lettuce is thinner, more pliable and tends to have more of an oblong shape.
Enjoy this variety in any recipe that calls for cabbage, whether raw or cooked. Served raw, it’s crunchy and slightly rubbery, with a lightly peppery, mild taste. We find it’s best to shred cabbage into thin ribbons when enjoying raw, although it can also be chopped into small chunks for salads. When cooked, its texture softens and the flavor becomes sweet and caramelized. It’s our go-to choice for cabbage rolls, but it works equally well in soups or stir-fries.
Red cabbage is another common type of cabbage, and it’s typically used to add a burst of fresh color to raw salads or purple-hued coleslaw. It contains a pigment called anthocyanin, a flavonoid that adds red, blue or purple pigments to plants like grapes, red onions, purple cauliflower and black beans. This pigment has a chemical reaction to acids (like vinegar) or bases (like baking soda), turning bright red in acidic environments, blue in neutral environments or green in basic environments. If your red cabbage becomes blue while cooking, add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice to bring the color back.
Raw red cabbage isn’t as tender as green cabbage, and it has a more pronounced peppery flavor. It’s also more bitter tasting, so we find it best to mix it with raw green cabbage instead of using it on its own. Pickled red cabbage is fantastic (the vinegar really brings out the red color), and it’s an excellent option for braising or grilling.
At first glance, savoy cabbage looks like green cabbage. Given a closer look, you’ll see that the leaves are softer, with a frilly or crinkly appearance that come together to form a looser ball. This cabbage originated in Italy, although today it can be found around the world.
Feel free to substitute savoy cabbage in any recipe that calls for green or red cabbage. Just keep in mind that the tender leaves will cook more quickly, so you can reduce the cooking time appropriately. It’s also not as crisp as green cabbage, so your coleslaw or salad won’t have the same characteristic crunch. That said, savoy cabbage is sweeter tasting and tends to blend into the background better than other cabbage varieties, making it a good choice for picky eaters.
Napa cabbage is a type of Chinese cabbage along with bok choy. Instead of being packed into a tight sphere, this cabbage variety has a distinct oblong appearance and its leaves frill out toward the edges. It was originally cultivated in China before making its way to Japan and Korea, and it’s commonly incorporated into dumplings, used in stir-fry dishes and used to make ferments like kimchi.
Like savoy, napa cabbage has a delicate texture and sweeter flavor compared to red and green cabbage. Its leaves aren’t quite as soft as savoy, so they add a mild crunch to raw dishes. When cooked, the sweetness intensifies, making it an ideal choice for sauteing or grilling.
How to Prepare a Cabbage
Our favorite way to enjoy raw cabbage is by shredding it into tiny strips. The round shape makes it difficult to handle, though, so learning how to shred cabbage starts by cutting it into halves or quarters to make it more manageable. From there, cut out and discard the stem before shredding it with a knife or mandoline. You can also use a box grater or a food processor if you want to make tiny cabbage pieces, which are perfect for making a copycat Kentucky coleslaw recipe.
Depending on the recipe, cooked cabbage can be cut into wedges or chopped into bite-size pieces instead of shredded. Cabbage rolls are the notable exception, where the cabbage head is kept intact, and the leaves are softened in boiling water.
How to Cook Cabbage
Some of our favorite recipes are quick cabbage dishes that cook in 10 to 15 minutes. And cooking cabbage is as easy as finding your favorite recipe and cutting the vegetable based on the instructions. You can also follow these tips to make cabbage less gassy.
Boiled cabbage:Boiled cabbage is perfect for St. Patrick’s Day, when chunks of cabbage are simmered alongside corned beef, potatoes and carrots until the contents become fork-tender. You can also stew or boil cabbage in recipes like cabbage soup or colcannon potatoes.
Fried cabbage: Turn a pile of chopped cabbage into a buttery delight of fried cabbage, which is cooked in oil until it’s tender.
Grilled cabbage: Don’t discount cabbage wedges—grilled cabbage has a meaty texture that makes it a great side dish (or a vegetarian main). Try thick slices as cabbage steaks.
Baked cabbage: Cabbage can also be chopped and transformed into baked dishes like scalloped cabbage.
Cabbage rolls or stuffed cabbage: If you’re looking for the classic option, look to cabbage rolls. It seems that every culture has a version of these rolls, some stuffed with ground beef and rice while others use pork or poultry. Feel free to turn this dish into a meatless Monday option by making vegetarian cabbage rolls filled with veggies like mushrooms, zucchini and peppers. Want to go big? Stuff a whole cabbage.
Raw cabbage: Of course, you don’t have to cook cabbage at all. Raw cabbage is what you’ll want in coleslaw and other salads.
Fermented cabbage: Cabbage is a traditional ingredient in fermented recipes like homemade sauerkraut and kimchi.
How to Store Cabbage
It’s best to keep cabbage heads intact in their original packaging. Whole red or green cabbage can last up to two months in the refrigerator’s crisper bin, while shredded cabbage starts to go bad after two to three days.
Savoy and napa cabbage, on the other hand, have more tender leaves, so they typically last about two to three weeks in the crisper bin.
Once cut, tightly wrap cabbage halves or wedges with plastic wrap and plan to use them within a few days. Store shredded or chopped cabbage in an airtight container. For pre-shredded cabbage, refer to the best-by date on the package.
Can You Freeze Cabbage?
In general, we don’t recommend freezing cabbage. It has a high water content, so its texture isn’t the same after it thaws. That said, if you have to freeze it, cut the head into wedges and blanch it for about 90 seconds. Transfer the cabbage to ice water to stop the cooking process and dry the wedges well. Store the cabbage in a freezer-safe bag, and it should retain its quality for eight to twelve months.
The better option for preserving excess cabbage is via fermentation. You can pickle cabbage in vinegar or ferment it with salt to make sauerkraut or kimchi.
When I was a little girl, I helped my parents work the fields of their small farm. Lunchtime was always a treat when Mother picked fresh vegetables from the garden and simmered them in her big soup pot. We loved making this delicious recipe. —Ethel Ledbetter, Canton, North Carolina
Every Irish family has its own colcannon recipe, since it's a classic potato and cabbage dish. My recipe comes from my father's family in Ireland. It's part of my St. Patrick's Day menu, along with lamb chops, carrots and soda bread. —Marilou Robinson, Portland, Oregon
I modified my mom's classic Polish dish to fit my hectic life. Instead of boiling the cabbage and then filling it with beef, I just toss the ingredients in the slow cooker. It's much easier and tastes just as delicious. —Mary Walker, Clermont, Florida
When I was young, my family grew our own cabbages. It was fun to put them to use in the kitchen, just as I did with this comforting side. With potatoes, deviled eggs and cornbread, fried cabbage tastes like home. —Bernice Morris, Marshfield, Missouri
It may be the most famous dish to eat on St. Patrick's Day, but this Irish-American corned beef recipe is a favorite at our table all year long. This is how to make corned beef and cabbage. —Evelyn Kenney, Trenton, New Jersey
I've always enjoyed cabbage rolls but didn't make them since most methods were too complicated. This recipe is fairly simple and results in the best cabbage rolls. My husband, Sid, requests them often. They're terrific to share at gatherings with our children and grandchildren. —Beverly Zehner, McMinnville, Oregon
Sauerbraten and soup are both family favorites. This combines the two, without the long marinating time the traditional beef dish requires. You can substitute spaetzle or gnocchi for the egg noodles. —Jennifer Yerkes, Franklin Square, New York
This is one of my greatest hits for a potluck dish at church suppers. If you use some red cabbage, it will have very festive colors, light pink with green. It looks so pretty. —Winifred Winch, Wetmore, Michigan
Try this hearty soup that incorporates the best of vegetable soup and flavorful crab. I break whole crabs and claws into pieces and drop them into the soup to cook, then serve it with saltine crackers and a cold beer. —Freelove Knott, Palm Bay, Florida
Spicy kielbasa sausage and plentiful cabbage and potatoes give this dish a pleasing Old World flair. My husband never liked cabbage before I made this, but now he does! —Romaine Wetzel, Ronks, Pennsylvania
Here is one of my favorite ways to cook and enjoy cabbage. It has all the good flavor of regular cabbage rolls, but it's a lot less bother to make. In fact, it's a one-pot meal! —Mrs. Bernard Snow, Lewiston, Michigan
My mother came from Ireland as a teen and brought this homey recipe with her. I find that it's a fantastic way to get my family to eat cooked cabbage—it is hidden in Grandma's potatoes! —Marie Pagel, Lena, WI
If you’ve braised, marinated or served red cabbage raw, try it steamed, then toss with bacon and a tangy sauce. We serve it with pork or chicken. This is how to cook cabbage with bacon. —Sherri Melotik, Oak Creek, Wisconsin
I've relied on this recipe for years, and my cabbage rolls never fail to impress. As the host of a number of holiday parties, my guests have come to expect this main entree. —Nancy Foust, Stoneboro, Missouri
My grandmom’s long-cherished chowchow recipe has Pennsylvania Dutch roots. The pickled relish of cabbage, onions and peppers is tart and sweet with a smidge of spice. —Sharon Tipton, Casselberry, Florida
When I was looking for something new, I started playing with flavors and came up with this very tasty dish. My German grandmother would be impressed, I think! The colorful side dish is just right with pork. —Ann Sheehy, Lawrence, Massachusetts
We love anything that is tangy or has bacon. With fennel and tarragon, this is a super savory dish. I use the medley from Minute Rice if I don't have time to make my own. —Ann Sheehy, Lawrence, Massachusetts
I practically grew up in my Polish grandmother's kitchen, watching Babci cook and listening to her stories. I made her cabbage roll recipe healthier with whole grains and turkey, but kept the same rich flavors I remember. —Fay Moreland, Wichita Falls, Texas
While we were on one of our small-group quilting retreats, one of my friends made this wonderful recipe for dinner. We all loved it and have since passed it around for others to enjoy—now I'm passing it on to you. —Melissa Glancy, La Grange, Kentucky
Sunday afternoons were a time for family gatherings when I was a kid. While the uncles played cards, the aunts made treats such as this traditional German red cabbage recipe. —Jeannette Heim, Dunlap, Tennessee
Full of veggies and smoky bacon, with just a little tanginess from sour cream, bowls of this comforting soup taste just as terrific with sandwiches as they do with crackers. —Melanie Wooden, Reno, Nevada
My mother often had these cabbage rolls simmering in her slow cooker when my family and I arrived at her house for weekend visits. The mouthwatering meatballs tucked inside made these stand out from any other cabbage rolls I've tried. —Betty Buckmaster, Muskogee, Oklahoma
Passed down through generations, this robust corned beef and cabbage recipe is requested often in our house. The Irish stout adds excellent richness to the corned beef. Just throw the ingredients together in the slow cooker and let them simmer until delicious! —Karin Brodbeck, Red Hook, New York
This corned beef and cabbage slow-cooker recipe is a fuss-free way to cook the traditional dish. I tried it for St. Patrick's Day a few years ago. Now it's a regular in my menu planning. —Karen Waters, Laurel, Maryland
A friend gave me the idea to use V8 juice in vegetable soup because it provides more flavor. My best vegetable soup recipe is perfect to prepare on a crisp autumn afternoon. —Janice Steinmetz, Somers, Connecticut
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.