The Carolina Slaw Burger

This deliciously messy burger, topped with spicy chili sauce and a dollop of creamy slaw, might require quite a few napkins

Photo: Kristoffer Brearton

When I think of the great road food of North Carolina, pulled pork sandwiches immediately come to mind. Served on soft untoasted buns, the pulled pork sandwich of the celebrated out-of-the-way pig joints usually comes standard with a big dollop of creamy coleslaw. That coleslaw is not served as a side, however; it’s presented on the sandwich. In my mind, this equals borderline healthy eating—at least I’m getting some veggies. It probably didn’t take long for someone to apply the same treatment to a burger, specifically a chili cheeseburger, giving birth to a Southern legend…

One of my favorite places to get a true Carolina Slaw Burger is at Duke’s Grill in Monroe, North Carolina. Duke’s has been making the slaw burger since 1951, and not much has changed since Duke served his first one. His nephew Dennis started working at Duke’s when he was nine years old, eventually bought the place, and changed very little. “I made the chili better, that’s about it,” he told me once, “by adding beef.” Apparently the original “chili” sauce his uncle used was nothing more than ketchup, mustard, and hot sauce. Dennis’s chili is far better. —George Motz, from his new cookbook, The Great American Burger Book


  • The Carolina Slaw Burger (Yield: 8 burgers)

  • For the Stupid-Easy Cole Slaw

    • 1 head white cabbage, shredded

    • 6 medium-large carrots, grated

    • 1 cup mayonnaise

    • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar

    • 2 tbsp. yellow mustard

    • 1 tsp. salt

    • ½ tsp. ground black pepper

  • For the Beanless Beef Chili Sauce

    • 2 tbsp. olive oil

    • 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped

    • 3 cloves garlic, minced

    • 1 lb. fresh-ground 80/20 chuck

    • 2 pinches salt

    • 1 tbsp. brown sugar

    • 1 tbsp. chili powder

    • ½ tsp. cumin

    • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

    • 1 tbsp. tomato paste

    • 1 tbsp. Frank’s RedHot cayenne pepper sauce or similar hot sauce

  • For the burgers

    • Beef tallow (butter will work as a substitute)

    • 2 lb. fresh-ground 80/20 chuck

    • Salt, for seasoning

    • 8 slices American cheese (preferably deli-sliced, not prepackaged “singles”)

    • 8 soft white buns or potato buns, toasted

  • For the toppings

    • Stupid-Easy Cole Slaw (recipe above)

    • Beanless Beef Chili Sauce (recipe above)

    • ½ cup finely chopped sweet Vidalia or yellow onion

    • Yellow mustard


  1. Make the slaw: Combine the cabbage and carrots in a bowl and set aside. In another large bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Add the carrots and cabbage to the mixture, tossing to coat.

  2. This slaw can be served immediately, but tastes best if covered and stored in the fridge for an hour before serving. (It can also be made ahead and stored in the fridge for up to 24 hours.)

  3. Make the chili sauce: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring frequently, until translucent. Add the garlic, cook for 1 minute or until golden, then add the ground beef. Crumble, chop, and stir the beef until browned and pebbly. Scoop off any visible fat with a spoon.

  4. Reduce the heat to medium-low and mix in the salt, brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, and Worcestershire. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and hot sauce to the pan. Stir to combine. Add ½ cup water, cover the pan, and simmer for 15 minutes. The chili sauce should be thick but not clumpy. Add more water to thin if needed.

  5. Make the burgers: Preheat the cast-iron skillet over medium heat (or a flat top to medium) and add some beef tallow or butter. Use the spatula to spread the fat, coating the cooking surface.

  6. Put the ground beef in the mixing bowl and, using a salad scoop, make heaping balls of beef, placing them on the heated skillet as you go. Each ball should have about 3 inches of space around it. Add a generous pinch of salt to each ball of beef and, using a stiff spatula, press them down hard until they’re wide patties just a bit larger than the buns. Let them cook, without disturbing them, for 2½ minutes or until reddish liquid begins to form on the surface.

  7. Flip the patties once and don’t press them again. Add a slice of cheese to each patty and let them cook for another 2 minutes.

  8. Add a swipe of mustard to the toasted side of each top bun. Set aside.

  9. Assemble the burgers: When the burgers are cooked through, it’s time to put all the pieces together. (Pay attention: The success of your slaw burger is dependent upon its construction.) Start by placing a heaping scoop of coleslaw on the bottom half of each toasted bun. Top the slaw with a cheeseburger patty, a healthy scoop of chili sauce, the chopped onion, and the top half of the bun. Consume immediately.

Reprinted from The Great American Burger Book (Expanded and Updated Edition) by George Motz. Photo by Kristoffer Brearton. Published by Abrams.