This German Red Cabbage recipe is a savory-sweet mix of braised cabbage, peppery bacon, tart apples, and warm spices. Prussian heirloom Rotkohl recipe.
Sweet and sour red cabbage makes a perfect side dish for all kinds of Bavarian, German, Prussian foods. We especially enjoy it with sauerbraten, schnitzel, and bratwurst, and it is a staple as part of our annual Oktoberfest celebration.
This simple German red cabbage recipe is easy to make, and is even better the day after. This makes it perfect for holidays, when prepping a dish two or three days ahead of time can be a lifesaver!
What's the Story Behind this Recipe?
Some years ago, Mr B and I had the pleasure of sharing an Oktoberfest feast with some old friends, Eric and Lurissa. They treated us to a scrumptious dinner of sauerbraten, spaetzle, smoked bratwurst, sauerkraut, rotkohl, and apple strudel. (I did contribute a pot of Hot German Potato Salad to round out the meal, just in case someone was feeling like they needed more carbs.)
Every bite of our dinner was delicious, but it was the sweet and sour German red cabbage, or rotkohl (rhymes with "ricebowl"), that really got my attention. Each mouthful was a symphony of smokey, sweetly-spiced notes, with just a hint of sour for balance. No question about it - it was the best german red cabbage ever!
Needless to say, I asked for the recipe immediately, which Eric generously shared, along with the story behind it. As it turns out, Eric's rotkohl recipe is an old Prussian one, passed down from his GrandPa, George Lorenz, whose family immigrated to the United States from Breslau, Prussia (now Wroclaw, Poland), making this recipe a genuine family heirloom!
- Red cabbage: To slice the red cabbage, first discard the tough outer leaves, and then cut the head in half through the core. Remove the core. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then thinly slice using a large, sharp knife or a mandolin.
- You can use green cabbage; however, you will sacrifice the beautiful purple hues of traditional German Rotkohl (literally, "red cabbage").
- Bacon: Peppered bacon is optimal for this recipe; however, you can use any bacon for it. If you use a regular, unpeppered bacon, add a little extra freshly ground pepper when you add the brown sugar and spices.
- Apples: Granny Smiths, Jonagolds, Braeburns, and Honeycrisps are all good choices. (We most often use Granny Smiths.)
- Peel, core, and thinly slice the apples. We like the apple pieces to be big enough that they hold up to the braising process.
- Onions: In keeping with the color scheme, red onions are the best choice for this recipe; however, yellow or sweet onions will but work.
- Brown sugar: Brown sugar contains molasses, and gives this rotkohl a warm, rich sweetness.
- Cider vinegar: Like the brown sugar, apple cider vinegar adds a distinct flavor and sweetness to the rotkohl. Avoid using white vinegar, as it is too tart.
How to Make German Red Cabbage with Apples & Bacon
One Pot Prep
In a large enameled Dutch oven (or other large, heavy bottom pot), sauté bacon until limp and slightly browned, but not crisp.
Add onion and apple slices and toss with bacon and drippings. Sauté for one minute.
Add thinly sliced cabbage and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Use tongs to gently toss everything together.
Cover and simmer until the cabbage begins to wilt, tossing frequently.
Add apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and remaining spices.
Continue simmering, covered for ½ hour to 45 minutes. Use tongs to toss and fold mixture every 10 minutes.
The rotkohl is done when it is soft but not mushy. It should still look like cooked cabbage, and have just a bit of a bite.
Taste and adjust spices before serving.
I recommend using an enameled cast iron Dutch oven when making Rotkohl. A Dutch oven allows you to sauté and simmer on the stovetop, and the enameled (i.e., glass) surface won't react to ingredients. A good Dutch oven promotes even heating and has great heat retention, and goes from stovetop to oven to table with ease.
You can also use a heavy stockpot to make this recipe.
A mandolin is also very useful for slicing the cabbage evenly.
Store leftover German red cabbage in a non-reactive container (i.e., glass, plastic, stainless, etc.). Leftovers will keep for at least 5 days in the fridge. Reheat in the microwave or over low heat on the stovetop.
We do not recommend freezing this dish.
Make It Ahead of Time!
We always make this German Red Cabbage recipe at least a day before we plan to serve it, because it is always even better the next day. (It can be made up to four days ahead of time!)
Rotkohl and Blaukraut are often used synonymously, but they are actually two different dishes.
Rotkohl always has among its ingredients an acid (vinegar), which keeps the cabbage red. Recipes for Blaukraut do not include an acid, which results in a much bluer end product. (Science!)
Like Hot German Potato Salad, Rotkohl may be served hot or cold and is even better the next day.
More Cabbage Recipes
Traditional German Red Cabbage (Rotkohl)
- 4 slices peppered bacon cut in ¾-inch pieces
- 1 head red cabbage thinly sliced
- 1 large red onion thinly sliced
- 2 medium apples peeled and sliced thin
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup cider vinegar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar or honey
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon fresh nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large enameled Dutch oven (or other large, heavy bottom pot), sauté bacon until limp and slightly browned, but not crisp.
- Add onion and apple slices and toss with bacon and drippings. Sauté for one minute.
- Add thinly sliced cabbage and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Use tongs to gently toss everything together. Cover and simmer until the cabbage begins to wilt, tossing frequently.
- The rotkohl is done when it is soft but not mushy. It should still look like cooked cabbage, and have just a bit of a bite.
- Taste and adjust spices before serving.
We always make German Red Cabbage at least a day before we plan to serve it, because it is always even better the next day. (It can be made up to four days ahead of time!)
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. You are solely responsible for ensuring that any nutritional information provided is accurate, complete, and useful.
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When I said "old friends," I meant it! This is Lurissa and me in the 1st grade. Eric didn't come to our school for another six years, and it was three years after that before I met Mr. B.
P.S. Sure, I could have cropped this image shorter, but I love my go-go boots way too much to cut them out of the picture! (Some things never change.)
Originally published October 10, 2014. Post has been updated with new images, content, and recipe instructions to improve reader experience.