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Today I’m sharing tips for how to prepare cabbage for cabbage rolls. You’ll be an expert in no time on choosing the right cabbage and preparing it.

cabbage with core removed in pot of boiling water

If you want to make cabbage rolls, aka stuffed cabbage, golumpki, halupki, or whatever you may have grown up referring to cabbage rolls as, you’ll want to know how to prepare the cabbage properly.

Knowing how to prepare the cabbage leaves makes this job less frustrating. And honestly, prepping the cabbage is the most finicky part of the job so once that’s done, you can stuff them with whatever your heart desires.

Like traditional meat+rice+tomato. Or loaded mashed potatoes such as these Instant Pot Loaded Mashed Potato Stuffed Cabbage Rolls. Or Corned Beef and Cabbage Rolls. Really, anything.

What kind of cabbage should you use?

There are several types of cabbage you can use. The trick is making sure you buy a head of cabbage that’s a bit bigger than you really need. This is because the leaves get smaller the further into the cabbage you get and before you know it, they’re too small to use.

Green cabbage – this is your standard head of cabbage. It’s the most practical to use because it’s easy to find and usually is super cheap – especially in the autumn and winter months. The leaves of this cabbage tend to be a bit thicker and less flexible.

Savoy cabbage – this will give you pretty cabbage rolls and is easy to work with. It tends to be a little pricier and can be harder to find than the practical green cabbage.

Napa cabbage – this is another easy-to-use cabbage due to the shape of its leaves. That being said, it can also be a little harder to find and you need to make sure you get a nice big head because the leaves can get narrow, which doesn’t work well for stuffing.

Flat Cabbage/Chinese Flat Cabbage – this cabbage looks very similar to green cabbage except it’s usually a bigger head and looks like it’s been slightly flattened.  It isn’t always easy to find. This is the cabbage I prefer using since the leaves have a larger flat area but a natural curve to the edges.

How do you core a cabbage?

You won’t need to core Napa cabbage as you can simply remove the leaves from the head. However, green, Savoy, and flat cabbage all have compact leaves so you will want to core the cabbage (remove the stem) but leave the head in one piece.

Core cabbage before cooking it because this helps the leaves fall off the head easily. Plus, allowing the steam to penetrate into that cut end while it cooks will help loosen the leaves.

Here’s how to core green, Savoy, or flat cabbage.

  1. Put the cabbage on a cutting board stem side up.
  2. Poke a fork firmly into the center of the core so you can safely hold the cabbage into place while you cut out the core.
  3. Use a good sharp knife and cut in a circular pattern with the knife point tilted in toward the stem a bit and the handle tilted outward so when you cut the core out you will have a cone-shaped piece cut out. You may or may not have a perfect cone shape.
  4. Put the knife down and try pulling the core out with the fork.
  5. If it gives but doesn’t fully release, take the knife and carefully cut a little deeper into the area that seems to be catching.
  6. Discard the stem and core.

How do you boil cabbage leaves for cabbage rolls?

In order for your cabbage leaves to be pliable enough to wrap into rolls, you’ll need to cook the cabbage first. If you’re experienced in the kitchen, your first thought might be the same as mine – blanch it. We don’t want to do that here. We need to cook it pretty well to make sure the leaves are cooked enough to wrap.

If you have no idea what “blanching” is, well, it’s where you boil fresh produce for a very short time to start to “break it down a bit” especially for freezing. Then you dunk it in an ice bath to stop the cooking process quickly and cool it down. There are scientific reasons for that but we don’t need them here since that’s not what we need to do.

Get a big pot filled half full with water boiling. Once the water is boiling, put the head of cabbage into the boiling water and put a lid on it. You’re going to want to boil the cabbage for 7-10 minutes, depending how big the head of cabbage is. Don’t go far though. You know how watched pots never boil? Well, boiling pots that aren’t watched boil over and create a huge mess.

If the pot starts to boil over, remove the lid and turn the heat down a bit then put the lid back on. At around 6 minutes you can test how well the cabbage is cooking by taking a fork and trying to pull one of the outer leaves off the head of cabbage. If it easily comes loose, put it in a bowl sitting by the stove. Remove as many leaves as fold really easily then put the lid back on to let the next few layers continue softening.

You might be thinking, “Why don’t I just cook it all for the full amount of time and be done?” Well, you don’t want the outer leaves to turn to mush. You want them all to be nice and bendable but still hold together well.

Now you’re ready to use these prepared cabbage leaves to make your favorite stuffed cabbage rolls.

If you’re interested in more information about cabbage and other ways to cook it you need to check out this post with everything you need to know about cabbage.

Be sure to pin this post so you have it next time you make stuffed cabbage!

cored cabbage in pot of boiling water - text overlay How to prepare cabbage for stuffed cabbage -

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  1. Don’t forget to add salt & vinegar to the boiling leaves, it makes for much better cabbage rolls. Salt – a couple of tablespoons for a large head of cabbage, white vinegar about 3/4 of a cup in a large pot. Enjoy, JB

  2. No need to go through this boiling process. Stick the head of cabbage in the freezer and freeze it. Let cabbage thaw. Cut core from cabbage and ready for cabbage rolls.

    1. This works but you do need a day or two to thaw your cabbage. So I usually just reserve space for my cabbage and then take it out a few days before using for cabbage rolls.

  3. I have a very large green cabbage I bought at a farmer’s market thought ok for stuffed cabbage and leftovers. But didn’t through for Cabbage j don’t think will fit in largest pot I have can I trim somehow or remove as many leaves I think I’ll be needing for my stuffed cabbage?

    1. Hi! It’s hard to get super specific without seeing the cabbage to know if some of these tips are going to work for you.

      If the outer leaves are very loose kinda like peeled back like petals and a little tough, you may want to discard some of them.

      If there are leaves that are loose enough to gently pull away from the cabbage, you can first do that and then put them in boiling water to soften just a bit.

      Otherwise, if you are going to be able to get enough big leaves for stuffing, you can core the cabbage further away from the base so that it’s easier to peel some of the leaves away from the ball. Just make sure the leaves are large enough for stuffing. Then you can take the cabbage left on the core and chop it up fine for soups, eggroll in a bowl, stir fries, etc.

      If you still need more pinpointed help, feel free to reach out to me via email (my contact page) and I’ll gladly give more targeted suggestions.

    1. Yes, you can. You may lose a little flexibility to the leaves once they chill. If you warm them up a bit before stuffing that should solve that. The simplest way would be to cover them and put them in the microwave for a brief amount of time. Also, if you do this, I recommend you put them in something well-sealed so there’s less risk of your whole refrigerator smelling like cooked cabbage.

  4. Maybe this is a dumb question lol, but here it goes. Will the cooked leaves that you set aside “stiffen” up again if they cool before you get a chance to stuff them? Or do they remain pliable?

    1. I’m so sorry I didn’t see your comment sooner! They will stay pliable but not quite as pliable as when they are warm. You can always warm them up a bit in hot water or the microwave if you find they aren’t pliable enough after cooling.

  5. In case you did not know…If you use a wooden spoon and lay it across your pot while cooking and YOUR POT WILL NOT BOIL OVER. THIS WORKS FOR ALOT OF THINGS.

    1. Yeeesss!!! I was looking through my photos the other day and have a picture of my pasta water bubbling up all around a wooden spoon but not overflowing!! Lifesaver!

  6. if i am going to re-use the the boiling water to precook the rice . how much kosher salt should i use if the says to generously .salt the water before putting the cabbage into the boiling water.

    1. I am not comfortable with giving you a specific amount of salt without testing it out because rice will absorb all the water AND salt. Short of that I would add the amount of salt you usually add when cooking rice, knowing that it may end up just slightly under-salted for your preference as some salt may be absorbed into the cabbage.

  7. I pulled a cabbage (green I think) from my garden. Do I have to clean it somehow before boiling it? Or do I just rinse off the outer layer and boil, as that will likely take any dirt off the leaves?

    1. Yes, you should be good to simply rinse it and boil as you want the leaves whole. Boiling it will get rid of pests that may have gotten into the layers. If you were just cooking in another dish and using or using raw I would cut into sections and soak in salt water to draw them out. Also, yay or harvesting your own cabbage!

  8. What do you do with the remainder of the cabbage after you’ve removed the number of leaves you need?

    1. My mother chopped it up, fried it in butter and added pepper, and mixed it into the meat/rice mixture before stuffing the leaves. Any extra from that and we just ate it while waiting for the golumpki to cook. 🙂 Yum!

  9. Very helpful – thanks for posting! I like cabbage rolls but am not a big fan of getting the leaves off

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