Southern Collard Greens

Here’s the easiest and best way to make delicious Southern collard greens! Simple ingredients and a few seasonings make this classic Southern side dish a family favorite!

Why this recipe works

  • No bitterness – Most greens (collard, mustard, turnip) are inherently bitter. The savory and meaty broth (pot liquor or “pot likker”) and a smidgen of sugar and vinegar override this bitter flavor, resulting in a savory and flavorful green.
  • Tender – but not over cooked; the addition of a little white vinegar and pepper vinegar increases the acidity of the water which helps tenderize the greens as they cook
  • Seasonings – simple, yet versatile! Add onions, garlic powder, red pepper flakes, pepper sauce to your liking!
  • Healthy – collard greens, in particular, are one of the more nutrient dense foods on the planet (kale is #1)! They’re considered a “superfood” and are high in fiber, as well as vitamin C, A, and B and they’re off the charts with vitamin K.

Ingredients

Southern collard greens are kinda like peas- for example, once you learn how to season and cook purple hull peas, you never forget, right? Southern greens are the same concept. Sometimes, simple ingredients are the best way to fix delicious, fresh collards!

Ingredients labeled on counter.
  • Greens – fresh collard greens, mustard greens, turnip greens or kale; use pre-washed packaged greens or fresh; you can use mixed greens, too!
  • Water or broth start with 3-4 cups of water per pound of greens; if you need to add more, do so; you may have to add more seasonings if you add more water (you can also use chicken broth or chicken stock, or even vegetable stock)
  • Protein – smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg, fat back, bacon or salt pork
  • Seasonings – onion or onion powder (optional), garlic powder, white vinegar, salt, pepper, pepper vinegar, crushed red pepper (optional).

How to season and cook Southern collard greens

Most greens are inherently bitter and tough. Southerner’s typically use a “fatty protein” like bacon fat, ham, smoked ham hocks, smoked turkey legs or bacon pieces to season their greens. If you don’t have any meat handy, you can always add a few tablespoons of bacon grease to the stockpot. 

The fat from the protein is released into the bitter greens and this creates a delicious juice called “pot likker” or “pot liquor” -this is the secret to a really good pot of Southern greens! 

Start with a big pot of water (or Dutch oven ) and some protein; you can use smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg, turkey neck bones or bacon-any of these will give the greens a nice smoky flavor.

Place water or chicken broth (I recommend using a high quality chicken stock) and the protein in a big pot, along with a little onion powder and garlic powder.

Bring the water to a rolling boil, then turn to low heat or simmer, cover and allow to cook for about 1 hour. Cook the pot liquor (water, protein, seasonings) covered

Dutch oven with glass lid ajar.

After 1 hour, add prepped greens (wash, remove stems and chop greens) and a little white distilled vinegar and a pinch of sugar to the pot.

Once you add the raw greens to the stockpot,  leave the lid off for about the first 5-8 minutes while stirring the greens into the broth. This lets the gases escape; then cover and simmer till tender.

This initial phase of cooking the greens uncovered allows the natural gases in the vegetable to escape. Once all the greens have soaked in the broth for a few minutes, place the lid on the stockpot and cook on low.

Season to taste with salt, pepper and Trappey’s Louisiana white pepper sauce.

If you want spicy collard greens feel free to add a little hot sauce or red pepper flakes to this southern collard greens recipe.


What is pot likker (pot liquor)?

There’s no “liquor” involved here. This is an old term used for the juice of the cooked greens! Pot liquor is non -alcoholic. It is the juice you get from braising a salty meat in liquid that develops when you cook cook the greens slowly.

The smoky and salty flavor that develops in the braising liquid helps to overcome any bitterness from the collard or mustard greens.

Collard greens are in the cruciferous vegetable group, along with cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower which means they emit a sulfurous odor when cooked.

Collard greens for a group

If you’re cooking for a crowd, I recommend cooking the greens in one huge stockpot or use a few 5-quart stockpots.

Make ahead and storage

If you need to make Southern greens in advance, I recommend cooking them no more than 3 days in advance.

Make the pot liquor first then add the greens and seasonings. Cook the greens only halfway at this point – don’t cook them all the way. Store greens and liquid in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.

On the day your serving the southern greens, pour them and the liquid back into a large stockpot and resume cooking. This ensures your greens won’t get soggy or overdone.

Reheating

Reheat refrigerated greens on the stovetop or in the microwave. If reheating frozen greens, allow them to thaw first, then reheat on the stove or microwave.

Serving suggestions

Serve your leafy green vegetable with a slotted spoon or tongs. I always put a second serving spoon in the bowl in case anyone wants to get a little of that savory broth for their serving!

Seasoned greens in a white bowl.

Once you learn how to season and cook Southern collard greens, you’ll be happy to serve them with any of these Southern favorites, but cornbread is a must!

If you make this recipe, please scroll down and leave a comment and rating! I love to hear from you!

Seasoned greens in a white bowl.

Southern Greens (Collard, Mustard, Turnip) Recipe

How to Season and Cook Southern Greens
5 from 13 votes
Print Rate
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
1 hour for broth or pot liquor: 10 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes
Yield: 4 cups
Author: Anecia Hero

Ingredients 

  • 1 lbs greens , mixed, turnip, collard -See Recipe Notes
  • 1 smoked ham hock 1 large smoked ham hock, smoked turkey leg or bacon strips (6) See Recipe Notes
  • water start with 3-4 cups water per pound of raw greens; See Recipe Notes ;
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder , or 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • pepper sauce , white pepper vinegar; to taste
  • salt and pepper ,to taste

Instructions 

  • Wash greens thoroughly. At least 3 times (disregard if using pre-washed greens)
    1 lbs greens
  • Cut away core stalk; chop or tear into small bite size pieces
  • In a large stockpot, add protein, (and chopped onion – optional), water and seasonings to pot; cover and allow to simmer for 1 hour; See Recipe Notes
    1 smoked ham hock, water, 1 tablespoon onion powder, 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • Add greens and white vinegar; stir well; allow to cook 5-8 minutes with the lid off
    1 lbs greens, 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • Place lid on stockpot and allow to simmer until greens are tender
  • Add salt, pepper and pepper vinegar to taste
    salt and pepper, pepper sauce

Notes

Greens:
If you use pre-cut/pre-washed greens, still rinse them again in a colander just to be safe.
Water:
Start with 3-4 cups per pound of raw greens; if you find you need to add more during the cooking process, then add more. You do not want the greens covered by water. If you add more water, you might want to add more seasonings.
Protein:
If you use bacon, I recommend cutting it into tiny pieces and cooking it in the stockpot until crispy. Then, add a little water (stand back – it will splatter) and begin scraping the bacon residue from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. 
Add the rest of the water and seasonings and let that simmer for 1 hour. Then resume recipe.
Onion:
If you want to add diced onion to the greens, I recommend cooking the onion in a little oil first, (use the same big stockpot you’re using for the greens) then add the protein and water.
Or, if you’re adding onion AND bacon, cook them at the same time before adding the water.

Nutrition Estimate

Serving: 1cupCalories: 189kcalCarbohydrates: 9gProtein: 16gFat: 11gSaturated Fat: 4gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 46mgSodium: 128mgPotassium: 439mgFiber: 5gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 5691IUVitamin C: 40mgCalcium: 280mgIron: 1mg
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4 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    My mama always cooked collards, for they are milder than turnip greens or mustard greens. You can mix greens though!

    1. Mustard and turnip greens are often tough and peppery. So you may have to add a little more vinegar to balance the flavor. . Thank you for sharing this!