Killed Lettuce


It's all in the hot bacon dressing.

Southern Living Killed Lettuce one serving on a plate with a fork and napkin beside

Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

Cook Time:
20 mins
Active Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
40 mins

Killed lettuce is a traditional springtime Appalachian dish. It's reminiscent of spinach salad with hot bacon dressing, but instead of spinach, cooks made this recipe with freshly-picked leafy lettuces as soon as they popped up in the garden, one of the first harvestable things each spring.

Cooks with late or skimpy gardens, or none at all, turned instead to wild-crafted greens, such as creasy or dandelion greens. For people who had been eating winter foods for weeks, a big bowlful of fresh and verdant Killed Lettuce tasted like an edible spring tonic.

Although we can find delicate leaf lettuce in the grocery store year-round, Killed Lettuce will always hold special appeal when we make it only when true spring greens and spring onions or ramps are available. Missing and craving the dish the other 48 or so weeks of the year is part of the deliciousness and charm.

The dressing is a type of vinaigrette with rendered bacon fat replacing olive or vegetable oil. It's smoky from the bacon, tangy from vinegar, a little sweet from sugar, and pungent from lots of black pepper. The flavors should be balanced, but bold.

When served, the greens should hit a sweet spot between raw and barely cooked. The secret is to drizzle the boiling-hot dressing over the greens while tossing them with tongs so that all turn glossy and some lightly wilt. The term "killed" is a reference to this wilting, and also explains why some people call this dish Wilted Lettuce.

This salad must be served the moment it's dressed; otherwise the heat and acidic vinegar will turn it into mush.

Hot skillet cornbread and creamed potatoes are the perfect accompaniments to Killed Lettuce.


  • 6 generous handfuls (about 12 cups) of fresh leaf lettuce or other spring greens

  • ¼ cup spring onions or ramps, thinly sliced

  • 6 thick-cut slices of smoky bacon, cut crosswise into ½-inch pieces

  • ¼ cup cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper

  • Salt, if needed


  1. Gather your ingredients:

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce ingredients

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Rinse and thoroughly dry the lettuce. Ideally the leaves are so small that they are bite-size, but tear any large leaves into smaller pieces. Place the lettuce and onions in a large, heatproof serving bowl.

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce lettuce in a heat proof bowl

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

  2. Cook the bacon:

    Cook the bacon in a large skillet over moderately-low heat until deeply browned and crisp, about 20 minutes, stirring often.

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce cooking the bacon in the skillet

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and add it to the bowl, leaving the bacon drippings in the skillet.

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce adding the bacon to the bowl

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    There should be at least 3 tablespoons of fat left in the skillet.

  3. Make the dressing:

    Add the vinegar, sugar, and pepper to the bacon drippings, and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil.

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce making the dressing in the skillet

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

  4. Finish the lettuce:

    Drizzle the hot dressing over the lettuce and onions.

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce drizzling the dressing over the lettuce

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Toss with tongs until all of the leaves are coated and some lightly wilted.

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce tossing the salad

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

    Taste for salt, although if the bacon is well-seasoned, you won't need any. Serve immediately—this won't keep.

    Southern Living Killed Lettuce after it has been prepared in the mixing bowl

    Caitlin Bensel; Food Stylist: Torie Cox

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