Rating: 4 stars
4 Ratings
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It's all in the hot bacon dressing.


Credit: Sheri Castle

Recipe Summary

20 mins
20 mins
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.


Ingredient Checklist


Instructions Checklist
  • 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.

  • Cook the bacon in a large skillet over moderately-low heat until deeply browned and crisp, about 20 minutes, stirring often. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and add it to the bowl, leaving the bacon drippings in the skillet. There should be at least 3 tablespoons of fat.

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

  • Drizzle the hot dressing over the lettuce and onions, tossing with tongs until all of the leaves are coated and some lightly wilt. Taste for salt, although if the bacon is well-seasoned, you won't need any. Serve immediately—this won't keep.