Southern-Style Collard Greens

4.7
(15)

There are many delicious ways to cook collard greens, but this is the way we do it in the South.

Cook Time:
2 hrs
Hands On Time:
20 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs 20 mins
Yield:
10 to 12 serves

There are many delicious ways to cook collard greens, but this is the best-known way to do it in the South—low and slow in a stockpot (or slow cooker) with plenty of bold, smoky ingredients to amp up the flavor of the greens.

These collard greens may take a few hours to simmer, but they only require a few minutes of hands-on cooking time. And they can be made ahead and reheat beautifully—in fact, they taste even better on the second or third day.

Traditionally, Southern collard greens are made with pork. In this recipe, chopped bacon is cooked until almost crisp, and the drippings are used to sauté chopped onions, which form the foundation of the dish with chopped smoked ham and garlic.

Don't forget to add apple cider vinegar to the broth. This might seem like an unusual addition if you're new to making collard greens, but the vinegar adds a welcome tangy note that brightens the dish and balances out the salty, savory flavors. A tablespoon of sugar also helps balance out the dish. If you like your greens on the spicy side, add a tablespoon of red pepper flakes, or serve the finished dish with hot pepper vinegar or hot sauce on the side.

Southern-Style Collard Greens in a white bowl with a bowl of cornbread beside it
Photographer: Fred Hardy II, Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall, Props Stylist: Christina Brockman

What Are Collard Greens?

If you've never visited the South or are a new transplant, you may not be familiar with collard greens, a Southern side-dish staple. The veggie has dark green fan-like leaves, similar to the more commonly consumed kale or spinach. Collard greens are also part of the Brassicaceae family, including cabbage and broccoli.

How to Choose Your Collard Greens

You can buy collard greens all year, but they are harvested in the winter. The leafy greens are available at the grocery store or your local farmers' market.

Look for dark green leaves with sturdy stems. Avoid wilting or yellowing leaves.

How to Trim and Clean Collard Greens

Some folks like to leave the stalks and stems on, while others prefer to remove them. Chalk this up to personal preference, though the stems can be tough and fibrous.

Unless you buy pre-bagged and washed collard greens, you must clean them before preparation. Cut off any roots with a knife. Fold each leaf in half and run a knife along the stem to remove it. Alternatively, rip leaves from the stem.

Fill a large bowl with water, and dunk collard green leaves. Swish the leaves in the water until clean. Repeat as needed.

Empty the water, and refill with clean water until the leaves are clean and no grit falls from the leaves. Pat leaves dry with a clean cloth or paper towel.

What is Pot Likker?

After boiling collard greens, the left-behind-liquid, or pot likker, is a rich broth that every Southern cook knows to save. Full of flavor, add it to soups or stews, dunk cornbread, or drink it straight from the pot. Truly there is no wrong way to eat pot likker other than to throw it away, which is just a sin.

What Do Southern-Style Collard Greens Taste Like?

A little bitter, sour, and sometimes even spicy, Southern-style collard greens are beloved for their contrasting flavors. Part of their appeal is nostalgia; collard greens taste like home to many Southerners as the recipe is often served at Thanksgiving or on New Year's Day for good luck. The dish is also especially appealing in contrast to the other rich food served with it, like fried chicken, mac and cheese, or biscuits and gravy.

Editorial contributions by Alexandra Emanuelli.

Ingredients

  • 12 hickory-smoked bacon slices, finely chopped

  • 2 medium-size sweet onions, finely chopped

  • ¾ pound smoked ham, chopped

  • 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped

  • 3 (32-oz.) containers chicken broth

  • 3 (1-lb.) packages fresh collard greens, washed and trimmed

  • cup apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon table salt

  • ¾ teaspoon pepper

Directions

  1. Cook bacon over medium heat in a 10-qt. stockpot for 10 to 12 minutes or until almost crisp.

  2. Add onion to stockpot, and sauté 8 minutes. Add garlic and ham, and sauté 1 minute. Stir in broth, collard greens, apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 2 hours or until desired degree of tenderness.

    Southern-Style Collard Greens in a white bowl with a bowl of cornbread beside it
    Photographer: Fred Hardy II, Food Stylist: Emily Nabors Hall, Props Stylist: Christina Brockman
Updated by
Alexandra Emanuelli
Alexandra Emanuelli

Alexandra Emanuelli is a professional food editor and writer with nine years of experience. She has been published in HuffPost, Clean Eating, AllRecipes, and other publications.

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