I grew up eating Southern collard greens recipe! My grandma often had a big pot of these on the back of the stove, simmering away for many a Sunday supper.
Their fragrance filled the house with an amazing aroma we all looked forward to when we were at Grandma’s house!
While they’re well known in the south, because of their incredible health benefits, they are becoming popular across the country! Check out my serving recommendations for new ideas on what to serve these with.
If you’d like more Southern side dishes, I hope you’ll try my Arkansas green beans, Southern green beans, copycat KFC coleslaw, or Grandma’s Southern corn cakes next. I promise they’re all delicious! ♥
What Do Southern Style Collard Greens Taste Like?
The greens tend to be slightly bitter. When they’re cooked Southern style, with the aromatic and all the meat, they take on a meaty, smokey flavor and lose their bitterness. The vinegar gives them a bit of acidity, while the granulated sugar balances the flavor out, IMHO, perfectly.
After your greens have simmered and are tender, be sure to taste and adjust the seasoning to your palate. You might want a bit more sugar, Cajun seasoning, salt, or pepper. Make them your own!
What Are Collard Greens?
Collard greens are a dark green, fan-like, leafy vegetable that comes from the cabbage family. If you’re familiar with kale, collard greens are similar.
They’re incredibly nutritious and loaded with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They’re thought to help to lower cholesterol and they’re even low on the glycemic index!
Commercially, you can find them year-round, however, their peak season is winter extending into early spring.
Let’s Talk Meats
This recipe uses a lot of meat! My Grandma’s, who grew up very poor, original recipe certainly didn’t include this much meat. In fact, I think originally, all she used was ham hocks to flavor the greens.
Now my family, especially my Hubs, loves this recipe super meaty! Slowly simmering with all 3 meats make this incredibly flavorful! I’m grateful we are financially in a position to be able to accommodate his preferences.
What Is Pot Likker?
As the ingredients slowly simmer, the liquid they’re braised in becomes a deeply flavored broth known as pot likker or pot liquor. It’s absolutely liquid gold! Some Southern restaurants serve a batch of the likker with a side of cornbread, that’s how delicious it is!
As soon as I plate up my greens before anyone can even make it to the dinner table, just about every family member sneaks a piece of cornbread and dips it directly out of the pot! Fortunately, I’ve at least been able to enforce no double dipping!!!
Picking The Best Collard Greens
The best collard greens are found during the winter. That’s when they’ve been freshly grown.
Look for deep green leaves that have nice, sturdy stems. Avoid any greens that are yellow and/or floppy. When the leaves are fresh, they have what’s known scientifically as turgor pressure.
It refers to the force within the cells, of the stems and leaves, that pushes the plasma membrane against the cell wall. It’s a sure telltale sign of fresh, and well hydrated, collard greens and all leafy green vegetables.
Stems or No Stems?
Every family has their own preference regarding stems. My Grandma was frankly, really poor, so she cut off only the toughest part of the stems. Feel free to remove it as you like.
That said, the stems are full of nutrients and even more fiber than the leaves so that may influence your decision. Although admittedly, they tend to be tough because they’re so fibrous.
How To Clean The Collard Greens
Collard greens are grown in sandy soil. They often come from the farmer’s market or even the supermarket loaded with soil.
- I fill my very clean kitchen sink with water (enough to submerge them) and soak them for a few minutes, swirl them around to dislodge any sand, let them sit, and repeat one more time.
- Continue as necessary, washing greens until you don’t see any grit left in your sink.
- Pull the leaves out and place them in a colander, allowing them to drain. Stack them, then cut them as you like.
You can also buy pre-washed and cut collard greens. My only objection to these is they’re often cut thinner than like.
Southern Collard Greens Recipe Ingredients
- Bacon: This recipe uses the delicious hickory smoked bacon and it’s rendered dripping to flavor these greens.
- Onions: I always use yellow or sweet onions when I can find them.
- Garlic: Please use the fresh garlic from the head of garlic. Skip the stuff from the market in the jar that is preserved in the funky-tasting preservative liquid!
- Ham: This recipe is fabulous when you have leftover ham. When I don’t have any leftover ham, I buy a small ham steak. If you want to skip the ham, you can simply add an extra ham hock. Strip the meat before you serve it and it will still be delicious.
- Chicken Broth: I like to use low-sodium broth. That way I can easily control the overall sodium in this recipe. If you use regular/not low sodium broth, start with half the amount of salt, and adjust as necessary when the greens are tender. If you need to add more salt or any other seasoning, add, adjust, and simmer on really low heat so the new seasoning can be incorporated into the dish.
- Ham Hocks: These things are flavor powerhouses! Not all supermarkets carry them. Call your supermarket butcher ahead of time and check availability. In my area, I seem to only find them frozen.
- Collard Greens: I really like to buy them by the bunch, but sometimes, they aren’t available in that form. Walmart generally has a 2-pound bag of washed and cut collard greens. They cut them thiner than I like, but they’re generally the most economical available. When I use thinner-cut collard greens, I reduce the cooking time.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: When you taste and make seasoning adjustments, you may want another splash. For my taste, the amount of vinegar is spot on. You can use other types of vinegar but I love the mellowness of apple cider vinegar.
- Sugar: You can use light or brown sugar. I like the gentle molasses flavor that brown sugar brings. If, for some reason, you don’t have any on hand, granulated table sugar will also work. You may wish to add a pinch or so more, when you adjust the seasoning after the collard greens are tender. Just add a little at a time, so you don’t make the greens too sweet!
- Salt + Pepper: The quintessential seasoning. Please adjust to your personal taste.
- Cajun Seasoning: Generally, most Cajun seasoning blends include salt, black pepper, white pepper, cayenne pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and paprika. This adds the perfect something-something every dish needs. Adjust to your taste, but remember, each commercial blend includes different amounts of salt so proceed with caution, and adjust salt accordingly.
Southern collard greens with smoked turkey: Smoked turkey, when available, is an easy and nice substitute. Smoked turkey wings and/or drumsticks are often commercially available.
If you smoke your own turkey, save the wings and drumsticks for this amazing old fashioned collard greens recipe! You can also use turkey bacon in lieu of pork bacon if you want to lower the overall saturated fat in the recipe.
How To Cook Southern Collard Greens With Ham Hocks
- Chop the collard greens.
- Cook bacon over medium-low heat until almost crispy.
- Add the onion and sauté in drippings until translucent, about 8 minutes.
- Stir garlic and ham into pot and continue to sauté, stirring constantly so garlic doesn’t burn, for about 1 minute, or until garlic is fragrant.
- Stir in broth apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, black pepper, Cajun seasoning, and ham hock then simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the collard greens and cook over medium, stirring until the greens cook down. Partially cover and simmer until tender, about 2 hours.
***See the full instructions below.
These delicious greens are the perfect side dish to serve with my smothered chicken, blackened chicken, Cracker Barrel meatloaf, buttermilk roasted chicken, air fryer chicken, chicken lazone, or my Jambalaya.
Storing + Freezing + Make-Ahead
- How Long Can You Keep This In The Fridge? These Southern collard greens with bacon will be kept in the fridge for 3-5 days.
- Can You Freeze This? Yes! I like to portion out cooked and completely cooled collard greens, along with a bit of pot likker, in quart-size resealable plastic bags. They last in the freezer for up to 3 months.
- Make-Ahead Tips: Since these greens have to simmer for about 2 hours, they come with make-ahead built right in! Just start them an hour before you need them, and they’ll be ready and waiting for you. Or you can always make them ahead of time and store them overnight! Just reheat and serve.
- Food Safety: If you’d like more info on food safety check out this link.
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Southern collard greens recipe
- 1/2 pound hickory-smoked bacon chopped
- 2 medium onions finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 pound smoked ham chopped
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 smoked ham hock
- 2-2 1/2 pounds fresh collard greens, washed and trimmed
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar, packed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
- In a large, heavy bottom, 10-quart pot, cook bacon (1/2 pound) over medium-low heat until almost crispy.
- Add the onion (2 medium) and sauté in drippings until translucent, about 8 minutes.
- Stir garlic (6 cloves) and ham (1/4 pound) into pot and continue to sauté, stirring constantly so garlic doesn't burn, for about 1 minute, or until garlic is fragrant.
- Stir in broth (3 cups), apple cider vinegar (1/4 cup), sugar (2 1/2 teaspoons), salt (1 teaspoon), black pepper (1/2 teaspoon), Cajun seasoning (1 teaspoon), and ham hock then simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Stir in the collard greens (2-2 1/2 pounds) and cook over medium, stirring until the greens cook down. Partially cover and simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Shred the ham hock using a fork. Serve.
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