How To Make Real-Deal Southern Collard Greens

This is THE best Southern Collard Greens recipe, hands down! How can I say that? Well, because it’s my Mississippi mama’s recipe, and if there is one thing she prides herself on (besides pound cakes, of course) it’s her collard greens. Basically, she picks fresh collard greens then lets them gently simmer, getting all tender and cozy in a hearty, delicious pot likker. And this ain’t just any pot likker, it is PACKED with the rich flavors of smoky ham hock and onions, seasoned just right. Her collard greens recipe has hundreds of five star reviews, and once you try it, you won’t try another recipe guaranteed. Sure, there’s more than one way to whip them up, but down here, my mama and I swear by this method. Low, slow, and with a whole lotta love!

This is the best recipe I have found! Perfect blend of heat, sweet and spice. Family can’t get enough. The pot likker is downright drinkable! Ellie

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Overhead of three white bowls filled with Southern Collard Greens with ham hock against gray background

This Collard Greens recipe is a tribute to not only my childhood but to almost every other Southerner. I’ve watched the hands that groomed and raised me make collard greens for decades, and the entire process was always so magical. That’s exactly why I included my Big Mama (my Mississippi grandmother’s) and my mama’s hands in this post showing you how to make them too. The heritage and love associated with making greens for your family is something that can never be replaced!

We just love our greens, whether they be turnip, mustard, or collard. Just about every Southerner has a personal favorite and with such unique, individual flavors, I don’t blame them. This is true Southern cooking at its finest! But in my opinion, traditional Southern collard greens are the most popular greens in the South. Give ’em a try and you’ll see what I’m talking about!

The Low Down on This Collard Greens Recipe

Cuisine Inspiration: Southern y’all!
Primary Cooking Method: Simmering
Dietary Info: Low-Carb, Keto-Friendly
Key Flavor: Slightly bitter, smoky, and savory with a touch of heat
Skill Level: Beginner

  • Easy to Make: Jumping into this collard greens recipe might seem like a big leap into Southern cooking, but trust me, it’s easier than pie. I’ve broken everything down into super easy steps (from thoroughly washing the collards to removing any grit to the final simmering) so that even the most amateur cooks will learn how to make the best southern collard greens recipe evah!
  • Slow Cooking: A couple of hours of cooking makes the collard greens tender and almost silky, but they still have substance. They braise low and slow, just like short ribs would. However, braising not only makes the greens pull apart soft, it also develops the flavored pot likker (a.k.a pot liquor) that soul food greens are truly known for.
  • Simple Ingredients, Big Flavor: With the addition of apple cider vinegar along with red pepper flakes to my soul food collard greens recipe, these spicy collard greens really have some kick! There’s no lack of flavor here, and you only need pantry staples to pull off. Plus a few easy-to-get ingredients, like ham hock or smoked turkey and bacon grease.
  • Perfect for Leftovers: Like many Southern classics, these are even better the next day. The flavors meld and deepen in the fridge, making leftovers something to look forward to.

Ingredients To Make This Collard Greens Recipe

  • Collard Greens: While bagged and chopped collards might save you a minute or two, nothing beats the fresh stuff. Collards are available all year, but they’re at their peak in winter and early spring. When picking them out at your local grocery store or farmer’s market, avoid bunches that have yellowing or wilted leaves. And make sure they aren’t too tough to the touch. If they start out too tough, they will end up too tough or it will take even longer to tenderize. You wanna make sure that the leaves are easy to pull away from the stem and tear and cut later when preparing them to cook.
  • Smoked Ham Hock or Smoked Turkey: Grab one extra large piece so the collard greens end up extra meaty! This is where a big chunk of our flavor is coming from. Make sure they are smoked.
  • Granulated Sugar: Just a touch to balance the bitterness of the greens.
  • Bacon Grease: For that unmistakable Southern richness.
  • Seasoned Salt & Garlic Powder: Two pantry staples that bring out the savory goodness of the dish.
  • Worcestershire Sauce: This brings in a complex, umami flavor that tastes great with the greens and the meat.
  • Apple Cider Vinegar: If you ask me what’s the secret to a fantastic Southern collard greens recipe, I’d point to the ACV every time. Its tanginess cuts right through the fats, balancing everything out beautifully. It’s a non-negotiable for me, darlin’.
  • Crushed Red Pepper Flakes: Adjust to your heat preference, but a lil’ kick is always nice.
  • Paprika: For a hint of smokiness and color.
  • Onion: Finely chopped! Any type of onion will do, but yellow onions give a nice balance of sweetness and bite.

I made these on Sunday….followed the recipe exactly except added one Jalapeño and they were the best greens I’ve had since spending a couple years in North Carolina. Delicious flavorful with just a hint of spice. Corinne

Overhead shot of ingredients to make this collard greens recipe on the table before cooking

How to clean Collard Greens

Alright, y’all, let’s talk about the most crucial step in making this greens recipe– getting those leaves super clean. Now, I can’t stress enough how important this part is. Collard greens are known to collect a bit of grit and dirt from the fields, and nothing ruins a good bite of greens like a crunch of grit. I have watched my grandmother and mother clean greens for hours just to ensure not one spec a dirt is left. So, we gotta show these babies a little TLC to get them ready for the pot!

First, you’ll want to fill your kitchen sink with lukewarm water. Not too hot, not too cold – just right to loosen up any of that stubborn grit. Then, take your collard greens, give them a good dunk in the water, and spread the leaves apart. Give them a second to sit then swish them around a bit, and with a bit of a scrubbing motion using your hands, carefully wash each leaf. You’re looking to lift off any dirt without damaging the leaves. This is where the love part comes in – be gentle, but thorough.

After you’ve given them a good scrub, lift the greens out of the water, let the dirty water out of the sink, give your sink a quick rinse, and fill it back up with more fresh lukewarm water. Submerge the greens again, give them another scrub, and rinse.

A step by step image collage on how to clean collard greens for this collard greens recipe

This process must be done over and over and over again. My mother believes in washing greens until you don’t see any grit left in the water in your sink. We like to use the deepest sink bowl available in the house so if this means washing greens in your home’s laundry room, so be it! Just make sure you clean the sink out first before adding them. This will allow the greens to achieve a better texture and soak in more flavor.

It’s funny that I’m just now commenting on this recipe because I’ve made it for years! I live in southern Alabama and no collards around here compare to these! I sometimes like to use a turkey drum, both ways are fantastic!Nichole

How To Make This Collard Greens Recipe

Once you’ve given those collard greens a thorough wash, all that’s left to do is give them a good chop and get to cookin’! For the full details like the quantities and the cooking times, scroll down to the recipe card. You’ll find everything there, boo!

Step 1: Destem and chop the collards

  1. Pull and tear the greens away from the stems. This is a personal choice for most people, but in my family, we believe in removing the stems and leaving mostly just greens to cook. Note that the stems can be a bit tough. If you want greens with more texture, cut the stem into smaller pieces and add.
  2. Take a handful of greens, roll them up, and cut the rolls horizontally into small pieces. The smaller you cut them, the faster they will break down and cook.
A step by step image collage on how to make this collard greens recipe, with desteming the greens and chopping them

Step 2: Cook the ham hock

  1. Rinse the ham hock very well and add it to a large pot with enough water to fully submerge it.
  2. Cook over medium-high heat until the ham hock is near being tender.
A step by step image collage on how to make this collard greens recipe, with cooking the ham hock

Step 3: simmer the collards with the rest of the ingredients

  1. Add greens and the rest of the ingredients to the pot once the ham hock is almost tender, plus enough water to cover the greens. This will become your pot likker.
  2. Cook while covered until completely tender. Most water should have evaporated by this point, just having enough to barely cover the greens.
A step by step image collage on how to make this collard greens recipe, with adding the greens and rest of the ingredients to the pot with the ham hock and letting them cook

First time trying it. It was fantastic! I left the pepper out. I could not believe how delicious, well seasoned and silky the pot liquor was! Have cooked this dish 4 times now without any pepper and the amazing flavor is always the same!Nicole

Tips For Making The Best Southern Collard Greens

  1. Keep an Eye on the Greens: You might hear some folks say you can’t overcook collard greens, but take it from me, you sure can. I learned this the hard way when I was just getting the hang of my Mama’s recipe. I left those greens on the stove a tad too long, and they turned mushy. They should be soft, but not falling apart!
  2. Be Patient: It’s tempting to crank up the heat, I know… But collard greens are a dish that needs your patience. While you can make an easy collard greens recipe by just adding the greens to a sauté pan with some olive oil and cooking until they just begin to tenderize, soul food collard greens need quite some time (2-3 hours) to braise. It just is what it is boos.
  3. Don’t Leave the Ham Hock Out: Removing the ham hock once the greens are cooked? That’s a no no boo! Once those greens are tender and the ham hock is cooked through, take a fork and let that meat fall apart in the greens and mix into it so you get some of it with each and every bowl.
  4. The Right Pot Makes a Difference: Believe it or not, the pot you choose for cooking this collards recipe (a.k.a black folks collard greens recipe!) can have a big impact on the final dish. A heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven is my go-to because it distributes heat evenly so it doesn’t burn them but lets them simmer away perfectly.
  • Get Rid of the Pork: As I mentioned above in ingredients, if you aren’t into the swine, you can politely decline, ha! I don’t get down on it so I prefer to use smoked turkey. You can pick what you prefer here. Grab a smoked turkey leg, a couple of smoked turkey wings (even though they have less meat on the bones), necks or even a drumstick for ample meat. The key is they must be smoked or you miss out on the richer flavor and higher fat content that breaks down from the braising especially when it is used to initially flavor the water. It just makes everything so flavorful.
  • Use Bacon: If you don’t have a ham hock or any smoked meat on hand, try swapping it out for some smoky bacon! Cut it into bite-sized pieces and render them down until they’re just crispy. This infuses the greens with a rich, smoky flavor that’s a bit different from the ham hock but equally tasty.
  • Turn Up the Heat: How do you make a collard greens recipe even more Southern? You add mo’ heat, baby! Toss in a few extra crushed red pepper flakes, or slice up a fresh jalapeño or two and let it simmer away with the greens (however, you can scale back the spice to 1/2 teaspoon if you don’t like the heat and 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes is too much). If you think that might be too much, you can always serve it with hot sauce on the side.
  • Chicken Stock Swap: The stock adds a rich, savory base that water just can’t match. Whether you opt for homemade or a good-quality store-bought liquid version or bouillon cube, this simple switch can make a world of difference in your pot likker!
  • Make It Vegan: This recipe can easily be adapted by removing the ham hock and bacon grease. Because the pot liquor has everything from apple cider vinegar to garlic and paprika, you can simply add collard greens, garlic, onion, hot peppers, vegetable stock and even liquid smoke and the flavors will still be incredible. I promise you won’t miss the meat at all!
Overhead of a white bowl filled with Southern Collard Greens with hamhock against gray background with cornbread

What To Serve With This Black Folks Collard Greens Recipe

THE! BEST! COLLARD! GREENS! RECIPE!!!
I took a chance at making collard greens using this recipe for a year or so go. It was my very first time attempting to make collard greens and it was for Thanksgiving! I know, that was crazy to take on such a family staple in that manner. This was the recipe I used using smoked turkey wings. The family loved it and I’m now in charge of the collard greens for family events.
Clifford

How To Store & Reheat This Collard Greens Recipe

Now that you’ve learned how to make the best southern collard greens recipe (not to brag, but… It is!), you have to learn how to keep its deliciousness for as long as possible. Your best bet is simply transferring them into an airtight container and popping it in the fridge And don’t forget about the pot likker – it’s liquid gold! Store any extra in a separate airtight container to keep it fresh and flavorful.

Reheating your Southern collard greens is a breeze! You’ve got two handy options: the stovetop or the microwave. For the stovetop, just pour the greens and a little pot likker into a pot and warm them over medium heat until heated through. Prefer the microwave? Place the greens in a microwave-safe dish, cover, and heat in short bursts, stirring occasionally, until they’re just right.

How Long Will This Collard Greens Recipe Last In The Fridge?

Stored properly in the fridge, your collard greens will keep their charm for up to 5 days.

Can I freeze Collard greens?

If you want to enjoy your collards at a much later time, freezing is best. I package lots of greens by placing them along with the pot liquor in freezer bags, allowing all air to escape, then freezing. You can keep these bags for up to 3 months at a time.

Just thaw ’em out for a couple of hours in the fridge and then cook (or microwave) over medium heat to bring up to temperature and enjoy them once again!

Overhead of three white bowls filled with Southern Collard Greens with ham hock against gray background with cornbread and hot sauce

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I make this recipe with other leafy greens?

Fo’ sho! You can experiment with other leafy greens like kale, turnip greens, or mustard greens. Just keep in mind that cooking times may vary slightly depending on the toughness of the greens you choose. In the South, they love to mix different greens like mustards and turnips and collards. It gives you a nice texture switch up.

What exactly is pot liquor/pot likker?

In what the internet would term “Black Folks Collard Greens”, pot likker (or pot liquor) is the broth that becomes infused with the flavors in this recipe like fresh onions, garlic, and that smokey, salty ham hock. Nothing else tastes quite like the highly concentrated, full flavored pot likker. I swear, you could drink it by the glass full! Lots of people use this pot likker to flavor other recipes or even make soups.

Can I leave in the stems?

Yep, for sure! They actually pack a good amount of fiber and vitamins. For those who don’t mind a bit of extra texture and are looking to get the most out of their greens, finely chop those stems and toss ’em in with the leaves.

Why do my collard greens taste bitter?

Collards can sometimes have a slightly bitter taste. If you notice by just tasting a leaf that it is more bitter than usual, you can add a bit of baking soda to the simmering water (no more than a 1/2 of teaspoon) to help neutralize just a bit. Also the ingredients in our greens recipe help with this as well. From the sugar add to the vinegar and smoked meat, it all helps to mask some of that bitter flavor.

My pot liquor is gone! What should I do?

If you let your greens cook too long, the pot liquor will begin to evaporate leaving the greens dry and stuck to the bottom of your pot. It’s super important to keep a watchful eye while they are cooking. If you notice the pot drying out some, add in more liquid as needed and crank the heat down a bit.

Side shot of a white bowl filled with Southern Collard Greens with hamhock against gray background with cornbread

This Collard Greens Recipe isn’t just about the food. It is about warming your soul. And tender, smoky and savory greens, Southern style, will do that time and time again. Each bite carries the essence of home, the comfort of my family, and the unconditional love that only homemade cooking can bring. Here’s to good food, great company, and the kind of recipes that feel like a hug from my mama herself. Enjoy, y’all!

This was the best recipe for collards that I have ever found! They were so delicious. I made a gigantic pot and canned them. Thank you!Lisa

More Classic Southern Side Dish Recipes

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Overhead of three white bowls filled with Southern Collard Greens with hamhock against gray background

Southern Collard Greens Recipe

These authentic Soul Food Collard Greens are braised in a savory meat flavored and perfectly spiced pot liquor resulting in an amazing tender silky texture.
4.73 from 440 votes
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 15 minutes
Course: Side Dish
Servings: 8 servings

Equipment

Ingredients

  • 6 small bunches collard greens about 3 – 3 1/2 lbs
  • 1 extra large smoked ham hock about 1 – 1 1/2 lbs, make sure it is meaty!
  • 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp bacon grease
  • 1 tbsp seasoned salt
  • 2 tsp worcheshire sauce
  • 2 tsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes you can go down on this to 1/2 teaspoon if you like less heat.
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion

Instructions

  • Start by pulling and tearing greens away from the stems. Take a hand full of greens, roll them up tightly lengthwise like a cigar. Cut them crosswise into 1/2-1 inch thick strips based on your preference of size. Smaller strips cook faster than bigger strips. We personally remove the stems but this is a personal decision.
  • Next, add greens to empty clean sink and wash them removing all grit, sand and debris thoroughly with lukewarm water until water becomes clear. Rinse water and repeat.
  • Then rinse the ham hock very well then add to a large pot along with enough water to fully submerge the ham hock then cover with a lid. Cook over medium high heat for about 45 minutes or until ham hock is near being tender.
  • Once ham hock is almost tender, add greens and about 4-5 additional cups of water (or chicken stock for more flavor) or enough to just barely cover greens to the pot. This will become your pot likker.
  • Lower heat to medium and add back in the greens along with the rest of the ingredients to the pot and cook while partially covered for at least 2 hours or until completely tender. Most water should have evaporated by this point just having enough to barely cover the greens.

Video

Notes

  • Keep an Eye on the Greens: You might hear some folks say you can’t overcook collard greens, but take it from me, you sure can. I learned this the hard way when I was just getting the hang of my Big Mama’s recipe. I left those greens on the stove a tad too long, and they turned mushy. They should be soft, but not falling apart!
  • Be Patient: It’s tempting to crank up the heat, I know… But collard greens are a dish that begs for patience. While you can make an easy collard greens recipe by just adding the greens to a sauté pan with some olive oil and cooking until they just begin to tenderize, soul food collard greens need quite some time (2-3 hours) to braise.
  • Don’t Leave the Ham Hock Out: Removing the ham hock once the greens are cooked? That’s like leaving the best part of a song unsung! Once those greens are tender and the ham hock is cooked through, I like to take it out, chop up the meat, and stir it back into the pot. This way, every bite gets a little piece of that smoky, savory goodness.
  • The Right Pot Makes a Difference: Believe it or not, the pot you choose for cooking this collards recipe (a.k.a black folks collard greens recipe!) can have a big impact on the final dish. A heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven is ideal because it distributes heat evenly, preventing those greens from scorching while they simmer away to perfection.

Nutrition

Calories: 88kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 19mg | Sodium: 936mg | Potassium: 100mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 485IU | Vitamin C: 3.2mg | Calcium: 22mg | Iron: 0.4mg
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Filed Under:  Easter, New Year's, Side Dishes, Southern Classics, Stovetop, Thanksgiving, Vegetables

Comments

  1. I just made this recipe today and WOW it is so good. I used a smoked turkey thigh instead of an ham hock because that was available to me and it did not disappoint. I literally cannot believe that I made this. It is better than what I ate on Juneteenth this year. Blows my mind.l

  2. Hi!! Quick question: The instructions say to add the water + greens and then the next step says to add the greens “back in”. Was this a typo? Or is there a step missing? Were they supposed to be taken out of the liquid at some point and then put back in?

    1. You add the greens into the pot along with the meat after it is cooked.

  3. Jocelyn, these are perfect! I made them for a family gathering and everyone thought I had a copy of my MawMaw’s recipe. We lost her at the young age of 101!

    Call me a glutton, but I make extra potlikker to use as broth for a batch of pintos. Thanks for this soothing bowl of wonderful memories!

    1. Awe, thank you for making my recipe, so happy it brings such fondness to the table!

4.73 from 440 votes (183 ratings without comment)

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