If you’re looking for the ultimate collard greens recipe, look no further. This classic southern dish features tender collard greens, cooked to perfection, southern-style, with savory bacon, onions, and garlic. Trust me – once you try these greens, you’ll never need another recipe again.
When I first made these greens, my husband told me that they were the best collard greens that he had ever had. Coming from a guy raised in Louisiana, that’s saying something. (I have also adapted an Instant Pot Collard Greens recipe, and it is just as delicious!)
Collard greens can be bitter, but I have added the perfect amount of heat, sugar, and acid to cut the bitterness so that they are so delicious. This is one of our favorite side dish recipes, and the bold flavors in this recipe just might blow your mind.
🥬 What are Collard Greens?
Collard greens are a leafy green vegetable from the brassica family that are commonly served with Southern cuisine. (This is the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage.) Collard greens are known for having large, dark green, tough leaves – similar to kale. Collard greens are often cooked with bacon, ham hocks, and other types of smoked meats for a long time to tenderize the leaves and infuse them with the delicious smokey flavors.
Collard greens are often served as a side dish to traditional Southern dishes like fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and cornbread. They are also loaded with nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium, making them a somewhat healthy addition to any meal.
Table of Contents
- 🥬 What are Collard Greens?
- 👩🌾 How to Pick the Best Greens
- 🥘 Ingredients
- 🛁 How to Clean Collard Greens
- ✂️ Do the Stems Need to Be Removed?
- 🥣 How to Make Them
- What is Pot Likker (Or Pot Liquor), and How do You Make it?
- 🥬 How to Make Vegan Greens
- 🍯 How to Make Paleo & Keto Greens
- 🍳 What to Serve with Collard Greens
- How to Store Leftovers
- 🙋♀️ Frequently Asked Questions
- 🥧 Looking for More Southern Food?
- Southern Collard Greens Recipe
👩🌾 How to Pick the Best Greens
If you are buying fresh greens, be sure to check through the leaves to make sure that they do not feel tough or waxy. Greens are best when they are soft, not too old, and have just gone through a frost.
Also, be sure to look for any yellowing on the leaves or mushy spots. Even with pre-cut collard greens, you should check through them and discard any yellow or spoiling leaves. (Just like you would with a head of lettuce.)
If you grow your own collard greens in containers, they need mild weather for most of their life (under 60°F) then an overnight freeze before you pick them to have the best flavor. They are really easy to grow!
- Olive Oil – You can also use butter or vegetable oil.
- Thick Cut Bacon
- Fresh Garlic Cloves
- Fresh Collard Greens or Frozen Collard Greens – This recipe can also be used for turnip greens, mustard greens, and broccoli greens.
- Brown Sugar – Adding sugar will help cut the bitterness of the greens, and brown sugar adds a deep caramel flavor that you don’t get with granulated sugar.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Red Pepper Flakes – The spice really balances well with the acidity, sweetness, saltiness, and smokiness added to these greens.
- Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
- Kosher Salt
- Black Pepper
- Chicken Broth, Chicken Stock, or Vegetable Broth
- Optional, though a delicious addition – Ham hocks, diced ham, smoked turkey legs, or smoked turkey necks.
- For Serving – My husband loves to add a few dashes of pepper vinegar to his greens, and others like to add hot sauce or a sprinkle of Cajun seasoning!
🛁 How to Clean Collard Greens
Fresh collard greens do need to be thoroughly washed before you eat them. We grow our own greens, and while we know that they aren’t treated with any pesticides, we also know that birds poop on them, they get covered in dirt, and they always have bugs on them, no matter how hard we try to avoid it.
✂️ Do the Stems Need to Be Removed?
When cleaning fresh collard greens, the tough stems need to be removed, and the greens need to be washed. I find it to be easier to remove the stems before washing the greens – there is less to wash once the stems are removed, and without the (sometimes giant) stems, the greens are easier to fit in a bowl.
I use kitchen shears and cut along the stems, or sometimes just use my fingers and tear along the stems – leaving behind the woody stems and soft green leaves. Discard the stems in your compost.
Then, gently chop the collard greens into ribbons using a sharp knife or kitchen shears and wash the greens in cool water several times to be sure that all dirt and sand get rinsed off. I either use a colander or a salad spinner to rinse and dry the greens. I usually fill a large bowl and dunk the greens, swish them around, then pour out the water.
Repeat the process several times. (A lot of people like to soak their greens in the kitchen sink, but that grosses me out. I feel like something from 1988 is going to come up through my drain.)
Anyway, dry the greens, then you’re ready to cook them! If you don’t have time to cook them right away, they will keep in the fridge for a day or two, or you can blanch them for just a few seconds, then freeze them.
🥣 How to Make Them
Collard greens are one of those southern staples that everyone should have a recipe for. They are also one of those foods that look… well, green, and don’t sound that amazing, but the taste will knock your socks off.
Here’s how I make the best collard greens:
Dice up an onion, some thick bacon, and some garlic cloves.
Then, heat a large pot or dutch oven on the stove over medium heat. Once the pot is hot, add one tablespoon of olive oil. (You can also use butter or vegetable oil.) (Picture 1)
Once the olive oil is hot, add the diced bacon. (Pictures 2 – 3) Once the bacon is starting to get crispy on the edges but isn’t totally cooked (Picture 4), add the diced onions. (Picture 5)
Sauté the onion and bacon until the onion is translucent. (Picture 5) Then, add the garlic and sauté it all in the bacon grease until the garlic is fragrant – about 2 minutes. (Picture 6)
Add the collard greens and sauté until they are soft & wilted but not fully cooked. If you are using frozen greens, break them up, stirring them until they are no longer frozen. (Picture 7)
Add the stock & add all of the spices – salt, pepper, Tony’s, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Mix well to combine. (Pictures 8 – 9)
Bring the broth to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add the ham hock or smoked turkey now if you are using it.
Simmer over low heat, covered, for 45 minutes to one hour, occasionally stirring as needed.
After 45 minutes, the greens will be dark green and really soft. (Picture 10) There will still be some flavorful broth – that’s the pot liquor or pot likker, and it will be delicious.
What is Pot Likker (Or Pot Liquor), and How do You Make it?
The deliciously rich broth (liquid gold) that develops after the greens have simmered is called Pot Likker. My husband and I always slurp up the bottom of our bowl when we are finished – you could drink it from a glass; it’s that good. (Some people use the leftover pot liquor as the base to flavor their Red Beans & Rice or White Beans or as a base for soup. We hardly ever have enough leftover to do that, but YUM!)
The pot likker develops when the chicken broth sucks up all the smoky pork flavors from the bacon & ham hock (or the smoked turkey leg) and the garlic, onion, sugar, pepper flakes, salt, and vinegar – oh, it is so good!
🥬 How to Make Vegan Greens
To make vegan or vegetarian greens, omit the bacon and ham hock and use vegetable stock. You may need to add extra salt and a little bit of liquid smoke, but you can definitely make a delicious vegan pot of greens with this recipe!
🍯 How to Make Paleo & Keto Greens
To make Paleo or Keto greens, use your favorite sweetener in place of the brown sugar and keep everything else the same. I have made this recipe hundreds of times using coconut sugar instead of brown sugar – that’s actually how I generally make this recipe because we love coconut sugar! For diabetics, you can use the Swerve or Truvia Brown Sugar Blend. I would not leave the sweetener out as it helps to add balance to the bitterness of the greens.
🍳 What to Serve with Collard Greens
We like to finish our greens with a little pepper vinegar and salt and pepper. The pepper vinegar gives it a little extra heat and mellows out any leftover bitterness in the greens. Greens are an amazing side dish for any kind of dinner.
Our favorite way to serve collard greens is with fried chicken tenders and buttermilk mashed potatoes or with hoppin’ john, leftover glazed ham, and southern cornbread.
Here are some other side dishes that are delicious with collard greens:
- Redneck Caviar – Black-eyed peas and collard greens are a match made in heaven!
- Potato Salad
- Sweet Skillet Cornbread
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes
How to Store Leftovers
Once cooled, leftover greens should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will keep for about five days.
You can also freeze your greens. When I grow a ton of greens in the fall, and we have more than we know what to do with in November, I like to make huge batches of greens and freeze them in blocks in Souper Cubes. I freeze them in their pot liquor, then thaw and reheat them on the stove. The pot liquor keeps the integrity of the greens, and they stay delicious.
🙋♀️ Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Collard greens are an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Calcium, as well as a pretty good source of Vitamin K, Iron, Vitamin B-6, and Magnesium. Collard Greens (like most leafy greens) also contain thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and choline. More on the nutritional benefits can be found here.
Collard greens have bitter oils that are produced from a naturally occurring chemical called glucosinolate. It is released when greens are cut, chewed, or cooked. Did you know that some people can find greens to be up to 60% more bitter than other people? If you find greens to be REALLY bitter, you might just have taste buds that are sensitive to glucosinolate.
To reduce the bitterness in greens, you need to add sweetness, acid, and heat. I add apple cider vinegar, red pepper flakes, sugar, and Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning. When serving greens, we add a little bit of pepper vinegar.
If you use fresh greens, even precut & washed greens, they should be soaked in tap-cold water for 5-10 minutes and swished around several times to rinse off any dirt or bugs. You might need to do this a few times to get off all the grit. I like to do this in a salad spinner – just submerge the greens and swish them around, then lift the strainer portion out, rinse again, then put them back in the empty salad spinner and then spin them to dry them off.
Yes, collard greens are loaded with nutrients. This article has some more information on the nutritional benefits of collard greens.
🥧 Looking for More Southern Food?
Fried Shrimp Po’ Boy
What is the Cajun Holy Trinity?
Deep Fried Shrimp
Creole Remoulade Sauce
Homemade Tartar Sauce
Have You Tried This Recipe?
Please rate it and leave a comment below. I would love to hear what you think!
Southern Collard Greens
- a large pot
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ pound bacon diced
- 1 large onion diced
- 3 – 4 garlic cloves minced
- 2 pounds collard greens, frozen Fresh or frozen. Frozen collard greens generally come in 16 oz bags, so I use two.
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar use coconut sugar to make paleo greens
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- ¼ teaspoon Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
- First, heat a large pot over medium heat while you dice up your onion, bacon, and garlic.
- When your pot is hot, add 1 tbsp of olive oil.1 tablespoon olive oil
- When your olive oil is hot, add the diced bacon. Once the bacon is a little crispy on the edges but not totally cooked, add your diced onions.½ pound bacon, 1 large onion
- Saute your onion and bacon until the onion is translucent, then add your garlic and saute until the garlic is fragrant – about 2 minutes.3 – 4 garlic cloves
- Next, add your collard greens and stir until they are no longer frozen. If you are using fresh greens, saute until they are soft but not fully cooked.2 pounds collard greens, frozen
- Now, add your stock and mix well to combine.3 cups chicken broth
- Then add all of your spices (including the coconut sugar) and your apple cider vinegar.1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, ¼ teaspoon Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning
- Bring everything to a boil, and once your broth is boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer over low heat. Simmer covered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally as needed.
- After 45 minutes, uncover and serve. The greens will no longer be bright green and they will be really soft. There will still be broth and it will be delicious.
- Finish your greens with a little pepper vinegar and salt and pepper.
🍳 What to Serve with Collard GreensWe like to finish our greens with a little pepper vinegar and salt and pepper. The pepper vinegar gives it a little extra heat and mellows out any leftover bitterness in the greens. Greens are an amazing side dish for any kind of dinner. Our favorite way to serve collard greens is with fried chicken tenders and buttermilk mashed potatoes or with hoppin’ john, leftover glazed ham, and southern cornbread. Here are some other side dishes that are delicious with collard greens:
- Redneck Caviar – Black-eyed peas and collard greens are a match made in heaven!
- Potato Salad
- Sweet Skillet Cornbread
- Garlic Mashed Potatoes
Nutrition information is approximate and is automatically calculated, so should only be used as a guide.
Wow, these are killer! Such a good recipe!
Love Collard Greens and this is a really good recipe for them!
I’d never had collard greens until last year and I LOVE THEM. Can’t wait to try this recipe. Love the pepper vinegar for a little extra heat and tang.
I can see why I won’t need to look for another collard green recipe – this one has it all! And it is so easy to follow the instructions.
These greens are so healthy and easy and I love that you have spoken about counteracting the bitterness! Can’t wait to try them. Cheers
Best I’ve had by farrrrr, thank you so much for the recipe!!
I can’t wait to try them with that creole seasoning, that will spice them up!