If you’re looking for the best collard greens recipe, look no further. This classic southern side dish features tender collard greens, cooked to perfection, southern style, with savory bacon, onions, a ham hock, and garlic. Trust me – once you try these greens, you’ll never need another recipe again.

When I first made this collard greens recipe for my husband, he 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 this great recipe into an Instant Pot Collard Greens recipe, and it is just as delicious!)

People expect greens to be bitter, but this recipe has the perfect amount of sugar, acid, and spice to cut the bitterness so that the greens are cooked and seasoned perfectly. This is one of our favorite side dish recipes, and the bold flavors in this easy to follow recipe just might blow your mind. If you’re cooking greens for the first time, this easy recipe is going to help you take your Southern cooking to the next level – anyone can make greens!

🥬 What are Collard Greens?

Collard greens are a leafy green vegetable from the brassica family, and it is commonly served in Southern cuisine. (This is the same family as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and cabbage.) Collard greens are known for having large, dark green, tough leaves – similar to kale.

Collard greens are often cooked low and slow with bacon, ham hocks, and other types of smoked meats for a long time to tenderize the leaves and infuse them with delicious smokey flavors.

Collard greens are often served as a side dish to traditional Southern dishes like fried chicken, black-eyed peas, and Southern cornbread. Greens are also loaded with nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and calcium, sneaking in some extra nutrients into our favorite Southern food.

A bowl of collard greens on a paper towel where fried chicken is draining.

👩‍🌾 How to Pick the Best Collard 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 a little bit soft, not too old, and have just gone through a frost.

Also, be sure to look for any yellowing on the leaves, black spots, 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.)

Two collard green plants growing in a container.

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 also really easy to grow, just watch out for caterpillars!

A bowl of spicy collard greens with bacon and garlic.

🥘 Ingredients in this Southern Collard Greens Recipe

The ingredients needed to make collard greens, laid out and labeled.
  • Olive Oil – You can also use butter or vegetable oil.
  • Thick Cut Bacon
  • Onion
  • Fresh Garlic Cloves
  • Fresh Collard Greens or Frozen Collard Greens – This recipe can also be used to make 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. (If you want to make spicy collard greens, you can increase the amount of red pepper flakes added.)
  • Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Chicken Broth, Chicken Stock, or Vegetable Broth
  • To Season the Greens – AKA the flavor – Smoked Ham hocks, diced ham, smoked turkey legs, smoked turkey wings, 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 can poop on them, they get covered in dirt, and they always have bugs on them, no matter how hard we try to avoid them.

You must wash collard greens. (Even if you buy prewashed, cut greens. Frozen greens can be cooked from frozen and do not need to be washed.)

✂️ Do the Stems Need to Be Removed?

When cleaning fresh collard greens, the tough stems need to be removed, and the leafy greens need to be washed. I find it to be easier to remove the stems before washing – there is less to wash once the stems are removed, and without the (sometimes giant) stems, the leaves 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 – keep the soft green leaves and discard the woody stems in your compost.

A bowl of collard greens leaves that have been pulled off the stems, which are next to the bowl.

Then, gently chop the collard green leaves into ribbons using a sharp knife or kitchen shears and wash them 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 my 1988 pipes is going to come up through my drain.)

Once washed, pat dry the greens with a towel, 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, and then freeze them.

💧 Do You Need to Soak Collard Greens?

If you use fresh greens, even precut and 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.

🥣 How to Make Collard Greens

Collard greens are one of those southern staples that everyone should have an awesome recipe for. They are also one of those soul food recipes 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 southern 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)

A collage of images showing how to cook collard greens, steps 1-5.

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 and wilted but not fully cooked. If you are using frozen greens, add the collard greens, then break them up, stirring them until they are no longer frozen. (Picture 7)

Add the stock and add all of the spices – salt, pepper, Creole seasoning, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, and apple cider vinegar. Mix well to combine. (Pictures 8 – 9)

A collage of images showing how to cook collard greens, steps 6-10.

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.

Collard greens cooking with a ham hock.

Cook the collard greens, simmering over low heat, covered, for 45 minutes to one hour. Stir the greens occasionally as needed until the greens are tender.

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.

Remove the ham hock or turkey bones before serving – the meat can be returned to the greens, but turkey bones can splinter and become brittle and sharp, so be cautious.

I hope you love this recipe!

🫗What is Pot Likker (Or Pot Liquor)

A bowl of collard greens tipped to the side to show the delicious pot likker (pot liquor) left from cooking.

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 and Rice or White Beans or as a base for soup. We hardly ever have enough left over to do that, but YUM!

The pot likker develops when the chicken broth sucks up all the smoky pork flavors from the bacon and ham hock (or the smoked turkey) and the garlic, onion, sugar, pepper flakes, salt, and vinegar – oh, it is so good!

A gray bowl of southern style collard greens on a wood railing.

🥬 How to Make Vegan Collard 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 Lower Sugar Southern Collard Greens

To make lower sugar, or 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 to make Paleo Collard Greens – that’s actually how I generally make this recipe because we love coconut sugar!

You can use the Swerve or Truvia Brown Sugar Blend as a sugar replacement, but I would not leave the sweetener out as it helps to add balance to the bitterness of the greens.

A bowl of collard greens with smoked turkey on a wood background with a floral towel.

🍳 What to Serve with Southern-Style Collard Greens

We like to finish our southern collards 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:

🫙 How to Store Collard Greens

Once cooled, leftover cooked collard 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 collard 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 for a long time.

A bowl of southern collard greens on a metal rack with a yellow towel.

🙋‍♀️ Frequently Asked Questions

Are collard greens healthy?

Yes! Collard greens are an excellent source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Folate, 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.

🤢 Why are collard greens bitter?

Collard greens have bitter oils that are produced from a naturally occurring sulfur-containing compound, called glucosinolate. (Though there are a lot of health benefits to glucosinolates.) The compound is released when greens are cut, chewed, or cooked. Some people can find greens to be up to 60% more bitter than other people, no matter how they are cooked. If you find greens to be REALLY bitter, you might just have taste buds that are sensitive to glucosinolate.

How do you remove the bitterness from collard greens?

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.

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A bowl of southern collard greens on a metal rack with a yellow towel.

Southern Collard Greens

4.91 from 33 votes
This Southern Collard Greens Recipe is the best side dish recipe. A perfect soul food recipe cooked low and slow with bacon, onions, a ham hock, and garlic.
Author: Kari
Servings: 8 1 cup servings
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 50 minutes
Total: 55 minutes

Ingredients  

  • 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
  • 1 ham hock or smoked turkey leg

For Serving

Instructions 

  • First, heat a large pot over medium heat while you dice up your onion, bacon, and garlic.
  • When your pot is hot, add the 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 brown 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
  • Add a ham hock or smoked turkey leg or wing now.
    1 ham hock or smoked turkey leg
  • 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 and tender. There will still be broth (pot likker), and it will be delicious.
  • If desired, dice up the ham hock or turkey meat and return it to the greens.
  • Finish your greens with a little pepper vinegar and salt and pepper to taste.
    pepper vinegar

Video

Notes

This greens recipe can be used to make fresh collard greens or frozen collard greens. Both are delicious.
If you use fresh collard greens, be sure to wash them well to remove any dirt and debris.
Remove ham hock or turkey bones before serving – the meat can be returned to the greens, but turkey bones can splinter and become brittle and sharp so be cautious.

🫙 How to Store Collard Greens

Once cooled, leftover cooked collard greens should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They will keep for about five days, or they can be frozen for three months.

Special Equipment Needeed

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 192kcalCarbohydrates: 11gProtein: 8gFat: 14gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 826mgPotassium: 406mgFiber: 5gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 5746IUVitamin C: 48mgCalcium: 279mgIron: 1mg

Nutrition information is approximate and is automatically calculated, so should only be used as a guide.

Course: Dinner, Side Dish
Cuisine: Southern
Keyword: collard greens, paleo collard greens, southern collard greens
Did you make this recipe?Mention @southernbytes or tag #southernbytes!

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Hi, I'm Kari!

I am a newlywed, food blogger, health coach, and mama to a hot mess of a border collie. I love to put a new spin on old family recipes and I try to make as many meals as possible with an Instant Pot.

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Comments

  1. 5 stars
    These are amazing. I added smoked paprika, because I was cooking for some baby mouths. And I slowly simmered them all day for extra flavor. This is a fantastic recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  2. 5 stars
    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.

  3. 5 stars
    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.

  4. 5 stars
    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