collard greens in a bowl

With crispy fried chicken, sticky ribs, or perfectly-smoked brisket, there is no better side than tender, meaty collard greens. A big plate of Southern comfort food is never complete without them, and while you can use shortcuts to make them quick and easy, nothing beats the flavor of slowly-simmered greens. Greens require time and care to prepare, but you can taste the effort in every bite.

Gather the ingredients for Southern collard greens

ingredients on a table

Of course, you’ll need fresh, leafy collard greens for this recipe. You can find these in most grocery stores near the lettuce, and they’ll look like really large pieces of spinach. Grab a few bunches — you’ll want about 2 pounds of greens to work with. Similar to spinach, the greens will cook down, so be sure to start with more than you think you’ll need.

To create the broth, you’ll need butter, an onion, a few cloves of garlic, and chicken stock. You can swap chicken broth for vegetable stock, water, or a mixture of all of them — just be sure to adjust the seasonings as you go. In this recipe, we are using a simple mix of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, but you can add in garlic powder, onion powder, or even your favorite cajun seasoning, if desired.

To make these greens truly mouth-watering, you’ll need a smoked ham hock. The pork knuckle adds a uniquely smoked and salty flavor to the greens, and the fat and collagen thickens the broth into a delicious spoonable potlikker. You can also use smoked turkey leg if you’d prefer over pork. You’ll need a splash of apple cider vinegar to balance out the salt, and extra white distilled vinegar to wash the greens, if needed.

Prep the greens

soaking greens in water

Collard greens are notoriously dirty, even when sold in commercial grocery stores. Because of its size, gritty dirt gets trapped in the leaves, and needs to be removed with more than a simple rinse. Grab a large bowl or clean out your sink, and fill it with water. Splash in some distilled white vinegar if your greens are especially gritty. Slice the long, thick stems off of the greens, then submerge the collard leaves in the prepared water. Let them soak for 20 to 30 minutes — just make sure any dirt is scrubbed off before cooking.

Start the braise

ham hock cooking in pot

While the greens are soaking, start the broth. You can optionally cook the broth for up to 2 hours before adding the greens to develop the flavor, and make the pork super tender. Melt the butter first in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, then sautée the chopped onions, and minced garlic until fragrant. Brown the ham hock until you start to smell its smoky aroma, then add in the chicken stock. If you’re wary of your salt intake, try using half chicken stock, half water to dilute. You can always season to taste later.

Chop, and wilt the greens

greens cooking in pot

You can pull the greens apart by hand into roughly 1-inch pieces, but it’s a little faster to slice the greens in half, layer them about 6 leaves-thick, then roll and chiffonade the greens into 3-inch strips. The greens wilt down considerably, so don’t make the pieces smaller than about 1 inch. Once the greens are dried and sliced, add them into the pot a handful at a time, stirring between additions to wilt the greens. The greens will turn a bright green color as they cook, then later will become deeply green, and tender in the broth.

Cook, season, and serve

cooked collard greens

Once all the greens have been added, put the lid on the pot, and turn the heat all the way down to low. The liquid will still be simmering, and the steam will help the ham hock break down, and the greens tenderize. Cook until the ham meat easily pulls away from the bone with a fork, about 2 hours. Then, remove the lid, and cook the rest of the liquid down to about ½ cup. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the red pepper flakes and apple cider vinegar. This greenish, cloudy liquid is known as potlikker, and is the secret, golden nectar of good collard greens. Dunk your cornbread into it, or simply drizzle over beans or pulled meat for extra flavor.

If you’re making vegetarian greens, and want a similarly smoked flavor, try adding hickory-smoked salt to the broth before adding the greens. Add just a little bit at first, then add more towards the end to taste. It’s not quite the same, but you’ll appreciate the smokey, salty flavor. Cooked collard greens keep for up to 1 week in an airtight container, and are often best made the day before serving. Reheat big portions on the stove, adding more stock or water as needed, or microwave smaller portions until warm.

Southern Collard Greens Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds collard greens
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound smoked ham hock
  • 3 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Optional Ingredients

  • ½ cup distilled white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hickory-smoked salt

Directions

  1. Remove the stems from the greens by folding the greens in half, and slicing off the thick stem. Fill a clean sink or a very large bowl with water, and submerge the greens. For the cleanest greens, optionally add ½ cup distilled white vinegar. Soak greens for 20 to 30 minutes, then scrub away any remaining dirt.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Once melted, sautée the onions and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the ham hock, and sear until fragrant, about 2 minutes, then add the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer.
  3. Once greens are cleaned, chiffonade into thick 3-inch pieces, or tear into small pieces.
  4. Add the collard greens a handful at a time, stirring between additions to wilt the greens. Once all the greens are added to the pot, submerge them in the stock as much as possible.
  5. Turn the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours, or until the ham is completely tender, and greens are a desired texture. Shred the ham into pieces, and discard the bone.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then add the red pepper flakes and apple cider vinegar. Adjust to taste. For a smokier taste, optionally add 1 teaspoon smoke salt.

Nutrition

Calories per Serving 436
Total Fat 23.5 g
Saturated Fat 9.8 g
Trans Fat 0.4 g
Cholesterol 97.5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 23.9 g
Dietary Fiber 10.1 g
Total Sugars 5.3 g
Sodium 1,318.4 mg
Protein 36.7 g