Southern style collard greens is an easy recipe that is healthy, spicy, and delicious.  Learn how to make greens on the stovetop or crock pot with ham hocks, vinegar, and onions.  This popular soul food makes a great Sunday dinner idea that the whole family will love.

Prep Time: 20 minutes
person holding a bowl of collard greens
Christmas, Veggie Side Dishes

Southern Style Collard Greens

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This recipe was originally published on October 26, 2017.

Seventeen years ago, I tasted some amazing Southern collard greens at a church potluck in Savannah.  To my great delight, I was able to find the lady that brought them, so I naturally asked her what her secret was.  Can you guess what ingredient she said?  Ham hocks.

bowl of collard greens with cornbread muffins

Why do we eat collard greens on New Years?

Southerns like to eat greens (collards, mustard or turnips) instead of cabbage on this holiday because greens are plentiful at that time of year and are the color of money.  Eating greens on the first day of the year symbolizes more folded money in your pocket in the new year.

What does the traditional New Year’s Day meal mean?

The traditional meal in the South is collard greens, black eyed peas, hoppin’ John, cornbread and pot likker soup.  Having pork and ham is considered lucky and will bring prosperity to you and your family. 

There is a well known phrase, “Peas for pennies, greens for dollars and cornbread for gold.”  The peas are symbolic of coins or wealth, greens are paper money, and cornbread is gold.  Whether you believe these foods will make you more prosperous in the upcoming year or not, it’s a very delicious meal and is tradition in many homes in the South.

Are collard greens healthy?

Eating greens is very healthy, they are packed with many vitamins and minerals.  Greens are high in calcium and dietary fiber, vitamins C, A, E and K.  They are also low in calories.  A serving size of 1/2 cup with pork is 72 calories and has 7.3g of carbs.

How do you keep raw collard greens fresh?

  • Wrap the unwashed bunch of collard greens in damp paper towels.
  • Place in an open plastic bag.
  • Refrigerate for as long as 5-7 days.

How do you clean collard greens?

  • Fill the kitchen sink 1/2 way with slightly warm water.
  • Add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of white vinegar and a tablespoon of salt.
  • Let the collard greens soak for 5 to 30 minutes.
  • Rinse with cold tap water.

person holding a spoonful of collard greens

How to Trim Collard Greens

  • Fold each leaf in half lengthwise.
  • Cut out the tough rib with a sharp knife.
  • Stack 3 to 8 leaves high and cut in 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces.  You can also roll the leaves before cutting.

Does vinegar tenderize collard greens?

Adding anywhere from 2 teaspoons to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar will help tenderize collard greens.

How do you get the bitterness out of collard greens?

Add one teaspoon of salt or lemon juice.  Stir and taste, if necessary, repeat the process until the bitter taste is gone.

person holding a bowl of collard greens

Why do collard greens stink?

If you overcook collard greens, they will release a pungent sulfuric smell.  The best way to eliminate this smell is to remove the ribs and have the greens trimmed in smaller pieces so the greens cook evenly and more quickly.

What do you eat with collard greens?

Southern collard greens are served with cornbread, black eyed peas, or grits.

Can collard greens be made in advance?

Yes, it’s actually best to make collard greens a minimum of 4 hours in advance, or up to a whole day ahead.  When you make them the night before, allow them to cool at room temperature for two hours before covering and refrigerating.

bowl of collard greens with a bottle of potlikker

Are collard green good reheated?

Collard greens taste better the next day because the flavors will deepen.  To reheat cold greens, place in a pot over medium low heat.  Stir and cook until heated through.

Can cooked collard greens be frozen?

Yes, allow them to cool first, then place in airtight freezer container or a zip-top freezer bag.  Lay the freezer bags flat in the freezer for up to 3 months.

How to Make Collard Greens in a Crockpot

  • Place the ham hocks, onion, garlic, 2 cups water, and 2 cups chicken stock in a crock pot.  Place the lid on and turn on high.
  • After 4 hours of cooking, the meat on the ham hocks should be tender enough to fall off the bone.  Using metal tongs, start pulling the meat off the bones while it’s still in the crockpot.
  • Add the clean collard greens, sprinkle of salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and brown sugar on top, then pour on the apple cider vinegar. 
  • Stir.  Cover and cook 2 more hours on high.
  • Serve with extra ham, potlikker, and corn bread.

How to Make Collard Greens

Gather all the ingredients.  Chop the onion and mince the garlic.

ingredients for collard greens

To clean the greens, fill the kitchen sink half full of slightly warm water.  Add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of white vinegar and 1 tablespoon of salt.  Stir with your hand.  Add the collard greens and let them soak 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes.  Rinse well with cold running water.

collard greens on a wooden cutting board

To cut the greens, fold the leaf in half lengthwise and cut the rib out with a sharp knife.

removing the rib from the collard green leaf

Place the ribs into a freezer bag to use when making vegetable stock.

collard green stems with a knife

Stack the greens 3 leaves high and slice into thin, even pieces.

person cutting collard greens into smaller pieces

Over medium high heat, heat up the olive oil and add the chopped onion.

stirring chopped onions in a pot

Saute for 6 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

person stirring sauteed onions

Sprinkle on the salt, pepper.  Cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, stirring constantly, to bloom the spices.  Dump the cooked onion mixture into a bowl and set aside.

adding salt and pepper to cooked onions in a pot

Using the same pot, fry the collard greens in batches, stirring them constantly until they’re wilted.

wilted collard greens in a bowl

Return the wilted collard greens into the pot and pour in the chicken stock and the water.

pouring chicken stock into a pot of collard greens

Add the red pepper flakes, the apple cider vinegar, and brown sugar.  If you want, you can add 1 cup of additional chopped ham right now or wait until the end.

person holding bowls of brown sugar and spices

Place the three ham hocks into the pot, making sure they are surrounded by the greens.

pot of cooked collard greens with ham hocks

Cover the pot and bring it to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium low and let it simmer for 1 hour.  Check on it occasionally to give it a stir.

After one hour, check the ham hocks.   If the meat is tender enough for your taste, remove them and let them cool.  If you want to cook them longer, keep them in the pot.  Once the ham hocks are cool enough, cut the meat off the bones and shred it into smaller pieces.

putting cooked ham hocks in a dish

Taste the collard greens after one hour.  If they are tender enough, you can remove the pot from the heat.  If you like them very tender, keep cooking them on medium low and checking them every 1/2 hour. 

Once the ham hocks and collard greens are cooked, strain them with a colander placed over a large bowl.  You’ll want to keep the potlikker, so don’t let it go down the drain.

Place the greens in a bowl, stir in the shredded ham hocks and the additional 1 cup of smoked ham.  If you need to keep the greens warm to bring to a pot luck, transfer the greens to a 6 quart crock pot and keep on warm.

Serve warm with fresh cornbread.  Have guests pour some potlikker on their greens and use the freshly made cornbread to sop it up.

bowl of collard greens with a wooden spoon

Pro Tips

  • Don’t want to use ham hocks?  Use ham bone, smoked turkey drumsticks, wings, or bacon.
  • Need this vegan?  Omit the meat, use vegetable broth, smoked salt, liquid smoke, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and hot sauce to taste.
  • In a hurry?  Use pre-washed collard greens.
  • Want this as a main course?  Increase the meat per serving, by stirring in more chopped ham.
  • Want to use baking soda?  Adding a pinch of baking soda can help the greens remain green and can help cut the gas.
  • Need to make more?  This recipe is easy to double or triple.  Just use the scale button in the recipe card.
  • Don’t throw out the collard ribs, use them for vegetable stock.  Place them in a freezer bag for future use.
  • Can’t find collard greens?  This recipe work for mustard or turnip greens.
  • Want to increase the spiciness?  Increase the red pepper flakes to 1/4 teaspoon, or add 1/2 teaspoon of hot sauce.

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person holding a bowl of collard greens

Southern Style Collard Greens


  • Author: Brooke
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hours 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Yield: 3 1/2 cups 1x

Description

Southern style collard greens is an easy recipe that is healthy, spicy, and delicious.  Learn how to make greens on the stovetop or crock pot with ham hocks, vinegar, and onions.  This popular soul food makes a great Sunday dinner idea that the whole family will love.


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (15 ml)
  • 1 1/4 cups yellow onion, chopped (190g)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock (355 ml)
  • 1 1/2 cups filtered water (355 ml)
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound fresh collard greens, washed and chopped (477 g) Can easily be doubled.
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar (10 ml)
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, packed
  • 3 ham hocks, roughly 1 1/4 cups of meat (2 pounds; 907g)
  • 1 cup smoked ham, shredded

Instructions

Stovetop Instructions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Saute the chopped onion for 6 minutes, then add the minced garlic and saute for one minute, stirring constantly.  Season with salt and pepper.
  2. Using the same pot, fry the cleaned and chopped collard greens in small batches over medium heat until they wilt, stirring after adding each new batch.  Put the wilted collard greens in a bowl to make room in the pot.
  3. Once all the collards are wilted, put them back in the pot and pour in the chicken stock, water, red pepper flakes, brown sugar, and vinegar and stir.  Place the three ham hocks into the pot, making sure they are mostly surrounded by the greens.
  4. Bring the covered pot to a boil, then turn it down and let it simmer for one hour.  Taste test at 1 hour mark.  If you like your greens more tender, let it simmer a bit longer.
  5. Remove the ham hocks after the first hour, let them cool, and shred the meat from them.
  6. Drain the greens, being careful to reserve the liquid (potlikker) for its nutritional value and taste.  Use this to pour on top of individual servings of greens and sop it up with cornbread.
  7. Stir in the shredded ham hocks and shredded ham, then serve warm and garnish with extra ham.  Set out the potlikker for guests to pour on top of their greens.  Serve with cornbread.

Crockpot Instructions

  1. Place the ham hocks, onions, garlic, water, and chicken stock in a 6-quart crock pot.  Cover and cook on high for a total of 6 hours.
  2. After 4 hours, the ham hocks will be done.  Use tongs to start pull the meat off the bones.  Leave the meat and bones in the crockpot until the 6 hours are complete.
  3. After 4 hours of cooking, add the cleaned and cut collard greens, the spices (salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes), and brown sugar.  Pour in the apple cider vinegar.
  4. Stir, cover, and cook for 2 more hours.  Serve with extra ham, potlikker, and cornbread.

Notes

  • Make this recipe perfectly the first time.  Check out the step-by-step photos and pro tips before the recipe card.
  • The pleasure of a 5-star review for this collard greens recipe would be greatly appreciated.
  • 👩🏻‍🍳 Want to see our latest recipes?  Subscribe to our email newsletter to get our latest recipes, fun food facts, food puns, and behind the scenes news about our blog.
  • Category: Side Dish
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

Keywords: soul food collard greens recipe, easy collard greens recipe

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4 thoughts on “Southern Style Collard Greens

  1. The spicy greens are divine with the succulent ham. These greens are loaded with juicy goodness from the pot liquor. They are soft and yummy!

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