Southern Collard Greens

Southern Collard Greens are a classic vegetable side dish you can enjoy at holiday dinners or any time of year. Pair collard greens with fried chicken, gluten free cornbread, and creamy mac and cheese for a real Southern treat!

Southern Collard Greens with smoked turkey in a white bowlSouthern Collard Greens

One of the perks of living in a really diverse neighborhood is being introduced to new foods. Prior to living here, I had lived 20 years without once eating black eyed peas, grits, or cracklins. I don’t even think the word “collard” was in my vocabulary.

These soul foods are a big deal around here, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why. They’re not only delicious, they also remind people of home, of history, of a culture and community nourished by recipes passed down through generations.

While I was working as a community organizer I had the privilege of getting to know my dear friend Alexis. Alexis faithfully volunteered to cook for our community dinners every month, which meant she was in charge of feeding anywhere from thirty to one hundred people.

I learned so much simply from sharing a kitchen with her. Alexis knows how to cook, and she knows how to do it with a limited budget and a whole lot of mouths to feed.

Cooking southern collard greens in a dutch oven

Southern Style Cooking

Every year, we did a special Black History Month meal which included all of the classics– fried chicken, black eyed peas, cornbread, and greens.

It was my first introduction to many of these foods, and I spent most of the afternoon watching in awe as Alexis chopped onions in seconds, managed several giant bubbling pots, and still kept up a lively conversation with me.

Alexis never uses a recipe, but instead relies on years of experience, tradition, and a chef’s intuition. She tastes and seasons as she goes, sprinkling here and there until everything is just right.

She learned to cook by her mother’s side, as I’m sure her mother did before her. I knew I’d never be lucky enough to get her recipes written down, so I did the next best thing: I invited myself over to her house so I could study her ways.

Southern Style Collard Greens with a fork in a white bowl

How do you prepare collard greens?

We spent the afternoon making greens, and this recipe is the result. Greens are not a quick process. While not difficult, they require the low and slow approach for the best flavor. The first step is to pick the type of greens you will use and then wash them thoroughly.

What type of greens work best for collard greens?

While collards are traditional, Alexis uses any greens she can get her hands on for this dish–including kale, mustard, turnip, or even spinach greens. The collards tend to be the most bitter, so if you use all collards, you’ll need to stir in a bit of apple cider vinegar and brown sugar at the end of cooking.

How do you clean collard greens?

Collard greens have a tough stem and spiny leaves that can harbor sand and dirt, so cleaning them before cooking is very important.

To clean collard greens:

  1. Fill a sink or very large pot with lukewarm water.
  2. Add the collard leaves to the pot and swish them around for a bit.
  3. Let the leaves soak for a few minutes, allowing sand and dirt to fall to the bottom.
  4. Remove the leaves, dump out the dirty water, then repeat the process again until no sand remains (usually an additional 1-2 times).

How to cut and prep collard greens

Once your collards are nice and clean, they’re ready to be prepped for cooking! Dry them on a paper towel, then transfer to a cutting board.

Fold the leaves in half at the spine like a book, then use a very sharp knife (this is my FAVORITE budget friendly option) to cut along the spine, cutting both sides of the leaf.

From there, you can either roughly chop the greens, or roll them like up longways like a cigar and cut them in long strips.

Southern collard greens in a white bowl

How to Make Southern Collard Greens

  1. The recipe begins with a rich savory broth made with onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, and some kind of smoked meat. I’ve used both smoked ham hocks and smoked turkey tails, and both work well. The broth is boiled and simmered for about 45 minutes to develop deep flavor.
  2. Once the broth is made, add the collards to the pot, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook them for an additional 1-2 hours, or until they’re soft and silky.
  3. Add a little apple cider vinegar and brown sugar to counteract any remaining bitterness, taste, and continue to season to taste with salt, pepper, and sugar.
  4. Remove the smoked meat from the pot, and take any meat off the bone, stirring it into the greens. Serve immediately.

southern collard greens with smoked ham hocks

If you’ve never had traditional Southern style greens before, I encourage you to give these a try. They pair wonderfully with Creamy Baked Mac and Cheese, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, Southern Sweet Potato Casserole, and Pecan Pie Bars. Add them to all your holiday menus (including your Gluten Free Thanksgiving), and you may have a new tradition of your own.

Southern Collard Greens

Southern Collard Greens

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 50 minutes

Southern Collard Greens are a traditional vegetable side that's perfect for holiday dinners. These collard greens are silky, tender, and delicious!


  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • 2 smoked turkey tails or ham hocks
  • Water to cover
  • 12 cups chopped and cleaned greens (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar, or to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until starting to soften. Add the garlic and pepper flakes and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the smoked turkey tails. Fill the pot with water to just barely cover the turkey tails. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour.
  2. Taste the broth and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the chopped greens, stir, cover and cook an additional 1-2 hours, or until greens are cooked down and tender.
  3. Stir in the apple cider vinegar and brown sugar. Taste. Add salt, pepper, and additional brown sugar to taste. Remove the turkey tails from the pot, and take any meat off the bone and add it back to the pot. Serve hot.


For tips on how to clean collard greens, see the post above.

Any greens can be used for these including collards, kale, mustard, or turnip.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 134Total Fat: 4gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 8mgSodium: 215mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 12gSugar: 3gProtein: 10g

Please note nutritional information for my recipes is calculated by a third party service and provided as a courtesy to my readers. For the most accurate calculation, I always recommend running the numbers yourself with the specific products you use.

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  1. I’m looking forward to trying these! Could you share your macaroni and cheese recipe as well? Thanks Erin

  2. My Mom cooked the best greens, but like most children I didn’t bother to learn. THANKS so much for this recipe, I plan on cooking this,this weekend. My husband will be grateful.

  3. Yeah. Good thing about collards, it can be paired with many dishes. I usually pair this to hong kong peking duck so I can achieved an Eastern treat =)

  4. It’s like you know me! I spent my entire vacation in Charleston shoving greens in my face…all the greens! Love these. Pinned.

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