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Silky, smoky Southern Collard Greens are a classic side dish that taste amazing with a big chunk of cornbread! They are great delicious anytime, but are also a popular addition to your Thanksgiving menu!

Looking for more classic Southern recipes to go with your collard greens? Be sure to try our Smothered Pork Chops, Hush Puppies, and serve Homemade Banana Pudding for dessert!

An image of Southern collard greens cooked with ham hock next to a slice of cornbread.  

Southern Collard Greens

Southern Collard Greens are a traditional staple food in many homes, not just across the South, but in other parts of the country too.

The first time I had greens cooked like this was when I lived in New Jersey and had Thanksgiving dinner with friends. They were shocked when I said that collard greens hadn’t been part of our traditional Thanksgiving dinner when I was growing up! To them, it was like saying we skipped pumpkin pie and dressing as part of our feast!

While there are a lot of different ways to prepare collard greens, cooking collard greens the southern way adds a ton of amazing smoky, savory flavor, making it a dish that is well worth the wait.

Don’t forget to serve your greens with some homemade cornbread! The contrast of textures and flavors is perfection!

 An image of bowls of slowly simmered collard greens.     

What Are Collard Greens?

Collard greens are a green leafy vegetable/plant that is in the same species as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussel sprouts. More specifically, they are a variety of cabbage and have tough, bitter leaves that are made palatable by cooking them to remove the bitterness.

They are in peak season from January through April, although you can get them pretty much year round. You can buy bunches of collard greens or save yourself some time and pick up a few packages of pre-trimmed greens from the store.

An image of a large bunch of collard greens on a cutting board.

What are Southern Collard Greens?

Southern style cooked collard greens are a common preparation where chopped collard greens are cooked in a liquid of spices and sometimes broth with a meaty ham hock. It’s an easy dish to prepare but it does take some time as traditionally it takes over an hour to make this side dish. 

Waiting for the collard greens to finish cooking is the hardest part of the process because they start to smell amazing. By the time it’s done cooking, you’re drooling and feeling hunger pangs. 

An image of a bowl of slow cooked greens with bits of smoky ham hock.

How to Make Southern Collard Greens

  1. Fill a large pot with 3 quarts (12 cups) of water and then bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add in a large smoked ham hock, which you can buy in the meat section of your local grocery store, then cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the meat is tender.
  2. Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse the collard greens to remove any dirt or grit. You may need to rinse them several times just to be sure, because nobody likes gritty greens! Strip the leaves from the tougher stems that run down the center of each leaf. Stack 5-6 leaves on top of each other and then slice them into 1/2″ to 1″ pieces. I personally discard the stems but you could chop and cook those as well.
  3. Add the greens to the pot with the meat, along with the onion, seasoned salt, sugar, butter, vinegar, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and black pepper. There should be enough water to just cover the greens.
  4. Bring the pot back to a boil, then cover and cook for another 60 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the greens are tender. Be sure to check the liquid in the pot and add a little more if the bottom of the pot is getting too dry so you don’t burn the greens. By the end of cooking, there should still be a little bit of saucy liquid left in the bottom.
  5. Remove the meat from the bones of the ham hock and chop it up, then return the meat to the pan, discarding the bones. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed (you add a few dashes of hot sauce if you want more spice to your greens).

An image of a bowl of washed and trimmed collard green leaves.

Can You Overcook Collard Greens?

While the answer can be a yes, it is actually pretty difficult to overcook a collard green. When you know how to cook collard greens, it gets even easier, but these tough greens are built to withstand cooking and some recipes have them being simmered overnight. The bigger issue is if your liquid all evaporates and your pot goes dry, in which case you can add a little extra water or broth to the pot.

Can You Eat Collard Green Stems?

You can! Despite collard greens having tough stems like Kale, the collard green stems can be cooked down into a more tender bite. They may not become soft with a quicker cooking method but with a long cook recipe like these southern cooked collard greens, they may reach a desirable level of tenderness if you decide to cook them, although it will take longer to soften the stems than the leaves.

An image of tender, simmered greens served with cornbread.  

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An image of a bowl of slow cooked greens with bits of smoky ham hock.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Collard Greens

Silky, smoky Southern Collard Greens are a classic side dish that taste amazing with a big chunk of cornbread! They are great delicious anytime, but are also a popular addition to your Thanksgiving menu!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds smoked ham hock
  • 12 cups water or chicken broth
  • 3 pounds collard greens, trimmed
  • 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Instructions

  1. Fill a large pot with 3 quarts (12 cups) of water or broth and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the smoked ham hock, then cover and cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour until the meat is tender.
  2. Meanwhile, thoroughly rinse the collard greens to remove any dirt or grit. Strip the leaves from the tougher stems that run down the center of each leaf. Stack 5-6 leaves on top of each other and slice into 1/2" to 1" pieces.
  3. Add the greens to the pot with the meat, along with the onion, sugar, butter, vinegar, seasoned salt, red pepper flakes, garlic powder, and black pepper. There should be enough liquid to just cover the greens.
  4. Bring back to a boil, then cover and cook for another 60-90 minutes, stirring occasionally, until greens are tender.
  5. Remove the meat from the bones, finely chop, then return the meat to the pan, discarding the bones. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed (add a few dashes of hot sauce if you want more spice to your greens).

Notes

  • Instead of a ham hock, you could use another smoked meat like smoked turkey wings or smoked neck bones.
  • You can buy pre-trimmed packages of collard greens at the store often and save yourself some of the work.


Recipe adapted from All Recipes.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

6

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 249Total Fat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 3gCholesterol: 31mgSodium: 1750mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 9gSugar: 4gProtein: 27g

More Recipes Using Leafy Greens

Curious about foods from other states in my American Eats series? Check them out below!

Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • IdahoIllinoisIndianaIowa • Louisiana • Puerto Rico • South Carolina • Texas