How to Cook Collard Greens: Step-by-Step

December 27, 2022
Want silky, tender, flavorful collards?  Follow these steps on how to cook collard greens to cook up a pot in true Southern style.  Then keep the recipe handy all year long, because these silky greens are just too good to serve only on Thanksgiving and New Year's Day!
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Collard Greens with Chopped Ham Hocks Image

Being raised in Vermont, I didn't grow up eating collard greens, as they're decidedly not a New England thing. But then I later moved to North Carolina and married a true, good ol' Southern boy. -- Who just so happens to adore his collards, as they're affectionately known in the South.

So you can probably guess what happened next, right? Yes, I learned how to cook collard greens like a boss. Because any self-respecting Southern cook can whip up a pot of tender greens whenever pressed into service to do so.

Whether that be for Sunday dinner, Thanksgiving, or the traditional Southern New Year's Day meal.

True Southern-style collards are silky, tender, and flavorful, a result achieved with a long, slow simmer in a generously seasoned broth.

According to Southern lore, a New Year's Day meal of black-eyed peas, greens, and pork will bring good fortune in the new year.  While turnip greens, mustard greens, or cabbage will do, the Southern good-luck green of choice is collard greens ~ or simply "collards" as you'll most likely hear in the South.  

True Southern-style collards are silky, tender, and flavorful, a result achieved with a long, slow simmer in a generously seasoned broth.  

Follow the steps below to cook your own pot of collard greens in true Southern style.  Then be sure to keep the recipe handy to enjoy all year long, because these silky greens are just too good to serve only on Thanksgiving or New Year's Day!


How to Cook Collard Greens:

Cooking a pot of tender, flavorful collard greens is not difficult, but it does take a bit of time and attention to detail in how the collards are prepped. Removing the spines from the leaves and cooking them with a long slow simmer in seasoned broth are the keys to making the best collard greens around.

Step 1:  Prepare the Cooking Liquid

Preparing the Cooking Liquid for How to Cook Collard Greens Image

Cooking the greens in seasoned broth creates very flavorful collards.  

To prepare the seasoned cooking liquid, heat some olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot.  Chop a few slices of bacon and an onion and sauté these together for about 5 minutes.  Add a couple of cloves of minced garlic and cook for about another minute.

Then add a good dose of chicken broth, some granulated sugar, black pepper, apple cider vinegar, and a small pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if you'd like a bit of heat.

It's Southern tradition to season collard greens with some form of cured pork.  The collards just wouldn't taste right without it!

Then you'll want to add in some meat for great flavor.  Oh yes, it's Southern tradition to season collard greens with some form of cured pork.  The collards just wouldn't taste right without it!  

You can use any combination of smoked ham hocks, country ham, fat back, and hog jowls, as desired.  We like to use about 2 pounds of smoked ham hocks and a small piece of fat back.  

As all these cured pork products are quite salty, rinse your pork products of choice before adding them to the pot.  For especially salty cuts, soak in warm water for about 30 minutes to draw out some of the salt.

Bring this pot mixture to a boil and then simmer the liquid for 30 minutes to develop rich flavor.



Step 2:  Wash the Collard Greens

Soaking Collard Greens Image

While the cooking liquid simmers, wash and cut the collard greens. Collard greens are notoriously gritty, so it's important to get them good and clean.

So just how do you clean collard greens, you ask? - Soak them and scrub them with a little bit of salt.

Start by separating the leaves of your big bunch of collard greens and then give them a quick rinse under running water to remove any "obvious" grit.

So just how to you clean collard greens, you ask? - Soak them and scrub them with a little bit of salt. 

Then place them in a large bowl or clean sink and cover the collard leaves with warm water.  Add 2 teaspoons salt to act as a scrubbing agent and gently scrub the leaves with your hands.  Then rinse the collards again to remove the salt and any grit that's been scrubbed away.

If the greens are especially gritty, repeat the scrubbing process to ensure all the dirt is removed.


Step 3:  Remove the Spines

Removing Collard Greens Spines Image

Collard green spines are very tough and need to be removed before cooking to create a pot of tender, silky greens.

One at a time, lay each leaf upside-down and flat on a cutting board.  Cut along each side of the spine in the center, cutting each leaf into two halves and completely removing the tough spine.  

Discard the spines.


Step 4:  Cut into Ribbons

Cutting Collard Greens into Ribbons Image

Pile the cut leaves into several stacks and roll up each stack lengthwise.  

Slice each roll into 1-inch pieces, cutting the collard greens into ribbons.



Step 5:  Add Collard Greens to the Pot

How to Cook Collard Greens Image

Add collard greens to the simmering pot.  Stir into the cooking liquid and bring to a boil.


Step 6:  Cook the Collard Greens

Cooked Collard Greens Image

Reduce the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours until the greens are your desired tenderness.  We like our collards super tender, so we usually cook them for the full 3 hours.

If needed, add a splash or two more chicken broth while the collards are cooking to keep the pot from going dry.

When done, use a slotted spoon to transfer the collard greens from the cooking liquid to a serving bowl.

We like our collards super tender, so we usually cook them for the full 3 hours.

Chop the meat from the ham hocks and stir it into the greens.  And then serve with vinegar on the side for drizzling on each serving, if desired.

With this method of how to cook collard greens, you'll have one pot of silky, tender, and flavorful greens for sure - cooked up in true Southern style. And hey, keep this collard greens recipe handy all year long. Because seriously, these silky greens are just too good to serve only on Thanksgiving and New Year's Day!

Check out these other classic Southern sides:

How to Cook Collard Greens: Step-by-Step Image
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collard greens, how to cook collard greens, collard greens recipe, collard greens with ham hocks
Side dishes
Southern
Yield: 8-10 Servings
Author: Tracey | The Kitchen is My Playground
How to Cook Collard Greens

How to Cook Collard Greens

Want silky, tender, flavorful collards? Follow these steps on how to cook collard greens to cook up a pot in true Southern style. Then keep the recipe handy all year long, because these silky greens are just too good to serve only on Thanksgiving and New Year's Day!
Prep time: 30 MinCook time: 3 H & 30 MTotal time: 4 Hour

Ingredients

  • 2 large bunches collard greens (about 2 to 2 & 1/2 pounds total)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 6 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 c. (32 oz.) chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 T. granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 T. apple cider vinegar
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 lbs. smoked ham hocks (or hog jowl or country ham), rinsed with warm water to remove some of the saltiness

Instructions

Prepare the cooking liquid:
  1. Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven or stock pot. Sauté chopped bacon and onion about 5 minutes until bacon is cooked and onion is tender.
  2. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.
  3. Add chicken broth, sugar, black pepper, vinegar, crushed red pepper flakes (if using), and ham hocks. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 30 minutes.
Wash & cut the collards:
  1. While the cooking liquid simmers, wash and cut the collard greens. Separate the collard leaves; place in a very large bowl or clean sink and cover leaves with warm water. Add 2 teaspoons salt to act as a scrubbing agent. Gently scrub the collard leaves with your hands and then rinse. For especially gritty greens, repeat the scrubbing process a second time.
  2. One at a time, lay each leaf upside-down and spread out flat on a cutting board. Cut along each side of the spine in the center, cutting each leaf into two halves and completely removing the tough spine. Discard spines.
  3. Pile the cut collard leaves into several stacks and roll up each stack lengthwise. Slice each roll into 1-inch pieces, cutting the collard greens into ribbons.
Cook the collards:
  1. Add collard greens to the pot and stir them into the cooking liquid. Bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours until greens are your desired tenderness.
  3. When done, use a slotted spoon to transfer the greens from the cooking liquid to a serving bowl. Chop meat from the ham hocks and stir into the greens.
  4. Serve with vinegar on the side for drizzling on each serving, if desired.
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4 comments

  1. Looks yummy but Tracey, trust me no southern cook in the old days (my time) used olive oil. In Virginia, we ate kale instead of collard greens growing up.
    Have you seen the recipe for stewed tomatoes with Ritz crackers ?
    Myrna

    ReplyDelete
  2. A southern cook does not cook a 'pot' of greens-
    They cook a 'mess' of greens

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thanks for the great photos Tracey. I grew up eating greens of all kinds and they're always on my holiday menus and lots of times in between. When my mom cooked greens or black eye peas for the new year she would put a dime in the bottom of the pot for prosperity. I did that a few times and then nixed the idea. Thanks for always sharing with us at Celebrate Your Story.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Tracey, sounds wonderful! I love collard greens, but my husband merely tolerates them, so I don't make it nearly often enough to suit me!

    ReplyDelete

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