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Easy Southern Collard Greens

These Easy Southern Collard Greens are the best, authentic soul food recipe using fresh collards, smoked turkey, ham hocks, or bacon. This signature dish is made from scratch and is typically served with Southern Cornbread for Sunday dinners, Thanksgiving, and the holiday season.

southern collard greens in a purple pot

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FOR THE FULL LIST OF INGREDIENTS AND COMPREHENSIVE INSTRUCTIONS, PLEASE SEE THE RECIPE CARD AT THE END OF THIS POST. BEFORE YOU SCROLL, THERE’S IMPORTANT INFORMATION IN THIS BLOG POST.

Black folks collard greens are a serious matter. We expect them to be on the table for most gatherings and functions, and definitely for the holiday season. There are so many ways to make them and thanks to technology and time there are a lot of shortcuts, too!

What Meat is Used to Season Collard Greens?

My family switched from using salt pork and ham hocks to season our greens years ago. We now use either a smoked turkey leg or turkey wing. I grab these from a local grocer. You can also check with a local butcher in your area.

You can of course still use ham hocks, salt pork, country ham, or even bacon to season the greens. If you are planning to use bacon I recommend that you cook the bacon first, and omit the olive oil used in this recipe. Cook the onions in the bacon fat.

Remove the bacon and crumble. Set aside until after the collards have cooked. Sprinkle the bacon throughout once cooked.

How to Wash Greens

Over the years, I have often stopped washing greens and would purchase the prepackaged pre-washed bagged Glory greens from the grocery store. Sometimes they are harder to find and they often have a lot more of the stems from the greens than the actual thick leaves.

You can buy these if you wish. It will cut down on your washing process and save a lot of time!

If you are buying from the normal produce area, greens are sold in bundles. Look for bundles with really thick, leafy greens. If you wait and shop at the last minute this may be difficult to find and you get stuck with smaller bundles. You may just have to buy more.

Greens have thick stems and veins on the back of the leaves. These areas capture dirt and sand. You will need to clean them thoroughly.

fresh collard greens on a flat surface
  1. Start with picking your greens and removing the stem. Fold the leaf in half (lengthwise) and rip off the stem.
  2. Fill a large bowl or your sink with water.
  3. I like to use this produce vegetable cleaner to spritz the greens. You can also use vinegar. Or you can just use water it’s your choice.
  4. From there load them into your bowl or sink.
  5. Use your hands and swish them around. Rub your hands over the actual leaves to scrub away any dirt.
  6. Drain the water and refill. Repeat this process until your water runs clear and you see no dirt in the water.

How to “Pick” the Greens

This is actually what my family uses to refer to removing the stems. It’s common southern practice to remove the stems from the greens. This is something that’s optional, and would only need to be done if you don’t purchase pre-washed, pre-bagged greens.

Removing the stems from every item AND washing them over and over to remove dirt is very time-consuming. If you plan to buy bundled greens, be sure to block off half a day.

A lot of people dislike buying the pre-bagged greens because they often include a lot of stems (which are totally edible and delicious, by the way). I often compensate for this, by buying 1 additional bag in case I need it.

How to Double the Collard Greens Recipe

Greens will wilt… A TON! When you first add them to the pot it will feel like a lot, but they will shrink a lot. So you can double the recipe (I would opt for the same size smoked turkey, or no more than a half-pound larger), but keep the cooking time the same.

shredded collard greens in a package

Does Cooking Greens Take Away the Nutrients

I see this discussed often and it’s actually a debate, usually from outsiders of the community.

Greens are leafy green vegetables packed with nutrients and they are labeled as a superfood. They are rich in Vitamin K, fiber, iron and antioxidants. According to The Huffington Post, greens can help lower cholesterol, reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

All of these nutrients will mostly stay intact no matter how the greens are cooked. Boiling the greens can break down the nutrients, but then the nutrients are passed to the broth and liquid in the pot of greens. Which is a great reason to enjoy that broth or use it in gravies!

You can read more about How to Cook Healthier Greens here.

Cooking greens in fatty meats, however, will add additional sodium, calories, and fat to the dish. This is where greens have gotten a bad reputation (again, usually from outsiders). Growing up ham hocks, salt pork, etc were used to cook greens. Now there are much healthier options, like turkey.

collard greens in a large bowl

Seasoning and Flavor

You can really keep it simple with the seasoning. I like to use fresh onions and garlic, and Creole Seasoning but you can use other spices if you wish.

I use a smoked turkey leg. You can also use smoked turkey wings. I find these in the standard meat section of my grocery store. You may have to ask your local butcher if they carry them.

You can also use ham hocks, bacon, or salt pork if you wish.

garlic, Creole seasoning, chopped onions, and chicken broth in separate bowls

How to Make Southern Collard Greens

Detailed measurements and instructions can be found in the recipe card below.

  1. Heat a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add olive oil to the pot along with the onions and garlic.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic until translucent and fragrant.
  3. Deglaze the pan by adding chicken broth.
  4. Begin to layer in the greens and add them in batches.
  5. Add in the Creole Seasoning and turkey. Bring the pot to a boil.
  6. Place the lid on the pot and adjust the heat to medium.
collage photo of sauteed onions in a pot with collard greens

How Long to Cook

I like to let these cook for two hours. If you are really strapped for time you can use my Instant Pot Collard Greens recipe method. Cook time will vary based on how you like your greens. I like for mine to be tender. If you like them super tender you may cook them for 3 hours or more. If you like more of a bite lessen the cook time. Check in on them to be sure you reach your desired result.

shredded collard greens in a pot

Can You Make Them Ahead/How Long Will They Last in the Fridge

For holiday cooking you typically make these a day in advance. The greens will last in the fridge covered for 3-4 days.

Freezing Tips

I freeze greens pretty much every time I make them. I use these freezer molds from Amazon and they work perfectly. You can freeze greens in 1 cup portions, which is great for when you want to pull a portion out for dinner.

You can freeze greens for up to 6 months. I throw them in the slow cooker for an hour or two to reheat.

collard greens and smoked turkey in a pot

Vegetarian or Vegan Collard Greens

Omit the smoked turkey for meatless collard greens. Use vegetable broth. Add in 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika and 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes for flavor.

shredded smoked turkey on a cutting board

Collard Greens Must be Paired with Cornbread

Homemade Cornbread Muffins
Honey Cornbread
Homemade Southern Style Cornbread
Air Fryer Cornbread

Jalapeno Cheddar Cornbread
Keto Low Carb Cornbread
Southern Cornbread Dressing
Sweet Potato Biscuits

Homemade Blueberry Cornbread
Pumpkin Cornbread
Sweet Potato Cornbread

southern collard greens in pot

More Southern Vegetable Recipes

Southern Candied Sweet Potatoes
Southern Mustard Greens

Southern Sweet Potato Casserole
Southern Cooked Cabbage
Instant Pot Collard Greens
Instant Pot Cabbage
Southern Fried Cabbage
Southern Okra and Tomatoes
Southern Style Green Beans
Southern Baked Beans
Instant Pot Black Eyed Peas

southern collard greens in a white bowl and a purple pot

More Southern Recipes

Southern Soul Food Mac and Cheese
Southern Cornbread Dressing

Cornbread Casserole
Baked Turkey Wings
Southern Baked Ham With Pineapple
Cajun Roasted Turkey
Scalloped Corn
Seafood Mac and Cheese
Mashed Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar
Stuffed Turkey Legs

southern collard greens in a white bowl

Check out our list of the Best Authentic Soul Food Recipes here.

Easy Southern Collard Greens

These Easy Southern Collard Greens are the best soul food recipe using fresh collards, smoked turkey, ham hocks, or bacon. This signature dish is made from scratch and is typically served with Southern Cornbread for Sunday dinners, Thanksgiving, and the holiday season.
Save this recipe here.
Course dinner, lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine southern
Keyword collard greens recipe, collard greens with turkey, soul food collard greens, Southern collard greens
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Servings 8 cups
Calories 140kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped white onions
  • 2 garlic cloves Minced.
  • 3 pounds fresh collard greens This is usually 3-4 bundles. Weigh for accuracy. Weight includes the stems.
  • 1 smoked turkey leg or wing See notes.
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth You can also use water.
  • 1 tablespoon Creole Seasoning Adjust to taste.

Instructions

  • Fill a large bowl or your sink with water. Use your hands and scrub the veins of the leaves to remove any dirty or sand. Wash the greens thoroughly until the water runs clear.
  • Remove the stems from the greens and slice the greens into smaller pieces.
  • Heat a large pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to the pot along with the onions and garlic. I like to use a Dutch oven because you can saute the vegetables and cook the greens all in one pot.
  • Saute the onions and garlic until translucent and fragrant.
  • Deglaze the pan by adding half of the chicken broth.
  • Begin to layer in the greens and add them in batches. Greens will need to wilt down a lot in order to fit in the pot. Add in the greens and then stir and allow them to cook down.
  • Add in the Creole Seasoning and turkey. Bring the pot to a boil.
  • Place the lid on the pot and adjust the heat to medium. Allow the greens to cook for 2 hours or until the greens are soft and the turkey is tender. Check in and stir the greens when necessary.
  • Open the pot and remove the turkey leg. Shred the meat from the leg using forks and return it to the pot.
  • Serve.

Video

Notes

  • Prep time will vary based on if you selected greens that require washing.
  • Start with 1/2 tablespoon of Creole seasoning and adjust to taste. 
  • It’s also common to serve collard greens with vinegar. Feel free to add it if you wish.
  • You can substitute smoked turkey for ham hocks, bacon, salt pork, or whatever you wish.
  • My turkey wing weighed about 1 1/2 pounds.
  • I like for my greens to be tender. If you like them super tender you may cook them for 3 hours or more. If you like more of a bite lessen the cook time. Check in on them to be sure you reach your desired result.
  • If doubling the recipe or making more for a crowd you can double, triple the ingredients. If doubling, you can likely still use one turkey leg. For anything larger, you may consider using an additional smaller smoked turkey wing.
Recipe Tools Used in this RecipeAs an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Nutrition (displayed with net carbs)

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 140kcal | Carbohydrates: 5g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 4g
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