How to Cook Collard Greens


Meandering through the Portland Farmers Market, I spotted this stack of beautiful collard greens. The bug holes on the right only endeared it to me more. I mean, if the bugs won’t eat it, should I?

Growing up in West Texas, my mother’s garden overflowed with mustard greens, a bitter, curly-leafed green that I wasn’t particularly fond of. Years later, I tasted my first collard greens and I liked the flavor (less bitter) and texture (smoother) much better.

You don’t have to cook them Southern-style (to death, with ham or bacon fat and onions), but cooked this way they do go hand-in-hand with hot cornbread (or is it corn bread?)


I cut a “V” just like I did here on Swiss chard, and roll the leaves into a cigar and then cut them into strips, just like I blabbed about here with basil, only with greens, I cut thick, 1-inch ribbons.

Collard greens are a staple in many southern  — especially soul food — restaurants, yet they generally don’t cut the tough stems out before cooking. For me, it’s paramount. I hate tough stems swimming in a pile of earthy greens, and even worse, I hate stringy stems — which is what happens when the greens are cooked long enough to soften them.


Now we need a little onion for flavor. I used a leek for no other reason than I had one. Feel free to use whatever onion suits your fancy: white, yellow, red, scallions, whatever.

Of course you need some fat to saute the leeks and greens in. I keep a jar of bacon grease in the fridge for just such purposes.  Who doesn’t love bacon grease? (Don’t answer that if you are a vegetarian, please.)


You could fry up some bacon strips, using the rendered fat for sauteing, and then crumble the bacon as a garnish for the greens. Heck, most folks just leave the bacon in the pot, simmering it right along with the greens. Me? I prefer adding it as a “crunch” topping.

Unlike Swiss chard and spinach, collard greens need a bit more cooking reach tenderness. And in the South, “a bit more” means hours. You don’t have to cook them that long, although most southern cooks I know cook them f-o-r-e-v-e-r. Food scientist and “culinary sleuth” Shirley Corriher (CookWise, BakeWise) says that extended cooking isn’t kind to the flavor of collard greens and other members of the Brassica family (broccoli, cabbage, turnips, etc.) And she’s from the South!


Simmering collards in liquid is crucial for a silky texture.You can use water, or for more flavor, chicken stock or broth.

Even if cooked collard greens don’t win any beauty contests, they certainly do win as a delicious side dish, perfectly suited for any southern meal from pork chops to fried catfish. Don’t forget the slice of hot, buttered cornbread. Or is it corn bread?


Southern-Style Collard Greens
Recipe Type: Vegetables
Cuisine: Southern
Author: Gwen Ashley Walters
Serves: 2
Collard greens aren’t going to win any beauty pageants, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t the belle of the ball. This recipe is similar to how my mamma cook them. The difference is I add some cider vinegar at the end to brighten up the flavor. A squeeze of lemon juice would do the same thing.
  • 1 bunch collard greens
  • 1 leek (or 1 cup chopped onion)
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat (or vegetable oil)
  • 4 cups water or low-sodium chicken broth
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons cider vinegar (or lemon juice)
  • 1/2 (or more) teaspoon of hot pepper sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1. Cut the stems out of each green leaf in a “V.” Roll the leaves into a cigar and cut into thick ribbons, about 1-inch thick. Dunk the greens in a water bath, drain, and spin dry in a salad spinner.
  2. Cut the top off the leek. Cut the remaining part of the leek in half, lengthwise and rinse under cold running water, fanning the leek layers to remove any trapped dirt. Pat dry. Cut each half crosswise into 1/4-inch half-moons.
  3. Melt the bacon fat (or oil) in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the leeks and saute until just tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the greens, tossing occasionally to wilt, about 3 to 4 minutes.
  4. Pour in water or chicken broth and stir in pinch of sugar (the greens won’t be completely submerged). Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover.
  5. Simmer until tender, about 40 minutes.
  6. Stir in the vinegar and hot sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add more vinegar or hot sauce to your personal tastes. To serve, you can either portion out the greens in individual ramekins to include some of the pot likker (cooking liquid) or you can drain them and put them directly on the serving plate.
* If you plan to double this recipe, you don’t need to double all the ingredients, just the collard greens. For the remaining ingredients, use 1-1/2 times the amount instead of 2 times the amount.





17 replies
  1. trishatruly
    trishatruly says:

    Mustard greens are in my opinion, far superior to the coarse collard greens of my youth. Your mother and I agree on that! Having said that, I am glad to see that dishes from the south and of my youth are not forgotten, even if they have been updated for today’s healthier lifestyles ( but what does Shirley Corriher know about good old soul food if this is the way she describes the greens I grew up eating anyway?)

    • Judy
      Judy says:

      Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You said you did not post the cooked greens because they were not pretty, however, I think completed greens are worthy of being photographed.

  2. nirmala
    nirmala says:

    People here in the Maldives chop it finely and make a fresh salad and eat,no cooking required. delcious with fresh onion rings and chillies etc.

  3. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Hey, I made collard greens for the first time yesterday for thanksgiving, based on this recipe with minor tweakage. They were unbelievably good, wow, I’m totally making them again… (I fried about six strips of bacon which I crumbled over the top to serve… fried the onion in some of the bacon fat…) nom nom nom!

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Good for you, Rebecca! Really, I mean collard greens are good for you 🙂 The bacon, eh, oh well… at least they were tasty!

  4. Emily
    Emily says:

    I’m from the south and now living in up north. I’ve never made greens, but tonight I wanted to really feel like I was home. I decided to make your greens along with my fried chicken, mashed potatoes, my boyfriend’s grandma’s corn bread, and corn. It was delicious! Such a great recipe! I cooked several slices of bacon with the greens and saved a couple more to break over them before serving. Yum!

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Emily, thanks so much for the kind words, but I’m guessing you had some great collard green to start with. And I’m sure the bacon didn’t hurt! Thanks for commenting!

  5. Claire
    Claire says:

    Followed your steps, except I used smoked ham hocks I had already purchased, and it turned out great! Thanks for the instructions!

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      True, Paul, the greens do give off some water. But I like to have extra pot likker to dunk my cornbread in. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Bill
    Bill says:

    I just had to throw my two cents in. As a vegan we can make it a great fake bacon by tossing spaghetti squash seeds from a fresh spaghetti squash into a little bit of olive oil and salt and roasting at 400° until they are brown you chop them up and I swear most people won’t know the difference between them and bacon. I can’t help you with bacon fat replacements because there aren’t any, but this one should help a great deal for those vegetarians and vegans out there. Peace.

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      Bill, that is a great tip, and I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d not told me. Next time I roast spaghetti squash, I’m keeping the seeds to try your trick! Thanks!


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  1. […] this summer I wrote about how to cook Swiss chard and collard greens. Now I’m tackling beans — green […]

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