Southern Collard Greens with Bacon

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Southern Collard Greens with Bacon is a delicious side dish that’s loaded with smoky flavor. Learn how to make perfectly seasoned greens like a real southerner with this easy recipe!

cooked collard greens in a red bowl on a floral napkin.
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A Southern Staple

Collard greens are a staple in the south, so they pair well with just about every southern dish you can imagine. They’re perfect with everything from fried chicken to barbecue ribs and corned beef with cabbage.

I love to eat them with homemade macaroni and cheese and you guessed it…a big old slice of cornbread!

Legend has it that the green color in collards represents an abundance of money. Eating them on New Year’s Day is thought to bring good luck with your finances. That’s how magic we think this leafy green vegetable is down south!

Why This Recipe is Special

young girl named Taylor in a white shirt

My niece, Taylor, is quite the home cook. She studies her craft extensively, and knows more about the history of southern food than I ever will. That’s why I asked her to share her recipe for Southern Collard Greens with Bacon.

Taylor comes from the same line of cooks that I do, and she’s definitely carrying on our family traditions. Like all home cooks, she isn’t afraid to take risks and try new things in the kitchen.

Her collard recipe creates tender, yet crunchy greens that are filled with southern ‘sass’. They’re truly the best I’ve ever tasted. And, I’ve tasted LOTS of collards! So, if you’re cooking up a big southern meal, Taylor’s perfectly seasoned greens surely need to be on your table.

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • sliced bacon – cut it up into small pieces with kitchen shears
  • butter – real butter is actually the secret ingredient in this recipe
  • diced onion – vidalia onions are sweet and mild, but any sweet onion will do
  • pre-washed collard greens – you’ll need a 2 pound bag because they cook down fast
  • chicken broth – substitute vegetable broth if desired
  • minced garlic – use fresh garlic instead of powder for better flavor
  • salt and black pepper – just in case you want a little more seasoning
  • apple cider vinegar – adds the acid needed to balance this dish
  • hot sauce (optional) – can also add red pepper flakes if desired
  • sugar (optional) – helps get rid of bitterness

Ingredient amounts are listed in the recipe card below.

Where to Buy Collard Greens

You can purchase fresh collard greens at farmers markets and road side stands during the spring months. However, you’ll need to soak and wash fresh collards before cutting them into small pieces.

Most grocery stores sell pre-washed and pre-cut greens in large packages which is a convenient and easy way to make savory collard greens.

The Cooking Process

In a large pot, cook bacon slices on medium heat until lightly browned. Remove bacon from pot and drain on a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside.

Leave excess bacon fat in pot. Add butter and chopped onions. Saute’ butter and onions over medium low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

seasoned greens after being wilted in a pot.

Gradually add fresh collard greens. Stir, and let wilt for about 5 minutes by covering the pot. Uncover, then stir again. Turn up the heat to medium and add chicken stock. Bring collards to a boil which starts the pot likker.

Add garlic, salt and pepper. Stir well and cook over medium low heat for at least 1 hour until collards are tender, but still crisp. Continue to cook if they’re not done at this point. They should be crunchy but not have tough stems.

When collards are tender, add bacon back to the pot, along with vinegar and hot sauce or a dash of red pepper flakes if desired.

Turn off heat and stir well. Allow greens to rest uncovered for 2 minutes before serving. Dip them out with a slotted spoon into bowls or serve as a side dish to meatloaf, pork tenderloin and pot roast.

Pot likker or Pot liquor with collard greens and a spoon in a pot.
Collards in Pot Likker

What’s Pot Likker?

Fresh collards can be very bitter, so first you need to prepare your Pot Likker (or Pot Liquor) which is the secret to perfectly seasoned greens. Pot Likker is the liquid that collards are cooked in until they lose their bitter taste. It’s an old timey southern term for seasoned broth.

Would you prefer to use smoked ham hocks or bacon to season your greens? How about a turkey neck?

True southerners have a rich history of using salted meat to take the bitterness out of any type of vegetable. It’s the salty meat mixed with chicken broth that makes southern-style collard greens so delicious!

Adding bacon grease creates the perfect amount of smoky flavor and saltiness. You could also use turkey bacon, but the using the real thing is always the best way to make southern collard greens.

Recipe FAQS

How long do cooked collards last in the fridge?

If sealed properly in an airtight container along with the pot likker, cooked collards can last in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Reheat them in a saucepan on the stove, or microwave them in 30 second intervals until heated through.

Do you wash collard greens before cooking?

If you purchase regular greens at the market, you’ll need to soak and wash them before cooking to remove dirt and grit. They tend to be very dirty because farmers pick them right out of the ground. But if you purchase a prewashed bag, you can skip this step or rinse them in a colander for safe measure.

Why do you put vinegar in greens?

Vinegar balances out the saltiness that’s added by the bacon and chicken broth. As a rule of thumb, try adding just a little to the pot liquor and see if you like it. If you don’t like the taste of vinegar, you can always offer it at the table for those who do.

How to Prevent Tough Greens

The longer you cook any type of greens, the more tender they become. However, cooking them until they lose all of their nutrients and vitamins is definitely the old fashioned way of doing things.

In the southern United States, many folks still cook a big pot of collards all day long on the stove and serve them with a slab of corn bread for supper. This method is also used on mustard greens and turnip greens down south.

The best way to prevent tough greens is to cut out the center stem before beginning the cooking process since it’s the toughest part of the vegetable. If you purchase the pre-cut variety, this is usually done for you.

cooked collards with bacon pieces.

How to Make Greens Spicy

Adding hot sauce, sriracha, different types of spicy vinegars or red pepper flakes is a different way to serve this easy side dish.

Some folks love to smother their seasoned greens in malt vinegar which adds an extra layer of flavor. I just like to eat mine the way they are!

If you’re ever in Asheville, North Carolina, stop by 12 Bones Smokehouse and give their collards a whirl. They have mastered the art of collard green seasoning!

Freezing and Storage

Store leftovers in an airtight container along with the Pot Liquor. Greens can last up to 5 days in the refrigerator and 3 months in the freezer as long as they are tightly sealed.

Sides to Serve with Collards

If you love southern style collard greens, try these sides to go along with them. This is as southern as it gets!

Recipe Card

seasoned collard greens with bacon in a red bowl.

Southern Collard Greens with Bacon

Southern Collard Greens with Bacon is a delicious side dish that's loaded with smoky flavor. Learn how to make perfectly seasoned greens like a southerner with this easy recipe!
5 from 4 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Sides
Cuisine: Southern
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Servings: 8
Calories: 104kcal

*See notes in blog post for detailed tips, photos and instructions.

Ingredients

  • 6 slices bacon sliced crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 1 sweet onion (chopped)
  • 2 lb. bag of pre-washed and pre-sliced collard greens
  • 32 oz. carton chicken broth
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • ½ tsp. salt (optional)
  • 1 tsp. pepper
  • cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 dash or two of hot sauce (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)

Instructions

  • In a large pot, cook bacon slices on medium heat until lightly browned. (Don't cook until crispy.)
  • Remove bacon from pot and drain on a plate lined with a paper towel.  Set aside.
  • Leave excess bacon fat in pot. Add butter and chopped onions.
  • Saute' butter and onions over medium low heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. 
  • Gradually add prewashed collards.  Stir, and let wilt for about 5 minutes by covering the pot.  Uncover, then stir again.
  • Turn up the heat to medium and add chicken stock.  Bring collards to a boil. This starts the pot likker.
  • Add garlic, salt and pepper and sugar if desired.
  • Stir well and cook over medium low heat for at least 1 hour until collards are tender, but still crisp.  
  • Continue to cook if collards are not done at this point.  They should be slightly crunchy, but not tough. Different types of collards cook differently, so cook yours until they taste how you prefer.
  • When collards are tender, add bacon back to the pot, along with vinegar and hot sauce.  Turn off heat and stir well.  
  • Allow collards to rest uncovered for 2 minutes before serving.

Notes

  • If your collards aren't pre-sliced they will need more time.  Cook until tender.
  • Serve with extra vinegar and hot sauce if desired!

Nutrition

Calories: 104kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 7g | Fat: 5g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Sodium: 668mg | Potassium: 360mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin C: 42mg | Calcium: 282mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition info is an auto generated estimate.

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16 Comments

  1. Oh Taylor!! I can’t wait to try out your collard greens recipe!! Thanks so much for sharing your recipe with us all!!!

  2. 5 stars
    Collard greens must be in a southerner’s blood. I love the way these taste! Thanks to Taylor, and thanks to you, Debi, for letting me taste them.

  3. That’s almost the way I cook collards. I am a bit more traditionally southern in that I cook ‘em good and done … way more than 30 min. But the chicken stock, vinegar and garlic is the way I’ve always done it. Plus, I blanch ‘em, rinse, and then cook ‘em down. Of course … bacon is the key! You cannot go wrong with bacon.

    1. You’re right, Dewitt…everything’s better with bacon! I cook my collards longer too, but once I tasted Taylor’s recipe, I was hooked on the crunch. I love that you mostly make them the same way… 🙂

  4. 5 stars
    Had these on Christmas Day made by Taylor herself. They are always delicious- but I’m her mom so I’m a little partial. She is a great cook and loves to try new things. She certainly takes after Aunt Debi.

    1. These collards are on the top of my list for New Year’s Day! Can’t wait to make them again! 🙂

  5. Thanks for featuring my Collards Debi! Perfect for New Years Day!! They are one of my favorite things to cook & I hope everyone enjoys them as much as I do 🙂

  6. 5 stars
    Planning to make the collard greens for New Years. Thank you Taylor and Cousin Debi🥰

  7. 5 stars
    This is the best collard greens recipe I’ve found. The bacon adds alot of flavor and so does the butter. My family loves these.

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