Heart and Soul (Food): How To Make The Best Southern Collard Greens

For many eaters throughout the country, southern style collard greens and the vegetable itself are one in the same. The classic southern dish is easily the unofficial spokesperson of soul food, but that doesn’t mean that everyone and their grandmother won’t want to say their two cents on how to make the best collard greens. However, no good “family” recipe is complete without taking some important factors into account. The next time you plan on whipping up some comfort food in your kitchen, ensure that you follow these basic rules.

Start With The Best

The best dishes start with the best ingredients. Always toss any discolored or damaged leaves before you begin working, as defective leaves have the potential to cut down on the overall quality of you dish.

Clean Up

Collard greens have an unfortunate tendency to gather up excess dirt and grit, so it’s integral to give them a thorough wash before using. We’ve found the most effective method to be swishing them repeatedly in a bucket of water and then spin drying. Note that you may need to change out the water and continue rinsing if your collards are exceptionally dirty.

  • Fun Fact: Collards are often grown in sandy soil, which is why they tend to dirtier than other greens!

Add A Mellowing Agent

It’s extremely important to have a mellowing agent in the mix when cooking collard greens, as they can carry some unpleasant bitterness. Traditionally, bacon fat or salt pork is used, but you can easily keep it vegan by substituting in vegetable or coconut oil. If you want to experiment, milk or cream work exceptionally well, but they will change the overall consistency and flavor.

Build Up Your Portfolio

Southern style collard greens rely on a greater unification of flavors to succeed. Aromatic ingredients like onions, garlic, and chili powder are great starting points for building a greater depth of flavor. Don’t stop there though! Classic ingredients like bacon and ham hocks are reused for a reason, but don’t think that collard greens are adverse to experimentation; we’ve seen chefs use beer, smoked pork, and white wine!

Simmer Down

Once all your ingredients have made it into the pot and have been exposed to the first blast of heat, it’s important to drop the temperature down to simmer. To best gauge when you should lower the heat, watch your collards; once they start to wilt, they’re ready for the long haul.

Take Your Time

Though it can be tempting to rush through the cooking process, southern style collard greens really do benefit from a longer cook time. The longer you cook them, the tenderer the finished product will be. We’d recommend at least allotting 1.5 hours of boiling time, but you can extend the cook time to up to 4 hours.