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Southern Collard Greens Recipe with Ham Hocks

Seasoned and slow simmered, southern collard greens transform from sturdy to tender with deep flavors of smoky ham hock, broth, and spices. Set aside some time for these because they’re worth it!

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A bowl full of southern collard greens with ham hocks.

Yes you can eat collard greens from a can and I’d even argue that they aren’t that bad. But if you have the time to do better, homemade is wonderful and that slow cooked flavor is unmatched.

What are collard greens?

This southern staple comes from the brassica family, the edible members of which are known as cruciferous vegetables. Collards are a simple leafy green jam-packed with health benefits.

In classic southern cuisine, collard greens are cooked low and slow in broth or water and served as a delicious side dish.

What do collard greens taste like?

Raw collard greens are quite bitter. They taste a tiny bit like a cabbage maybe? It’s hard to describe their raw flavor. They are almost without exception served after being seasoned and cooked for a long while at a low temperature.

This process removed much of their inherent bitterness and after cooking their flavor transforms into something savory and smooth.

What are the health benefits of collard greens?

The main health benefit of this mighty vegetable is its fiber content. Fiber is important in promoting healthy digestion but that’s not all. It can also be helpful in balancing blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol.

They are also loaded with vitamins C and A, both of which are beneficial for your immune system. Vitamin C also plays a role in blood cell health.

Here’s what you’ll need…

  • Fresh collards
  • Ham hock
  • Garlic powder
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Onion
  • Paprika
  • Water
  • Salt

Collard Greens vs Kale. How are they different?

Like collard greens, kale is a cruciferous vegetable. Both are fibrous and lend a hefty punch of nutritional benefits, but they do have their differences.

While kale is richer in iron, collard greens are higher in fiber and protein. Collard greens are also lower in calories. Flavor-wise, kale has a bit more of a bite to it than collard greens do but both are delicious. 

How to clean and prepare collard greens

You can find collard greens in the store fresh or canned. In either case, it is important to properly clean and prepare them before cooking. Here’s how to do it. 

  • Fresh collard greens. Soak the greens in cold water for several minutes, giving them a good swish or two to remove any dirt. Drain and pat dry with a paper towel. Remove the stems (they are very fibrous and require a separate cooking strategy) and slice the greens into strips. 
  • Canned collard greens. Drain the liquid from the greens before using them in a recipe. Transfer the contents of the can to a strainer, rinse with cold water, and let it sit over the sink for several minutes. 

What to do with the stems of collard greens

The stems of collard greens are very tough and fibrous. Cooking them softens them enough to make them palatable.

Cover the stems in water or broth and cook at a rolling boil until they become tender. Add them to the cooked greens or enjoy them separately. This recipe from Food and Wine for braised stems would be different!

Boil the ham hock for collards first

It’s the best use of your time to start your hock before you do anything else. Ham hocks are very tough and will need time to get tender. Cover yours in about six cups of water and simmer 45 minutes to soften it.

A ham hock in a pot full of water.
A ham hock boiling in water.

How to prepare collard greens for cooking

  1. Tear or cut away the thick stems of your collards. You just need to get the thickest part that runs about halfway up the leaves. You can use a knife like I did here or just fold them in half, grab the stem with one hand and use the other to strip off the leaf.
Taking the stem out of collard greens.
Stemming collard greens.

2) Once the stems are out, stack several leaves and roll them loosely. Cut strips about 1/2″ to 1″ wide.

A knife slicing collard greens on a cutting board.
Collard greens sliced on a cutting board.
Collard greens in a bowl.

Putting your collard greens with ham hock together

Once the hock is tender and the collards are ready, put the leaves into the pot along with the other seasonings. Return it to the stove and simmer at least two hours covered.

Cooking collard greens with onions and seasoning.

Does this work with mustard greens or mixed greens?

Yes. You can cook any fresh green with this method.

How to store collard greens

Allow the cooked collard greens to cool to room temperature before sealing them in an airtight container and storing them in the refrigerator. They will be good for up to 4 days.

It might be tempting to freeze these tasty greens, but I advise against it. They just don’t thaw well and will be overly soft and mushy.

finished collard greens in a bowl on a table with salt and pepper

How do I cook canned collard greens?

Full confession: I love store bought canned greens. I find all they need is to be put in a pot and simmered until heated then a drizzle of apple cider vinegar and salt rounds things out.

You can simmer them in some broth if you’d like to as well but I don’t find it necessary.

Make collard greens in advance for maximum flavor

Collard greens with ham hocks thrive on being made in advance. You can make these in the morning and let them sit all day then reheat for dinner.

They can also be made up to five days in advance, kept in the fridge and reheated. The flavors just get deeper and more balanced with time.

What to serve southern style collard greens with

Collard greens with ham hocks are so versatile that the list of goodies they go well with is practically endless. Here are some of my favorite ways to serve them.

  • As a side to a protein main. Serve collard greens with my Grilled Baby Back Ribs or Southern Fried Chicken Legs.  
  • Along with another starchy side. I particularly enjoy this flavorful side with my Southern Cornbread or this glorious Baked Macaroni and Cheese
  • As added vegetable matter in soups, stir-fries, and casseroles.
  • On their own…with a twist. These collard greens are delicious as is, but I enjoy drizzling a bit of apple cider vinegar over them and sprinkling them with a bit of sea salt.
A bowl full of southern collard greens with ham hocks.

Southern Collard Greens with Ham Hock

Prep Time 25 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours 45 minutes
Total Time 3 hours 10 minutes
Servings 10 people
Author Rachel Ballard



  • In a 7 quart stock pot, add six cups of water and the ham hock.
  • Cover and simmer 45 minutes until the hock is just about tender.
  • While the hock simmers, prepare your collards. Pull or cut out the tough stems from the leaves. If your collards are very gritty, soak them in a large bowl or sink of water until the grit falls to the bottom.
  • Dry the collards lightly if washing then stack three or four and roll them up like a cigar. Slice into 1/2-1" thick slices and set them aside.
  • Once the ham hock is more tender, add the collards, onion, garlic, paprika, salt and vinegar to the pot and 1-2 cups more water. Just enough to cover the collards by an inch or so.
  • Cover and simmer 2 hours until the greens are tender. You can take the lid off and simmer down some of the pot liquor if you'd like less. Adjust seasoning with more salt or vinegar after you've simmered down the liquid.
  • Shred the meat from the ham hock and add it to the pot before serving or on individual bowls.


Note 1: Sea salt is less salty than table salt. If you are using table salt, start with half as much and adjust seasonings after the collards have cooked and the pot liquor has reduced. If you add additional salt before the liquor reduces it could end up too concentrated after cooking. 


Serving: 1cupCalories: 87kcalCarbohydrates: 5gProtein: 8gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gCholesterol: 19mgSodium: 414mgPotassium: 266mgFiber: 4gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 4602IUVitamin C: 32mgCalcium: 220mgIron: 1mg
Tried this recipe?Tag us on Instagram @feastandfarm and hashtag it #feastandfarm
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American, Southern
Keyword collard greens, collard greens recipe, collard greens with ham hocks, how to cook collard greens, southern collard greens

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About the Author

Rachel Ballard, RN, BSN brings more than 20 years of professional nursing expertise to Feast and Farm. With a love for nutrient dense foods that support wellness, she works to distill complex health information and current trends into recipes that fuel the best version of yourself. Read more about Rachel here.