My Collard Greens Recipe

Last week I promised to give you my recipe for the best collard greens that the world has ever known. I’d like to take credit for this recipe, but actually, it came from my mother, Sarah Windham. I’ve never had a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner without collard greens. That’s just how we eat at Windham’s Crossroads. So here goes.

The first step is selecting your collards. We are fortunate that we can just go out into our garden and cut some.

Lucy came out to help. If you don’t have a garden, I suggest that you buy your collards at your local farmer’s market. You may even find a farmer selling collards out of the back of his pickup truck by the side of the road. If you see that, pull over. At the last resort, you can buy them in a bag at your grocery store, but I never have.

Lucy and I cut two bunches this morning after our very first substantial frost last night. I’ve always heard that collards are best after a frost. I’m here to tell you that I cooked some last week that were very good, but not nearly as good as the ones that have been touched by frost.

The first thing I do is to de-stem the leaves. I remember going to a gourmet restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina. I ordered some collard greens as a side dish, and the waiter brought a green glob of something with huge stems in it. I called the waiter over and said, “The chef ain’t from around here, is he?” Oh well, I digress.

I usually do this outside at the picnic table. Using a paring knife, I make a cut on each side of the stem.

You can throw away the stems, but I put mine in our compost bin.

Then I hand the de-stemmed leaves to Jane. She takes them into the house and puts them into the sink.

She rinses them with cool water. Our collards are clean, but sometimes you will need to wash them twice to remove all sand or grit.

Now take 4 or 5 leaves and stack them together. Roll them up like you’re making a big, fat cigar.

Rolling the leaves speeds up the process of cutting the collards.

Cut the roll every 1/2 inch, giving you strips of collards.

Now get out your largest pot. I use a 10 quart pot. You are going to need something to season the collard greens.

I use fatback (sometimes called salt pork.) Some folks use a smoked ham hock, others use bacon. Once when I was dieting, I used a beef bouillon cube (I won’t do that again!)

Put about 4 or 5 slices of fatback in the bottom of the pot. You need to render some of the fat out of the fatback by cooking it for a few minutes on high. Leaving the strips in, fill the pot about half full of water.

Bring the water to a boil and add some of the collards to the pot. You won’t be able to get all the greens into the pot at one time. Let them cook down a bit and add some more.

Keep pushing them down into the liquid until they are all in the pot.

Add salt, black pepper, and garlic salt to taste. Continue to boil for about 30 minutes, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.

How do you know when they are done? Pull out a strip and taste it. It should be tender and taste good!

Put them into a colander and let them drain. Cooked collards won’t win any beauty contests! Remove and dispose of the fatback.

By now your whole house smells like cooked collards. Some people don’t like that smell, but I do. Smells like home to me.

While they are draining, get out a large frying pan. Do not use a nonstick pan because you will be cutting the collards in the pan.

Fry a half pound of bacon. Remove the bacon, and put the collards into the pan with the bacon grease. Reduce the heat to medium. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons of sugar onto the collards.

Cut the collards into smaller pieces in a criss-cross fashion. Don’t get lazy here. You need to cut them thoroughly. Let the collards cook until all the water has evaporated. Be careful not to burn the collards, and stir them occasionally. When all the water is gone, they are ready.

To serve, put the collards in a bowl and crumble the bacon on top.

After they’ve been plated (I heard that term on Food Network) add a touch of vinegar to enhance the flavor. I prefer to use homemade hot pepper vinegar.  What do you serve with collards? Tonight we had country ribs and rice and a baked sweet potato.  That’s about as Southern as it gets. When you look at a plate like that, it makes your tongue slap your brains out trying to get to it. Now that’s good eating!

I’m joining:


Live from Windham’s Crossroads,





  1. Becky Dodson says

    Hey, Leo! I LOVE collards, but my husband and boys won’t go near them. How ’bout I just join you for Sunday lunch? I live about an hour away, so I’ll be there around 1, OK? LOL

    These look delicious, but a lot of work for just me!

  2. sue says

    looks delicious I’ve never made them before (I’m a northern transplant to Georgia!) ! Leo you are the best blogger! I just think your posts are great! Good eating I say!

  3. Doug says

    Hey Leo!
    I grow the Morris Heading Collards too and mine are about the same size right now as well. I’ll have to try your method. I saute an onion with 4 cloves of garlic then simmer 4 or 5 ham hocks in vegetable stock for 3 or 4 hours and then add the collards.

  4. Becky Berry says

    Thank you! Pretty much the same way I do mine! Love going back in time to Sarah’s table and eating some of the best food ever! It is great to see you living in the home place! Sarah and Woodrow have to be smiling and so happy!! :)

  5. says

    Hey Leo…Wish your mom were still here to see this..:} I still remember coming into the house when we were in high school…Still miss your Dad too..If ya going to play golf…play by the rules he said..LOL Have a good one…

  6. Gwen Franklin says

    I cook them the same way, minus the water. After frying out the fatback, I just through in the collards ( grease will be popping and sizzling ) and stir. I put as many as the pot will hold, put lid on and simmer. Delicious!!

  7. Jean Windham says

    Nothing brings back memories like reading about collards. Mother was a wonderful cook and I actually learned how to cook them from my Mother but I did change some after Mrs. Windham shared her recipe with me. Adding the bacon was a good touch. Thank you Leo and Jane for sharing this recipe for all to enjoy.

  8. says

    Leo, I was checking out behind a very well-heeled appearing lady (looked northern) at Boone Hall yesterday and she was buying a mess of collards and a bottle of white wine. Wanted to ask but didn’t.

    Pam likes your recipe. She’d never had collards til moving South…now she loves’em.

  9. Sylvia says

    Just found your blog. We are originally from the South and love collards. That meal sounds beyond fabulous. Wow, takes me home without the 12+ hour flight/drive/airport time.

  10. Joe Moore (jomo from the morning drive)) says

    Deb wants to know what time we need to be there for the next cooking…..She hardly eats other peoples greens but she says she`s ready to try these…..We grew up listening to you and Woody,so we feel like family.If we don`t get an invite we`ll try to duplicate your recipe and let you know how it turns out.Thank you for post.
    Joe Moore

  11. says

    I LOVE collards! I planted them for the very first time this spring. They are extraordinarily prolific! We planted 6 small plants and we have fed our whole end of the county it seems! I am not from the south, so I have been relying on Paula Deen’s recipe and my family loves them. Now I am giving your collard recipe a try! I almost pulled mine up. Good to know that they taste better after a frost. YUMMY!
    Great post!

  12. says

    I’m a little embarrassed to say that I’ve never had them, but I’ve wanted to. After seeing this I want to try them even more so.


    p/s love the way you rolled up the leaves into cigar shapes to!

  13. says

    I have never. had. collard. greens.
    I feel extremely left out.
    Cracker Barrel is as Southern as we can get here in Montana, but I’m guessing that even if they serve collard greens, they probably don’t compare to these!

  14. Gloria says

    I have to tell you a funny. When my daughter moved into her own apt., BLESS HER HEART, she had a can of collard greens that she was going to cook, so she called me and said, “Mom, what do you do to collards when you ‘lookum’?” I just died laughing and told her that I was saying “look them”. She thought maybe it was something like sautee them. She had heard me say that I loved collards but I did not like to cook collards because you had to “look um”. Folks, that’s as southern as you can get. Of course we still have a good laugh every time we eat collards.

  15. ann says

    Your plate looks fantastic!! I prepare my collards the same way. Learned it from my mom and grandma. My grandma always said “they ain’t no good til the first frost has kissed em!” I believe her wholeheartedly!

  16. says

    I just love the photo of your dog in the Collards. We grow Collards and there is nothing better than a great pot of Collards cooking on the stove. Your recipe looks awesome! Thank you for sharing and have a wonderful week!
    Miz Helen

  17. Glo says

    Leo, I never pour the water off after the collards have cooked. That is what we call pot liquor and it is wonderful with cornbread in it. We grew up eating it because there was no baby food in 1937 !!!

  18. says

    We love collards! We add some onion & red pepper flakes to ours and had a plate of them couple of weeks ago with a side of pinto beans & cornbread :)

  19. says

    One of my favorite things to eat! I cook them using my Grandmother’s recipe, but I have never thought of finishing them in a pan with the bacon grease. I’m going to try it next time. Drop by my blog sometime!

  20. says

    This is not something I would have ever thought to do with the greens. How sweet of you to post the recipe. We cook very different in the north.


  21. Kathy says

    This is my first visit to your blog and I LOVE it. I’ll be back and looking forward to more news from you. I am a southern girl too, so your blog reminds me so much of my grandparents farm and fun times I had as a child.

  22. jackie nichols says

    I love dem collards!!! Tell Jane I said hello!! Haven’t seen her in years and years —
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  23. Randi says

    These look wonderful! I just had a mess of collards for dinner last night, along with some soup beans, onions and cornbread. Ate the leftovers today. Have you ever pressure canned collards? I can turnip and mustard greens, poke and creasies, but have never tried collards. This might be the year, especially since all the other canned ones are gone except the poke.

  24. Charli Lopez says

    I sure do wish that I could grow collard greens in my backyard. Every time I get them growing Mr. Rabbit comes along and eats them. I have tried fencing around them and a few other tactics but I guess he loves them just as much as I do. Can’t wait to try this recipe.
    Thank you!

  25. Terri says

    Looks “delish” and pretty much prepared the exact same way my Mom cooked hers….she was born and raised on a small farm in South Georgia…. no better eating than vegetables right out of the garden!!!! Thanks for taking the time to give us a step by step!!! Of course, the humor did not go un-noticed either!!!! LOLOLOL

  26. Jule McDowell says

    This recipe looks like a good one. I’ll use ham hocks for saltiness and final topping at table, but salt pork/side meat starts yours off right. Nice work, Leo!


  1. […] Here in South Carolina we plant our fall garden right around Labor Day. Lucy and I have decided that we’re going to plant lettuce, cabbage, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and of course, collards. Here is a link to my now famous collard greens recipe. […]

  2. […] Since we like collards so much, we’ve planted quite a few of those. Collard plants are frost tolerant. In fact, they say collards are only good after being “touched by frost.”  Here’s my favorite recipe for cooking fresh collards. […]

  3. […] I think it’s important when decorating with neutrals that you have a variety of textures.  So to bring in some additional texture, I used a wide piece of burlap ribbon in the middle of the table to serve as a mini-table runner. I also like the juxtaposition of the linen and burlap, mixing formal with casual.  I found the little turkey bowls at Walmart, and they really aren’t meant to be candle holders, but that’s how I used them.  The two turkeys will be the only ones on our table, because we don’t eat turkey at Thanksgiving! Leo is allergic to all fowl so we have some non-traditional food on our table along with some traditional foods such as sweet potatoes and Leo’s famous collards. […]

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