Collard Greens: Step-by-Step

Difficulty Level is 2 (on a Scale of 1 to 5)
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Figure 7

If you aren't familiar with the different varieties of greens grown and cooked in the south, please try this simple recipe for the favorite and very nutritious, dark green, leafy vegetable we call "collards."


  • 1 bunch collard greens
  • water
  • salt pork or butter
  • salt to taste
  • Pepper Sauce (optional)


Like most leafy greens, collards are sold in bunches. Look for large, dark green, unspotted leaves.

Cut off the stalks about 3 inches from the root end to separate the leaves (Figure 1).

The center stem and vein can be tough, so remove these with a sharp knife (Figure 2).

Wash greens thoroughly. Stack the clean leaves together and cut them into 4" or 5" pieces (Figure 3).

Put greens into a large pot (they will cook way down so don't worry if the pot seems too full) and cover the greens with water (Figure 4).

The traditional cooks toss in a piece of salt pork or fatback for that familiar southern flavor (Figure 5). No need to add additional salt if you use salt pork! For the faint of heart, substitute 2 or 3 tablespoons of salted butter for the salt pork, and some additional salt to suit your taste.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook uncovered 20 to 40 minutes. Cooking time depends on the tenderness of the leaves and the cook's personal preference. Recently I forgot about a simmering pot of collards until they had cooked for almost 2 hours. They were delicious, but a little too mushy for me. Drain, adjust seasoning if necessary, and serve hot (Figure 6). They are often served with pepper sauce (a jar of pickled hot peppers-Figure 7).


The leftover liquid found in the pot after cooking collards is called "potlikker." It is full of vitamins and nutrients and when sopped up with cornbread, it is a meal in itself.

Georgia's own Zell Miller wrote the following letter to The New York Times about a 1982 story on "pot liquor," prompting them to print the following correction:

In an article on Senate debates on food that ran on this page Feb. 10, mention was made of a 1935 filibuster in which Huey Long lectured his colleagues on the merits of potlikker. Due to an unfortunate consultation with a dictionary, that great Southern delicacy was referred to as "pot liquor," prompting the following communication from a regional authority on the subject:

Dear Sir:
I always thought The New York Times knew everything, but obviously your editor knows as little about spelling as he or she does about Appalachian cooking and soul food.

Only a culinarily-illiterate damnyankee (one word) who can't tell the difference between beans and greens would call the liquid left in the pot after cooking greens ''pot liquor'' (two words) instead of ''potlikker'' (one word) as yours did. And don't cite Webster as a defense because he didn't know any better either.''
ZELL MILLER, Lieutenant Governor State of Georgia

Published: February 23, 1982, The New York Times