This Southern Collard Greens Recipe with Smoked Turkey is the best collard greens recipe and awesome as a holiday side dish or for New Year’s Day. Adding a smoked turkey leg is the best way to infuse additional flavor during the cooking process versus using a ham hock. This is a delicious side dish with southern roots and great flavor.
First things first. This easy collard greens recipe is inspired by our friend Lynn while we were visiting her home over a holiday. She shared with us her families collards recipe, which had three factors that contributed to their amazingness and rooted in Southern cooking. The secrets to this easy recipe:
- Use fresh collards
- Massage the greens to break the cells and get a nice texture
- Use smoked turkey versus a ham hock
What Are Collard Greens?
Collard Greens are a member of the cabbage family. That means for a collards recipe, the leafy greens will have thick stems, and dense leaves. When buying collard greens at grocery stores it’s important too look for good color (vibrant green leaves) and hearty stems. They should not be wilted or browning. That is a sign they have been picked for a while and won’t be great for any dish.
Farmers markets are a great place to find fresh greens or any leafy green. Alternatively you can sub mustard greens as well for this recipe and use the same ingredients and steps.
- Fresh Collard Greens
- Turkey leg or thigh
- Olive Oil (for the turkey leg or thigh)
- Poultry Seasoning
- Red Onion
- 3 cups Chicken Broth or Stock
- Apple Cider Vinegar, (white vinegar works well too)
- Worcestershire Sauce
- Kosher salt
- Garlic Powder
- Cayenne Pepper or Red Pepper Flakes
And hot sauce for the finishing touch – preferably Crystal for this recipe.
Collards will have tough stems and tough leaves. In order to break down and prepare the greens for the simmer you need to remove the stems and discard or compost and massage the leaves so the cells get crushed and allow them to get a nice texture after they have simmered.
- Rinse in cold water and dry the bunch.
- Remove the harder portion of the stem by cutting up and around the thicker stalk. A sharp paring knife is perfect for this recipe. As you cut along the edge of the thick stem it will eventually soften mid way up the green. From there cut down along the harder stem and compost it.
- Take a handful of the greens and roll them up into a cigar like roll. From there use your hands to gently roll and massage the greens. By doing this, it is breaking down some of the dense fiber of the greens which will help with a tender braised green.
- Slice the rolled greens into thin strips.
Smoked Turkey Leg
Most recipes for collard greens will use a ham hock. Ham hocks are a great alternative as well and add a more pork-like flavor. But we absolutely love the smoked turkey leg for this (and very appropriate for the holidays).
If using turkey you can buy a pre-smoked turkey leg (or thigh). BUT in our experience (and we used to take this short cut ALL the time, especially for our smoked turkey gravy), store-bought smoked turkey legs are pretty flavorless and don’t add much magic to your end product. And you want the magic, right?
- Just buy an uncooked, unsmoked, turkey leg, season it liberally, and smoke it at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until the internal temperature is 160 degrees.
- Can’t find a leg? Use a thigh. This can take anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours depending on the size of the turkey thigh.
You can do this in advance (hours or even days) prior to making your greens, which is great when prepping for a holiday meal.
Then use that smoked turkey leg to infuse your greens as the greens braise.
How To Cook Collard Greens
With the smoked turkey done, and the collards prepped, it’s now time to create a broth and then braise the greens. The vinegar is an important flavor profile and gives a great backbone to the dish.
- In a large stock pot (or Dutch Oven) over medium, sauté and soften onions. This will take roughly 6 minutes. We find red onions give the most flavor, but yellow or sweet onions are great alternatives.
- Add the stock, apple cider vinegar, spices, and Worcestershire to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
- Once the broth is simmering add the smoked turkey leg and continue at a low simmer for one hour. The simmering will infuse the broth with the smoky flavor, and keep the turkey tender.
- Finally add the chopped greens into the simmering pot and stir to mix, then cover. Be sure to keep the pot at the lowest heat possible for a simmer and stir every 15 minutes. We don’t want to break the greens, just braise them. The greens should be tender and full of flavor after an hour. Salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve in your favorite bowl and shred the turkey for some added topping.
Storing and Making in Advance
You can make this ahead of any large meal. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When ready to reheat add back into a large sauce pan over medium-high heat and bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to a low simmer for 5 minutes. Then it’s ready to serve.
Holiday Main Dishes
Some of our favorite roasts are a great complement to this dish.
- Smoked Turkey
- Turkey Breast with Maple Glaze
- Double Smoked Ham with Cherry Glaze
- Smoked Ham with Brown Sugar Glaze
More Holiday Side Dish Recipes
- Grilled Brussels Sprouts
- Maple Glazed Carrots on the Grill
- Grilled Green Beans
- Smoked Sausage, Caramelized Onion, and Cornbread Stuffing
- Grilled Sweet Potatoes
- Mashed Smoked Sweet Potatoes
We definitely encourage you to add this dish to your inventory and we are grateful to Lynn for sharing with us an amazing recipe with strong family traditions.
This post was originally shared in March of 2016 and updated in November 2020 with new photos, side dishes, and details for recipe steps.
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