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Southern collard greens with bacon and tomatoes are sweet, spicy, tender, and flavorful! Pair them with cornbread and Hoppin’ John, or offer them alongside roast chickenbuttermilk fried chickenpot roast, or pulled pork for your next Sunday supper!

Long overhead shot of collard greens with bacon in a Dutch oven
Table of Contents
  1. What are collard greens?
  2. Ingredients
  3. How to Cook Collard Greens with Bacon
  4. Serving Suggestions
  5. Storage
  6. Recipe Variations
  7. Tips for the Best Collard Greens with Bacon REcipe
  8. Sweet and Spicy Collard Greens with Bacon Recipe

Southerners love their greens — from turnip greens and mustard greens to kale and collards! While every home cook has her favorite version, these sweet and spicy collard greens with bacon are definitely some of the best.

The recipe stays true to classic flavors, ingredients, and preparation, as the tough greens are slowly braised in a rich pot liquor (or “pot likker”) that’s flavored with smoky meat. Some brown sugar and crushed red pepper flakes add “sweet heat,” onion, tomatoes, and garlic lend more depth of flavor, and vinegar brightens it all up at the end.

What are collard greens?

Collard greens are a type of leafy green vegetable that’s a staple ingredient in kitchens throughout the Southern United States. The plant has dark green leaves and tough stems, and is included in the same family as kale, turnip greens, and mustard greens.

Cooking bacon in a Dutch oven

How to Get the Bitterness Out of Collard Greens

Cooking collard greens slowly over low heat until they’re tender takes some of the bitterness out of the vegetables. Adding salt, acid (such as vinegar), and a touch of sugar also helps to eliminate that bitter taste, giving the dish a more balanced, complex flavor.

Collard Greens Nutrition

Collard greens are a healthy plant that’s loaded with nutrients and fiber, so feel free to dig in. A bowlful of collards is good for the body and good for the soul!

Collard greens contain a lot of vitamin K, and are also rich sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, and manganese. The plant includes calcium and vitamin B6, and a 100-gram serving of collard greens has just 33 calories (source).

Adding onion to a pot

The Best Meat to Put in Collard Greens

We love the smoky flavor that you get from adding bacon to the pot of greens, but you can certainly substitute with other smoky meats. Good options include smoked turkey necks, wings, or drumsticks; a smoked ham hock or a ham bone; or diced country ham.

Process shot showing how to make collard greens with bacon

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a big pot of collard greens with bacon and tomatoes. As always, specific measurements and step-by-step instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Thick-cut bacon: adds smoky flavor to the pot.
  • Sweet onion: use yellow onion or white onion if you prefer.
  • Garlic: for savory flavor.
  • Tomatoes: fresh tomatoes work well when available, or grab a big can of whole tomatoes when the fresh variety isn’t in season.
  • Chicken broth or chicken stock: the liquid that braises the greens.
  • Crushed red pepper flakes: give the greens a spicy kick. Add more or less to suit your personal taste.
  • Apple cider vinegar: we add vinegar to collard greens for extra flavor, to cut through the bitterness, and to brighten up the dish.
  • Light brown sugar: for a hint of sweetness, which also helps to balance any bitterness in the greens and acidity in the tomatoes. Feel free to substitute with granulated sugar, honey, or maple syrup. Adjust the amount to suit your taste.
  • Collard greens: buy pre-washed, pre-chopped greens for a nice shortcut, or see my tips below for cleaning a bunch of greens at home.
  • Kosher salt: to enhance the other flavors in the dish.
Bowl of shredded collard greens

How to Cook Collard Greens with Bacon

These Southern style collard greens are so simple to prepare, and then the stovetop does the work! I’ve included the detailed instructions in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post, but here’s the quick version:

  1. Fry the bacon slices.
  2. Saute the onion and garlic in the bacon grease.
  3. Add tomatoes, broth, and red pepper; then simmer.
  4. Stir in the collard greens, vinegar, brown sugar, and salt.
  5. Cook just until the greens are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
Square overhead shot of collard greens in a Dutch oven

Serving Suggestions

This easy collard greens recipe pairs nicely with just about any Southern feast! It’s a classic side dish to include along with mac and cheese, cornbread or corn sticks, or okra and tomatoes. The greens are especially festive when served for good luck on New Year’s Day! Here are a few main dish options that go well with collard greens:

Southern collard greens with tomatoes and bacon on a turquoise dinner table

Storage

  • Make Ahead: Prepare these collard greens at least 1-2 days in advance. Keep them in the refrigerator and just reheat over low heat on the stovetop when you’re ready to serve them. You can also reheat individual servings in the microwave for 1-2 minutes.
  • Leftover cooked collards will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. 
  • Freeze the collard greens with the pot liquor in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat gently on the stovetop.

Recipe Variations

  • Instead of bacon, add flavor to the collards with a different smoked meat, such as a smoked ham hock, ham bone, smoked sausage, smoked turkey wings, or smoked pork neck bones.
  • Give the greens even more smoky flavor by adding a dash of smoked paprika to the broth.
  • Herbs: add some fresh (or dried) herbs to the pot of beans, such as thyme, oregano, or rosemary.
  • Adjust the amount of red pepper flakes to suit your taste. Add more if you like the greens spicy, or finish with a bit of hot sauce, too.
  • Use honey, granulated sugar, or maple syrup in lieu of the brown sugar. You can also adjust the amount of sweetener to suit your taste.
  • White vinegar, red wine vinegar, or lemon juice will work well as a substitute for the cider vinegar.
Square overhead image of a bowl of collard greens with bacon and tomatoes on a wooden plate

Tips for the Best Collard Greens with Bacon REcipe

  • Buy pre-washed and pre-chopped collard greens for a shortcut.
  • It’s important to clean greens really well before using, since dirt, grit, sand, and soil can get trapped in them. To clean them, fill a sink or large bowl with cold water. Add the greens and swish them around so that any dirt falls to the bottom of the sink. Pull out the greens, rinse out the sink, and repeat the process until the greens are completely clean.
  • If using canned tomatoes, I like to coarsely chop them with kitchen shears as I add them to the pot.
  • Adjust the total cooking time to suit your preferences. I simmer these greens just until tender, which only takes about 15-20 minutes. If you like very broken-down, very tender greens (not at all crisp!), you may like to cook them for up to 2 hours. That’s the beauty of using a Dutch oven (rather than a slow cooker or Instant pot) — you have full control and can easily take them off of the heat when necessary.
Collard greens with bacon and a side of cornbread on a table

More Greens Recipes to Try

Square overhead shot of collard greens in a Dutch oven

Sweet and Spicy Collard Greens with Bacon

5 from 3 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings 6 people
Calories 125 kcal
Sweet, spicy, smoky, and tender — you'll love these collard greens with bacon, tomatoes, and onions!

Ingredients
  

  • 2 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into ¼-inch strips
  • 1 sweet onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed (about 1 ½ teaspoons total)
  • 3 fresh tomatoes (about 1 ½ lbs.), cored and diced, or 1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes, chopped, with their juices
  • 6 cups chicken broth or chicken stock
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more or less, to taste
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ – 2 teaspoons light brown sugar, plus more to taste
  • 1 (16 ounce) bag chopped collard greens, or 1 (1 ½ lb.) bunch collard greens, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped (about 8 cups)
  • Kosher salt, to taste

Instructions

  • Heat a large Dutch oven or other large pot over medium-high heat. Fry the bacon until it’s starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
    Cooking bacon in a Dutch oven
  • Reduce the heat to medium; add the onion. Cook stirring regularly, until the onion softens, about 7-10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 45-60 seconds.
    Adding onion to a pot
  • Add the tomatoes with their juices, broth, and red pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
    Process shot showing how to make collard greens with bacon
  • Return the liquid to a boil. Add the chopped collard greens in batches, waiting until they wilt to add the next batch. Stir in the vinegar, brown sugar, and salt to taste.
    Bowl of shredded collard greens
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until the greens are just tender, about 15-20 minutes. Taste and season with additional red pepper flakes, brown sugar, or salt, if desired.
    Long overhead shot of collard greens with bacon in a Dutch oven

Notes

    • Buy pre-washed and pre-chopped collard greens for a shortcut.
    • It’s important to clean greens really well before using, since dirt, grit, sand, and soil can get trapped in them. To clean them, fill a sink or large bowl with cold water. Add the greens and swish them around so that any dirt falls to the bottom of the sink. Pull out the greens, rinse out the sink, and repeat the process until the greens are completely clean.
    • If using canned tomatoes, I like to coarsely chop them with kitchen shears as I add them to the pot.
    • Adjust the total cooking time to suit your preferences. I simmer these greens just until tender, which only takes about 15-20 minutes. If you like very broken-down, very tender greens (not at all crisp!), you may like to cook them for up to 2 hours. That’s the beauty of using a Dutch oven (rather than a slow cooker or Instant pot) — you have full control and can easily take them off of the heat when necessary.

Nutrition

Serving: 1/6 of the recipeCalories: 125kcalCarbohydrates: 13gProtein: 6gFat: 6gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0.02gCholesterol: 13mgSodium: 975mgPotassium: 453mgFiber: 4gSugar: 7gVitamin A: 4366IUVitamin C: 38mgCalcium: 207mgIron: 1mg
Keyword: collard greens recipe, collard greens with bacon, how to cook collard greens with bacon, Southern collard greens
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Southern
Author: Blair Lonergan
blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

  1. Marion McClung says:

    I’ve recently discovered smoked pork neck bones at my local store. A sizable piece of meat to bone. About the same size and price of a ham hock locally. Another option for smoked meat.

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      They taste great with this recipe!

  2. PORTIA G. says:

    5 stars
    Hi Blair
    The Sweet and Spicy Collard Greens with Bacon looks delicious. I like my greens to cook longer 2+ hours. Should I wait until last hour or 30 minutes to add the canned tomatoes or add them in the beginning like you did for the 15 minutes cooked ones?

    Thanks
    Portia

  3. Cassie says:

    5 stars
    This recipe is amazing! Soooo delicious! I haven’t ever cooked greens before but this recipe was so easy and delicious it’s getting added to my staple menu!

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thank you so much, Cassie! We’re glad it turned out well for you.

  4. Heather Forbes says:

    5 stars
    Unbeatable flavor! The best collards I have ever made! Took them to a potluck last night and they were the biggest hit of the night!

    1. The Seasoned Mom says:

      Thank you so much, Heather! We’re glad they were a hit!