bowl of smoky collard greens

Smoky Collard Greens

January 11, 2022

bowl of smoky collard greens

Did you enjoy good luck greens for New Year’s? Along with Pimento Cheese Cornbread, I had Caribbean inspired Hoppin’ John with coconut milk and citrus and purple kale. I feel lucky.

Long-simmered greens on the stove means winter. My mom cooked a variety of greens—collard, turnip, mustard and kale—with a ham hock. I love ham, but the flavor of smoked turkey is better and gets tastier with storage. My yankee friend Denise taught me to make greens with smoked turkey and I’ve never looked back.

smoked turkey drumstick

Cut the turkey wings or drumstick into several pieces to distribute flavor.

Greens, along with beans and cornbread, are soul foods. Most folks raised in the south have had at least one soulful dish, perhaps without realizing they are paying homage to African American southern heritage. We have been enriched and blessed to enjoy these delicious eats.

Are Long Cooked Greens a Thing of The Past?

Length of time is a deterrent for many cooks. Three to five hours simmering time is normal, according to the southern cooks I consulted after moving back to Richmond. Who has time? Same yankee friend to the rescue. She now cooks her greens for 45 minutes after blanching. Shocked? Me, too. Gadgets like the insta-pot are not on my kitchen counter, so I rely on large dutch ovens. This new and improved method yields tender, smoky greens in a fraction of the cooking time.

collard greens

Fall and winter are the best time for picking tender greens.

how to cut collard leaf

Cut the center tough stem and use for cooking separately, as compost or for feeding your neighbor’s chickens!

stacks of collard leaves

Cut lengthwise along the trimmed leaves and cut these stacks into large pieces.


Sometimes folks cook their greens with onion, although I prefer adding onion after the fact. Not just raw onion, but quick pickled red onion which can also be used to top salads and grilled proteins. Any left may also be used to make a delicious vinaigrette which keeps well in your fridge for weeks.

quick pickled red onion

Quick pickled red onion is versatile and keeps well in the fridge.

Don’t be discouraged when you see the massive pile of picked greens. After blanching, the mound gets smaller and even smaller still after simmering with smoked turkey. Ah, smoked turkey. I prefer wings, but will get along fine with a fat drumstick. With either, cut them into pieces for best flavor distribution. Wing meat is easier to pull after cooking, but you may need kitchen shears to cut drumstick meat.

How much does this recipe make? A mess o’ greens. They are tasty, easy and equally important, that pile can feed you for days.

Smoky Collard Greens

recipe by Michele Humlan, The Good Eats Company

makes a mess o’ greens


one medium red onion, sliced thinly
kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup red wine vinegar
3-4 large bunches collard greens, rinsed
several smoked turkey wings or one large smoked turkey drumstick


  1. For quick pickled red onion, combine red onion, sugar, red wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons kosher salt in shallow nonreactive dish and let stand, tossing every 10-15 minutes, at least one hour; may be made several days ahead.*
  2. Remove center thick stem from collard leaves (compost, cook separately or give to friend who keeps chickens), cut leaves vertically several times, stack pieces and cut coarse chunks.
  3. If using wings, cut at joints to make several pieces of each one, and if using drumstick, slice off several pieces of meat.
  4. Bring large amount of water to boil with one tablespoon kosher salt in covered heavy stockpot.
  5. Add half the collard greens, tamping them down into the water.
  6. When water returns to boil and greens appear wilted, use slotted spoon or kitchen spider to remove them to a container.
  7. Replace cover on pot, and when water returns to boil add rest of greens, tamping down and removing them with slotted spoon when wilted.
  8. Pour off all but about 1 ½ cups water, then add back greens, scattering pieces of smoked turkey between layers.
  9. Cover, bring to boil, then simmer over low heat about 45 minutes until tender.
  10. No need to add salt until fully cooked since smoked turkey adds salt and flavor.
  11. Pull out turkey and pull meat off wings or use kitchen shears to cut as much meat as you are able from the drumstick.
  12. After mixing all together again, adjust seasoning.
  13. Tastes best when allowed to chill overnight, and will last for several days in the fridge.
  14. At serving time, top with pickled red onion.

*Any left may be used to top salads, make salad dressing or as garnish for other vegetables.



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