Collard greens with smoked turkey


So here’s the thing, you either make good greens or you don’t. I certainly don’t want my peeps to be on the “nasty greens” list, so this Collard greens with smoked turkey recipe is here to help you get through the holidays and Sunday dinner like the chef you are! Before I walk you through the recipe, I would be remiss if I didn’t share a little bit about the history of collard greens and the why they are so important to African Americans.

Collard greens are a time-honored tradition that runs deep in the hearts and souls of African Americans. While collard greens have been cooked for centuries, the Southern style of cooking of greens came with the arrival of African slaves to the southern colonies and the need to satisfy their hunger and provide food for their families.  Though greens did not originate in Africa, the habit of eating greens that have been cooked down into a low gravy, and drinking the juices from the greens (known as “pot likker”) is of African origin.  The slaves of the plantations were given the leftover food from the plantation kitchen.  Some of this food consisted of the tops of turnips and other greens.  Ham hocks and pig’s feet were also given to the slaves.  Forced to create meals from these leftovers, they created the famous southern greens.  The slave diet began to evolve and spread when slaves entered the plantation houses as cooks.  Their African dishes, using the foods available in the region they lived in, began to evolve into present-day Southern cooking.

I’ll admit, prior to making greens I didn’t really know much about the history aside from collard greens being a traditional southern dish. I also wasn’t familiar with the term “Pot Likker”, which we now now is the juices from the greens when they cook down with the smoked meat. But what I do know is, I’m thankful for my Black History and that the tradition of slow cooked greens that runs deep in our hearts and kitchens. 

Collard greens with smoked turkey

Step 1 – Clean 

Before you can cook your greens, you need to clean them very well. Collard greens grow in dirt and sand so it’s important to remove all debris before cooking. The best way in my opinion is to place the greens in your CLEAN sink and submerge them in cold water and 1 tablespoon of vinegar. Cold water is important because you don’t want the greens to wilt. Let them soak for about an hour. After an hour, rinse them with more cold water while draining the water that they have been soaking in. Keep washing/rinsing until the the greens are clean. Once I think the greens are clean, I fill the sink with cold water one more time and let the greens soak for another 10 minutes or so. Take a clear glass cup and dip it in the water. If the water in the glass is clear then your greens are clean and ready to be dried and cut. If the water is still murky, they are not clean. **If you don’t want to spend a couple hours cleaning greens, feel free to use the prepared collard greens that come in the bag. They are already cut and cleaned.**

Step 2- Cut

Once the collard greens are cleaned, you can pat them down with paper towel to absorb some of the water. So you can cut your greens 2 ways…

Method 1: remove the thick stem and place a few greens on top of each other (stacked), roll them horizontally, and cut into small pieces.

Method 2: remove the thick stem and fold the greens in half and tear them into small pieces.

I prefer method 1 because they look so pretty when they are perfectly cut, but I usually end up tearing them.

Step 3 – Cooking the meat

So traditional Southern greens have some type of meat such as smoked turkey necks, legs, tails and of course ham hocks. We are using smoked turkey tails in this recipe but you can use whatever you prefer, you just want a meaty cut of smoke meat. So start off by rinsing your smoked turkey tails with cold water. I found these at Wegmans and they came 4 per pack. Once I’ve have rinsed them, they go into a large pot and I cover with water.  Then you will place the lid on and cook on medium high for 30-35 minutes or until they are fork tender. Carefully remove the meat from the pot and use 2 forks to pull the meat off the bone. 

Collard greens with smoked turkey

Step 4 – Cooking the greens

Add the oil, brown brown sugar, Worcestershire Sauce, vinegar, greens, onions, and about 4 and 1/2 cups of water to the pot. Add the smoked turkey meat back into the pot and stir everything together.  Let the greens cook down for about an hour and a half and then add the dry seasonings. Cook for another 30 minutes and they are done. Drizzle some hot sauce on them for extra heat and enjoy!

Collard greens with smoked turkey

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Collard greens with smoked turkey

Collard greens with smoked turkey

  • Author: Jaylynn Little
  • Prep Time: 45 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 hours
  • Total Time: 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Cuisine: American


Easy Southern style collard greens made with smoked turkey tails!


Units Scale

68 smoked turkey tails

5 bunches collard greens

4 and 1/2 cups water

1 small onion, diced

1 tablespoon oil (vegetable, avocado, bacon grease, use whatever you have)

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 tablespoon creole seasoning

2 teaspoons crush red pepper


  1. Rinse the smoked turkey tails and place them in large pot with just enough water to cover the turkey tails. Place the lid on the pot and cook on medium heat until the turkey tails are tender, about 35 minutes.
  2. Remove the smoked turkey from the pot and using 2 forks, remove the meat from the bone, set aside.
  3. Add the collard greens, diced onion, smoked turkey meat, and water to the pot. Pour the water in along the sides of the pot.
  4. Add the oil, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and apple cider vinegar to the pot and stir everything together, cover the pot and cook the greens on medium hear for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  5. Add in the dry seasonings, mix well and cook for another 30 minutes or until tender and enjoy!

Keywords: Collard greens, how to cook collard greens


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