These Southern greens with ham hocks are slowly simmered in a spice-infused pot liquor until meltingly tender. Come to understand why they’re such a Southern staple.Angie Zoobkoff

A large stock pot filled with Southern greens with ham hocks and chopped onions.

Southern Greens with Ham Hocks

4.67 / 3 votes
These Southern greens with ham hocks are coaxed to enticingness by slowly simmering sturdy greens such as collards, kale, chard, and mustard greens with ham hocks or bacon, onions, and spices until meltingly tender.
David Leite
Servings8 servings
Calories319 kcal
Prep Time45 minutes
Cook Time1 hour
Total Time1 hour 45 minutes


  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 large onions, diced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 (about 1 lb) smoked ham hock or a piece of slab bacon
  • 4 to 6 cups water
  • 4 pounds mixed cooking greens, such as collards, kale, chard, and mustard greens, tough stems discarded, washed and roughly chopped into 2-inch-wide (5-cm) strips
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar


  • In a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, season generously with salt and pepper, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  • Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, mustard powder crushed red pepper, cayenne, and paprika, and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the ham hock and water and bring to a boil. Adding more water will result in more pot liquor, which some people simply can’t get enough of!
  • Add the greens a handful at a time, pushing them down with a wooden spoon to help them wilt into the liquid. When all the greens are in the pot, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until the greens are very tender, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
  • Taste the broth adjust seasoning as needed, then stir in the vinegar.
  • Serve immediately. The cooked greens will keep, refrigerated in their liquid, for up to 3 days. Reheat before serving.


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Serving: 1 portionCalories: 319 kcalCarbohydrates: 13 gProtein: 11 gFat: 26 gSaturated Fat: 9 gMonounsaturated Fat: 11 gTrans Fat: 0.2 gCholesterol: 45 mgSodium: 460 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2017 David Tanis. Photo © 2017 Evan Sung. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

I made this as a side for Thanksgiving Day dinner, but this dish will work well any time you want to add a bit of Southern flair to your menu. The ham hock (or any type of smoked ham that you choose to use) adds a bit of smokiness and the cayenne a hint of heat.

I used a combination of collards, kale, rainbow chard, and beet greens. They started out as tough and leathery but in about an hour were deliciously tender. I made 1 1/2 times the recipe, which nicely served my crowd of 13 with a small amount for leftovers.

There was quite a bit of broth at the end of the cooking period and so I removed about 2 cups which I saved with some of the greens and ham bits for a delicious lunch.

The smell of these greens slow-cooking on the stove with a smoked ham hock really brought me back to my grandmother’s kitchen in Mississippi. When we gathered around her table for a Sunday supper, there was always a pot of greens on the menu accompanied by a jar of homemade pepper sauce. Something about this specific smell is both super comforting and inviting!

That’s what initially drew me to this recipe–the familiarity and also the intriguing mixture of spices. Not just seasoned with salt and pepper, these greens are cooked in a fragrant mixture of paprika, dry mustard, a pinch of cayenne, crushed red peppers, garlic, and tomato paste, all of which flavor the greens themselves, but also the beloved pot liquor. I let my greens cook at a low simmer for 1 1/2 hours–the longer the better, I think. They were perfectly wilted and flavored at this point, and the liquid was perfect for dipping as well.

I designed our dinner menu around these greens as a side dish and served them with cornbread and a Creole seafood court-bouillon over white rice.

For this amount of greens to wilt and melt into liquid, I really think you need between 6 to 8 cups of water. (Especially if you want pot liquor to dip bread into.)

I like the addition of the vinegar at the end of cooking; I would actually add a touch more than the recommended 1 tablespoon, maybe 2 tablespoons for this amount of greens. I would also highly recommend serving them with pepper sauce for drizzling to be added at your own discretion as you eat!

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    This is absolutely delicious! I used collards, beet greens, Lacinato kale, Swiss chard. I
    Live in the northeast and although it’s in the 90’s this is going to be a weekly dish going forward. Especially when local greens are here! Incredibly healthy dish to boot! Yay! I had a bowl for breakfast!

    1. That looks spectacular, Sarah! Really nice mix of greens you used. And yeah, there’s nothing like supper for breakfast!

  2. 5 stars
    We’re having an unusually cold May where I live—we have freeze warnings for the weekend (instead of cherry blossom viewing walks). Well, that means simmered hearty greens are in order. Unfortunately ham hocks were nowhere to be found at the market, and I was not going to engage in grocery store-hopping with the current public health situation, so I returned home with one of the last few packages of boneless pork rib meat, and four bags of pre-washed collards and kale. To compensate for the lack of smoky flavor, I seasoned the chopped pork with smoke paprika and cooked it in a little bacon fat I had saved in the fridge until the meat was deeply brown. Then I added the onions and followed the rest of the recipe. The result was pretty great! I really liked the little vinegar and the red pepper flakes that came through in the pork broth.

    1. Chiyo, I love everything about what you wrote. Everything. As always, many thanks for sharing with me (and readers) your way of seeing (and tweaking) the world.