Southern Turnip Greens Recipe (2024)

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5 from 9 votes

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Enjoy a memorable taste of the South with this updated Southern Turnip Greens recipe. It’s about as country as a recipe can be, packed with flavor and nostalgia, but updated with a modern, slightly healthier cooking method.

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Okay, everybody. This really is about as Southern as it gets. Turnip Greens. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

Whenever the weather turns just the least bit cooler I always start thinking about turnip greens. With cornbread on the side. And a baked sweet potato. And maybe a crispy, fried pork chop. Oh, my.

🥬 Southern Girl Needs Her Greens

When BeeBop and I were newly married and exiled to New Hampshire by the U.S. Navy, we really missed our familiar southern foods, especially fresh produce. Luckily for us, we found a little place called Tuttle’s Red Barn. It was a farm near Portsmouth owned and operated by the same family for generations. And they had a produce store open to the public.

Well, one fall afternoon, we went out to Tuttle’s to get some farm-fresh produce, and I noticed their very large display of turnip roots. However, no greens! Being the naive young southern girl that I was then, I went up to one of the workers and asked where the turnip greens were. She directed me to the lovely display of roots.

I very sweetly explained to her that what I was looking for was the greens, “you know, the part that grows above the ground out of the tops of the roots.” Well, that girl looked at me like I had three heads, and each of them had sprouted horns. She said, “The tops!?!? We feed those to the pigs!” Whereupon I very sweetly informed her that in the South, we cook and eat the greens, and if she had never had any, then she didn’t know what she was missing.

Needless to say, I went home without any turnip greens that day, but it did cross my mind to sneak around back of the store and see if the pigs had any to share.

🪣 Washing Fresh Greens is a Pain in the Behind

Now you have to really want turnip greens badly to go to the trouble of washing them. It’s a painstaking, time-consuming process. Greens fresh from the garden always have a lot of grit clinging to the leaves, and you certainly don’t want that in your pot! I have heard tell of folks cleaning their greens in the washing machine. In a pillowcase. Really.

Fortunately for all of us, they now come washed and ready to cook in lovely cellophane bags in the produce section of the grocery store! Oh, happy day when those pre-washed greens became available!

I used to do the traditional recipe where you cook some sort of smoked meat in water for a while to make a seasoned broth, then add the turnips plus a load of bacon grease and cook for hours. However, these days, I do try to lighten things up. Sometimes. So, here’s how I cook turnip greens in a slightly lighter way.

❤️ Why We Love This Recipe

  • It’s an easy, straightforward recipe that doesn’t skimp on the rich, smoky flavors Southerners love.
  • It’s lighter on the bacon grease without sacrificing taste.
  • Perfect with cornbread or as a side to most traditional Southern entrees.

WHAT PEOPLE ARE SAYING …

“I smiled reading your turnip recipe. EVERY good Southern cook keeps bacon grease on hand. When I lived in CA, everyone thought I was nuts…the question was always WHY do you keep bacon grease??? Definitely a Southern thang!”
— Gooch

🛒 Ingredient Notes

This post contains affiliate links. Lana’s Cooking is reader-supported and earns a tiny commission at no extra cost to you when you shop from our links.

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  • Turnip greens — The star of the recipe. They’re rich in nutrients and full of earthy flavors. Most Southern grocery stores have fresh turnip greens available throughout the fall and winter months, either in large bunches or pre-washed, cut, and packaged in cellophane bags.
  • Bacon fat — It adds a hint of smokiness and depth. Just a tablespoon does the trick! Did you know that you can purchase bacon fat off the shelf now? I always have it in my refrigerator, but if you don’t keep it on hand, that may be a good option for you.
  • Chicken bouillon – Enhances the savory flavors in the cooking liquid.

You’ll find detailed measurements for all ingredients in the printable version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.

🥄 How to Cook Turnip Greens

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  1. In a large pot, combine the fresh greens, bacon fat, chicken bouillon, salt, and water.

👉 PRO TIP: You’ll need enough water to cover the turnips by about an inch once they’ve wilted down into the pot. I usually start with about 2 quarts and adjust as needed.

Turnips are like any other leafy green in that they will cook down to a much smaller volume. If the pot is overflowing with greens at first, that’s okay. It’ll only be that way for a few minutes.

  1. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.
  2. Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until the greens are tender. Check the water level during cooking and add more if needed.

👉 PRO TIP: Some cooks add a pod of red pepper to the pot. If that’s your thing, go right ahead! Also, most people eat their greens with a vinegary pepper sauce or red chili pepper flakes. There’s no wrong way to eat turnip greens!

  1. Taste and add additional salt if needed.

👉 Pro Tip: Lightening up the Seasoning

The traditional way of seasoning a pot of greens is by using either smoked meat (ham hock or turkey leg) or fresh pork. I prefer a smoky taste, but my mother prefers fresh pork in greens. To cook turnip greens using the traditional method, you would put a large pot of water on to boil with your choice of seasoning meat and let that cook for an hour or so until you have a lovely broth. Then, add the greens and proceed from there.

In this recipe, I use a minimal amount of fat in the form of bacon grease. See that one little bity tablespoon of bacon fat up there? That little bit is not going to hurt anybody, but it will add a wonderful smoky taste to the greens.

The chicken bouillon gives it an additional depth of flavor. The combination of the two substitutes for the big piece of meat we traditionally use in this recipe.I use this same combination of bacon fat and bouillon with lots of vegetables.

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🍽️ How to Serve Southern Turnip Greens

What’s the point in having turnip greens if you don’t have some cornbread to go along with them? After all, you’ve got all that wonderful pot likker (for those of you not from the South, pot likker (liquor) is the juice in the pot with the turnip greens). Any cornbread you like is fine, but there’s not much better than old-fashioned Hot Water Cornbread.

And for many people, turnip greens are simply not complete without a splash of hot sauce. Specifically the vinegary pepper sauce. Either Texas Pete or Louisiana brand are fantastic choices!

🤔 How Do You Counteract the Bitterness in Turnip Greens?


Honestly, I’ve never noticed a pronounced bitter flavor in turnip greens, but I know others have. The best way to ensure your greens are not bitter is to pick (or purchase) them after the first frost of the year. Frost on greens eliminates bitterness. If you grow your own, that’s easy. If you’re buying them from the grocery store, you’d have to ask where they came from and when they were picked. Otherwise, simply add 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda to the greens for the final 20 minutes of cooking time.

🍚 How to Store

Cool the greens completely and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll keep well for up to 3 days.

Cooked turnip greens may also be frozen in an airtight container for up to three months. Allow them to thaw overnight and the refrigerator and reheat over low heat or in the microwave.

❓ Questions About Southern Turnip Greens

Will this recipe work for collards or mustard greens?

Yes! You can use this same method for either collard greens or mustard greens. Mustard greens are a little more tender and may not require quite as much cooking time.

Can I use frozen turnip greens?

Of course you can use frozen, but there is absolutely no comparison with fresh! Frozen turnip greens have something that I’d call a “grassy” flavor, giving them a completely different taste from fresh.

What can I substitute for bacon fat?

I’d encourage you to try either bacon fat or the more traditional smoked meat broth preparation at least once. Nothing else will give you that flavor. However, if you’re interested in a meatless option, try using vegetable broth in place of the water and seasoning, adding a dash of “liquid smoke” if you like.

Is it necessary to add chicken bouillon?

Absolutely necessary? No. But it adds a delicious layer of flavor. You can omit it if you like.

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Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

📖 Recipe

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Southern Turnip Greens

This Southern Turnip Greens recipe is about as country as can be! It's a traditional recipe that uses a slightly healthier cooking method.

5 from 9 votes

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Course: Side Dishes

Cuisine: Southern, Vintage

Prep Time: 15 minutes minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour hour

Servings: 6 servings

Calories: 69kcal

Author: Lana Stuart

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh turnip greens cleaned, cut, and washed
  • Water (see notes)
  • 1 tablespoon bacon fat
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon or 1 cube
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • In a large pot, combine the greens, bacon fat, chicken bouillon, salt, and water (see notes)

  • Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer.

  • Cover and cook for 45 minutes or until the greens are tender. Check the water level during cooking and add more if needed.

  • Taste and add additional salt if needed.

Notes

  • You’ll need enough water to cover the turnips by about an inch once they’ve wilted down into the pot. I usually start with about 2 quarts and adjust as needed.
  • Cool the greens completely and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll keep well for up to 3 days.
  • May also be frozen in an airtight container for up to three months. Allow them to thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat on the stovetop over low heat or in the microwave.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 69kcal | Carbohydrates 11g | Protein 2g | Fat 3g | Saturated Fat 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat 0.4g | Monounsaturated Fat 1g | Cholesterol 2mg | Sodium 455mg | Potassium 448mg | Fiber 5g | Sugar 1g | Vitamin A 17519IU | Vitamin C 91mg | Calcium 288mg | Iron 2mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on December 4, 2009. It has been updated with additional information and new photos.

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Lana Stuart

Lana Stuart is the cook, writer, and founder of Lana’s Cooking. Lana has been cooking since she was tall enough to reach the stove and started this blog in 2009 to share her delicious home cooking recipes. You'll find about 700 recipes here so there's sure to be something your family will like!
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Southern Turnip Greens Recipe (2024)
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