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Melvin’s Legendary Collard Greens Recipe

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The Bessinger family of Holly Hill is arguably the most important family in the history of SC BBQ, and that is a long and storied history.

Originating in Orangeburg County in the late 1930s, when patriarch Joe Bessinger opened his Holly Hill Café, the Bessingers became the first family of SCBBQ.

Big Joe Bessinger
Big Joe Bessinger

From Joe, his boys learned to cook whole hogs over wood embers and learned to make what may well have been the world’s first mustard-based BBQ sauce.

Over time, the boys split out to establish a number of SCBBQ’s favorite restaurants, including Melvin’s, (Mt Pleasant and James Island locations), Maurice’s, 13 Piggie Park locations at the time of this writing, Bessinger’s, Robert’s, Joe Bessinger’s, and others.

While the BBQ and the sauce are SCBBQ classics (and Melvin’s onion rings deserve a mention here as well), I can’t remember the last time I ate BBQ and didn’t have a serving of collards on the side if they were available.

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Bowl of Melvin's collard greens with onion rings in background
Melvin’s BBQ Plate with Collard Greens

Some are salty, some are sweet, but when done right, they all are delicious…..and Melvin’s does them right!

Melvin’s collard greens recipe creates a savory green with the right amount of salt. This is not a sweet collards recipe but one with the perfect seasoning.

If you’re looking to make an authentic Southern collard greens recipe, this is it.

Some Things to Know about Cooking Collard Greens

How do I get the bitterness out of collard greens?

Start with fresh, younger collards if you can, but two basic seasonings will help tame the bitterness you can sometimes find in collards, sugar and salt. In addition, fat — like from smoked ham hocks — tends to mask bitterness as well. (Think of what cream does with coffee.) This recipe offers all those elements so you end up with collards without the bite.

Are you supposed to soak collard greens and if so, how long?

While it is not necessary to soak collards, it’s not a bad idea. Soaking will help cleanse any grit, bugs, or residue, but don’t soak them too long or they may become waterlogged. Here’s how:

Fill a kitchen sink with cold water from the tap with enough water to float the collards. Some folks will add vinegar and/or salt to the water to help with the cleansing, but plain water is fine.

Agitate the collards in the water, stirring them around a couple of times during a 10-15 minute soak. Let them rest for the last five minutes, allowing any sediment to settle to the bottom of the sink. Remove the collards to a towel or colander to drain, then drain the water from the sink.

Can I use turkey or another broth instead of chicken broth for Southern collard greens? How about a low-sodium broth?

The choice of broth is up to you. Chicken, turkey, pork or even vegetable broth will work fine. Obviously, your choice of broth will influence the final taste of the dish, but the type of broth is not a deal-breaker.

Keep in mind, you may need to adjust salt level to taste based on your choice of broth and any medical or dietary needs.

How many people will one quart of cooked collard greens feed?

A quart of cooked collard greens would feed 2-4 people comfortably. This recipe will make significantly more.

Do people drink the water from cooking collard greens?

Potlicker or ”pot liquor” is the term given to the broth that remains in the pot of collards. Believe it or not, it is a tonic of great nutrition. Dark green leafy vegetables are among the healthiest of foods.

Have you noticed the cooking water turns green when you cook collards? What you get in the remaining broth are the nutrients that have been leeched out of the greens and into the water. So eating the greens and drinking some of the broth is giving you an even more complete serving of collard goodness.

By reader request, The Sun Sentinel reached out to Melvin’s BBQ and was granted the privilege of publishing the following recipe for Melvin’s Legendary Collard Greens:

Forkful of Melvin's collard greens with onion rings in background

Get all the recipes we’ve published on this site and more collected together in over 150 pages of recipes, stories, and history in our cookbook, SCBBQ Recipes: Going Whole Hog. And if you enjoy Melvin Bessinger’s collard recipe, you’re sure to enjoy Maurice Bessinger’s mustard sauce recipe.

Melvin’s Legendary Collard Greens

Melvin's collard greens with onion rings in background

Melvin’s Legendary BBQ Collard Greens Recipe

Yield: 2 gallons
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 15 minutes

Melvin's Barbecue in Mount Pleasant and James Island are famous for their legendary BBQ: pulled pork, ribs, and more -- as well as their golden mustard sauce. In fact, Melvin's father, Joe Bessinger, may well be the person who invented mustard-based BBQ sauce in the 1930s in Holly Hill, SC. But their sides are just as noteworthy. Melvin's collard greens, for instance, are exceptional. Smoky with a slight sweetness, these collards will please even the pickiest of eaters.


  • 1 gallon water
  • 2 smoked ham hocks
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • ½ cup Knorr’s chicken base
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ground black pepper
  • 6 bunches fresh collards


  1. Using a large saucepan over medium-high heat, combine water, ham hocks, onion, chicken base, brown sugar, and pepper and boil for 30 minutes.
  2. “Peel collards” by separating the leaf from the thick center stalk, discard stalks. Coarsely chop leafy collards.
  3. Add collards to seasoned water. Boil until collards are tender, about 60-90 minutes, adding water as needed to keep collards submerged.

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Nutrition Information:
Yield: 32 Serving Size: 1 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 43Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 2mgSodium: 29mgCarbohydrates: 8gFiber: 2gSugar: 6gProtein: 2g

Want More Authentic SC BBQ Recipes?

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Check out these other authentic SCBBQ sides recipes we’ve published on destination-bbq:

Lone Star BBQ’s Tomato Pie Recipe

Swig & Swine’s Pork Rinds with Tabasco Honey and Blue Cheese recipe

And we’ve published the following sides recipes in the SCBBQ Recipes: Going Whole Hog cookbook  (read more about that here):


  • Rodney Scott’s Collard Greens Recipe
  • Rodney Scott’s Banana Puddin’ Family Recipe
  • Melvin’s Legendary Collard Greens Recipe
  • Fried Corn, Shuler’s BBQ-Style
  • Swig and Swine’s Pork Rinds with Tabasco, Honey, & Blue Cheese Recipe
  • Swig & Swine’s Pimento Cheese Recipe
  • Swig & Swine’s Quick And Easy Creamy Coleslaw Recipe
  • Swig and Swine’s Beans with Brisket Recipe
  • Home Team BBQ’s Mac and Cheese Recipe
  • Home Team BBQ’s Collards Recipe
  • Jimmy Hagood’s Cast-Iron Skillet Corn Bread With Cane Syrup Recipe
  • Jimmy Hagood’s Lowcountry Brunswick Stew Recipe
  • John Lewis’s Hatch Green Chile Corn Pudding Recipe
  • Lewis Barbecue-Style Cole Slaw Recipe
  • John Lewis’s Buttermilk Potato Salad Recipe
  • John Lewis’s Hatch Chile-Cheese Biscuits Recipe
  • Price’s Bar-B-Que’s Macaroni and Cheese Recipe
  • Price’s Bar-B-Que’s Broccoli Cornbread Muffins Recipe
  • Joe Dabney’s Palmetto-Style Hush Puppies
  • Bessinger’s Copycat Onion Ring Recipe

James Roller

Monday 16th of April 2018

Thanks, Jen! Hope you were able to try them and had a great visit with your family.


Wednesday 15th of November 2017

What a great gift - right in time for the holidays when I will be spending a lot of time with my collards loving family. I should have this down by now, but excited to have this well-loved version to try. Thanks for sharing!

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