This southern green beans recipe has been in my family for generations. Tender green beans slow cooked in a flavorful broth with smoked meat is a classic southern side dish that is perfect to accompany your holiday meals this year.
Some of my best childhood memories are of snapping fresh beans into a big woven bowl with my mama. I was always much slower than her, though I picked up speed over the years, but nothing felt better than knowing I helped make Thanksgiving dinner.
And now I do the same with my family: grabbing fresh green beans at the farmers market and snapping them with Greyson while we all watch the Thanksgiving Day Parade. It's a simple tradition, but I hope it'll stick with Grey and his future siblings like it has with me.
What are the beans for? My grandma's southern green bean recipe. It's saved for special occasions, so these flavorful green beans are only seen around the holidays but they are so good it's one of my all time favorite side dishes.
It's simple side dish made with chicken stock, smoky ham hocks, and a little patience resulting in a lot of flavor. They are made in the slow cooker, after all.
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Origins of Southern-Style Green Beans
Slow cooked green beans are --yep-- a big part of soul food and black culture. Greens and beans slow cooked in a savory broth is something Africans brought with them when they were kidnapped and brought to the U.S., according to culinary historians.
The enslaved Black folk had to make do with what they could, often scraps of undesirable meat and leftover vegetables. Slow simmering green beans in a vitamin-rich savory broth --which we call potlikker or 'pot liquor'-- with bits of meat filled their bellies, added calories, and gave them more energy to work.
By the late 1870s, it was common practice in the South to slow cook green beans with some sort of fatty pork parts like bacon, fatback, salt pork, or ham hock, even making its way into 19th-century cookbooks.
How to Make Southern Green Beans
Old fashioned Southern green beans are different than the sautéed or roasted kinds, they hold no crunch and are soft, but not mushy.
They also soak up all the good, salty, smoky flavor from the meat and aromatics they simmer with in the broth so if you've got a picky eater who hates vegetables on your hands this might change their mind.
Like I said earlier, making southern style green beans with ham hocks is mind blowingly simple. Dump all the ingredients into your crock pot and let them cook for 4 hours on high or 6-8 hours on low.
I usually start them up right when I wake up on Thanksgiving morning, they slow cook on low and they're ready when everything else is and you just had to
I like to use the ham hocks as a measure; when they're falling apart and fork-tender, you know your green beans are done and full of flavor!
Full ingredients, measurements, and printable instructions are in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
We're only using a handful of ingredients in these old-fashioned southern green beans, but all of them together make a delicious side dish, so don't skip them!
Fresh Green Beans. Science has mostly bred the strings out of string beans now but you can use either string or pole beans.
Your local grocery store should keep fresh green beans loose or in large pre-packaged bags in the refrigerated produce section. I've even seen them come pre-snapped in those bags!
Garlic and Onions. Some like fresh garlic and sauteed onion in their potlikker. I don't, it's just a preference. I use garlic powder and onion powder or minced and dried. They give you so much flavor without your kids refusing to eat them because they see a big ole chunk of onion on their plate.
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper.
Meat. A smoked piece of meat is quintessential to your southern style green beans. It just won't taste the same without something in there. You can use smoked turkey necks or wings, thick-cut bacon, or ham hock.
I personally use ham hock. It's what I grew up on. What's ham hock? It's the shank or ankle of a pig that has been smoked. You can also find it called 'pork knuckle' in certain regions.
Broth. The traditional is chicken broth (homemade chicken broth recipe here!), but vegetable broth can be substituted.
Red Pepper Flakes or Cayenne Pepper. Optional, but I like the slightly spicy kick it adds.
A splash of red wine vinegar or white vinegar. The acidity cuts the richness and adds a contrast to the meatiness.
Make Ahead of Time Instructions, Freezing, and Storing
Preparing your old fashioned southern green beans before a big feast like Thanksgiving is a breeze. These green beans stay in your fridge for up to 7 days when stored correctly in an airtight container inside your fridge (not the door). Store the beans and meat in the broth to keep them from drying out.
To freeze the leftover green beans, add about 2-4 servings each into gallon sized, freezer-safe, zip-top bags. Freeze them as flat as you can, this helps them thaw faster.
Thaw your southern green beans in the fridge overnight.
To reheat for serving, you can nuke it in the microwave for a few minutes until everything is heated through. You can also put all of it into a large saucepan or large Dutch oven and warm on the stove top over medium heat until hot.
Put them in a serving dish when ready to eat with just enough liquid from their storage to keep them from drying out.
Serve Your Southern Green Beans with...
These southern green beans are a great side dish for classic homemade comfort food dinners. I love them with a whole roast chicken, some smothered pork chops, or served beside creamy mashed potatoes and melt-in-your-mouth tender pot roast on a cold evening.
They're also the absolute perfect addition to your Thanksgiving menu. I have an entire Thanksgiving category for you to take a peek at with plenty of side dishes, desserts, and plenty of ways to make a juicy turkey!
Many country style green bean recipes add halved baby red potatoes to the slow cooker. The potatoes soak up all that smoky, salty flavor in the broth and make for another side dish.
If you can't find ham hocks, use some thick-cut bacon! Pan fry the strips until you have crispy salty bacon on your hands, then chop them up and add the bacon pieces to your cooking liquid. And make sure to use lots of bacon, you want that smoky bacon flavor to really seep into the the potlikker.
Use the leftover bacon fat to saute a diced yellow onion for extra flavor, if you're using them. A little bacon grease never hurts a southern vegetable dish.
Don't eat pork? Smoked turkey necks and turkey bacon have been a widely used pork substitute for collard greens and green beans. They still give a delicious smoky, meaty flavor and are a big part of southern cooking.
Snap your green beans instead of cutting or chopping them. Snapping --or bending the stem ends of the beans and then snapping in half to bite-sized pieces-- lets you feel and see how fresh each green bean is. You don't want a limp, sad bean and you definitely don't want a bean that a critter has munched on in the garden or one that is starting to rot.
Snapping beans (besides being a wonderful tradition to have with little ones who just want to soul-sit under you so you need to give them something to do) lets you ensure that every single bean is of good quality. We're looking for snap, firmness, and a bright green color, which gives us the most tender green bean.
It's the shank or ankle of a pig that has been smoked. You can also find it called 'pork knuckle' in certain regions. Ham hocks have a distinctive meaty flavor and are tough with tons of fat, connective tissue, and more often than not have the skin still wrapped around the meat of it tightly. All of this is good, it means that it imparts tons of collagen into your potlikker, and the meat becomes fall-apart tender after going in the slow cooker.
You can find ham hocks at many local big box supermarkets, but you can also find them at butcher shops and ethnic markets for dirt cheap. They can come in giant knuckles or in horizontal slices.
Canned and frozen green beans are already pre-cooked/blanched so they'll completely fall apart in this recipe. Fresh green beans are the MVPs here!
More Holiday Dishes
- Old Fashioned Candied Sweet Potatoes (Candied Yams)
- Southern Baked Mac and Cheese
- Pellet Grill Smoked Prime Rib
- Crispy Garlic Parmesan Smashed Potatoes
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- 2 lbs fresh green beans
- 1 or 2 smoked ham hocks
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 cups water
- 2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 2 teaspoon minced onion
- ½ tablespoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes, more is optional
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, optional
- Rinse, dry, and snap the ends off your fresh green beans, discarding any green beans that are limp, brown, or otherwise not fresh.
- Set your slow cooker to low (six hours) or high (3-4 hours) and toss in the ham hocks, chicken stock, water, snapped green beans, garlic, onion, kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes and vinegar, if using.
- Stir to make sure all the spices are mixed into the chicken stock. Secure the top of the slow cooker and let the green beans cook until the ham hocks are fork tender.
- After the time is done, serve hot. Keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 7 days.
Make Green Beans Ahead
Preparing your green beans before a big feast like Thanksgiving is a breeze. These green beans stay in your fridge for up to 7 days when stored correctly in an airtight container inside your fridge (not the door). Keep the beans and meat in the potlikker when storing, it keeps them from drying out.
To reheat for serving, you can nuke it in the microwave for a few minutes until everything is heated through. You can also put all of it into a large saucepan or small Dutch oven and heat over medium-low until hot.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 12 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 34Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 253mgCarbohydrates: 6gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 3g
All nutrition facts are estimations. Please see a physician for any health-related inquiries.
Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.