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What is Pot Liquor?

By Kate Monteith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Pot liquor is the liquid left in the pan after boiling vegetable greens. Also called collard liquor, it is made of collard greens, turnip greens, or mustard greens boiled in water. The broth left after boiling a piece of beef or pork may also be given this name.

Boiled collard greens have long been enjoyed as a regional cuisine of the southern United States, where this colloquial term may have originated. In poor areas where food was scarce, there developed a tradition among cooks to save the broth made from boiling the tops of vegetables. The concentrated liquid is full of vitamins and flavor, and it may be used to make soups or gravies.

Some Southern chefs insist the correct spelling is “potlikker” or “pot likker.” Many cooks like to add a piece of salt pork or bacon to their collard liquor for a rich, salty flavor. Depending on the cook, a recipe can be unseasoned or infused with a variety of spices and flavorings. Contrary to its name, it contains no alcohol.

Pot liquor is often served with cornmeal dumplings known as dodgers. Made from a stiff mixture of cornmeal, shortening, water, and salt, dodgers are somewhat like a steamed piece of cornbread. The broth is heated to a simmering boil, and the cornmeal batter is dropped in dollops on top of the bubbling liquid. After about 20 minutes, the dodgers are thoroughly steamed and ready to be served alongside the boiled collard greens and pork.

The savory juices left in the pan after boiling a beef pot roast are another form of pot liquor. The chef may use salt, pepper, rosemary, bay leaf, garlic, and other spices to season the meat and to enhance the flavor of the broth. The addition of carrots, potatoes, and onions to the pan will add to the delicious flavors, and some chefs add cooking wine to liven up the flavor. The broth may be drizzled over the meat and vegetables, or it may be used to make a thick beef gravy.

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Discussion Comments

By anon327804 — On Mar 30, 2013

Yep, pot likker is what I remember fondly from my Granny's delicious turnip greens. Oddly enough, she never served us the liquid left after cooking collards, but collards are what I've seen referred to most often in descriptions of what pot likker is.

We loved nothing more than crumbling up cornbread in a bowl and pouring the juice over it after the meal was done. It was almost like our dessert. And no, it wasn't that we couldn't afford anything else. It's just the way it was done in my southern family. Pot likker rocks!

By indigomoth — On Mar 07, 2013

I don't know why, but the South in the US just seems to have the best recipes. I guess it's because they've had so many cultures blending together over the years or something.

These recipes with pot likker make it seem like it's a pretty healthy kind of cuisine, although I know there is a lot of frying as well, so maybe not.

By bythewell — On Mar 07, 2013

@pleonasm - What happens is, a lot of vegetables contain different forms of vitamin B, which are all quite water soluble. That means they get dissolved in water very easily, so when you boil vegetables they often lose quite a lot of vitamins into the water.

So, if you drink the water you get more vitamins. If you cook the vegetables in only a little bit of water, fry them or steam them it helps as well.

Because B vitamins are water soluble you lose them from your body really easily as well, so you need to make sure you get enough to stay healthy and pot liquor recipes are a good way of doing that if you usually prefer to boil your veges.

By pleonasm — On Mar 06, 2013

@anon180562 - Yum, I had no idea that you could make what we always just called the "green water" sound so tasty.

My grandmother always believed in drinking the green water and would make us drink it too, if we were staying with her. I always thought it was a kind of gross thing to do, probably because I couldn't imagine my friends doing it.

But as an adult, I realized that it probably had a lot of nutrients. I wish I could have told her some recipes to make it nicer, rather than just drinking it straight from the pot!

By anon180562 — On May 26, 2011

The best use for pot likker (collards) is for making soup. Homemade vegetable, smoked turkey gumbo, smokey garlic soup, or for cooking beans.

By Comparables — On Jan 18, 2011

My stepfather grew up in Texas so I have actually had pot liquor soup. This dish reminds me of my childhood. The soup was a blend of earthy and meaty flavors that was very hearty. When I was a kid, I hated the soup, but now I think I would enjoy something along those lines. If I remember correctly, it was very similar to Portuguese soup (the chunky kind from the Azores, not the creamed stuff served on the mainland). Way to stoke my memory wiseGEEK.

By ValleyFiah — On Jan 17, 2011

@ Glasshouse- I was pleasantly surprised as well. I was browsing the site when I stumbled across the title what is pot liquor. My imagination made me think of the stories my uncle told me of marinating cannabis trimmings in rum back in the sixties and seventies. I would have never guessed it was about a pot liquor soup made from the dredges of collard greens.

By Glasshouse — On Jan 14, 2011

Wow did I stumble on the wrong article. I was looking for information on an old southern rock band called the pot liquor band. This turned out to be a cool article though because it kind makes the name of their band make sense. Good job wiseGEEK for the pleasant surprise.

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