Cooking Green Beans Southern Style - A Family Tradition

Here are step by step instructions, with pictures, of cooking green beans southern style, with salt pork for hours. It's a great family recipe.

cooking green beans southern style
In fact it is one of my family's favorite Thanksgiving recipes, although we also eat it with regular meals and other special occasions too.

Many people, when learning how to cook green beans, believe that the green beans should stay crisp after cooking, and turn up their nose at "soggy beans." Why?

If you've not tried green beans, southern style, you are missing a real treat. I like crisp green beans too, but once they are slow cooked for hours they have a completely different taste, and are basically like eating a completely different type of vegetable.

In my family, on both sides, and in my husband's family too (we are all from Kentucky, by the way) every matriarch has a recipe for cooking green beans, and there is pride involved in who cooks them best.

So, here are my instructions for how to cook green beans, southern style.


salt pork
  • 2 or more pounds of fresh green beans*
  • Approximately 4 slices of salt pork (use more or less, to taste) (see picture to right)**
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Small amount of vegetable oil
  • Water, enough to cover the beans

* You can make vast quantities of these green beans if you want, such as for family gatherings, just add more salt pork to taste, and more fresh green beans of course. Two pounds is about right for our family of five to eat in one sitting (they cook down a lot.)

My husband's family swears you should only buy white half runner beans when cooking green beans this way, and they are quite good, but they are hard to find outside southern states, and my side of the family never used them. Use whatever fresh green beans are available, in my opinion. (You always love whatever you grew up with, I've found.)

** My husband's side of the family prefers salt pork, and I like it too just because it is easier to work with, in my opinion. My father's side of the family prefers a ham hock. Use whatever is available, that you prefer.

Directions For Cooking Green Beans Southern Style

washing fresh green beans
The first step in cooking green beans, southern style, is washing your fresh green beans, of course. (See picture on the left.)

This recipe is a family favorite, but it is mainly done on special occassions though because prepping the beans to cook them can take quite a while.

Of course, when a large family get together happens we can sit and break beans for hours, talking and laughing while we work, so it is actually something I generally look forward to.

After washing them pat them dry and then begin the process of snapping and stringing them.

snapped and strung fresh green beans
Snapped and strung green beans
Here is a quick course on how to string green beans -- use the "double snap." Take the bean and snap off one end, close to the end of the bean. The string will be clinging to the bean, keeping the snapped end attached. Just pull it down the length of the bean to remove the string, along with the end.

Next, snap the other end of the bean, again close to the end. This will pull the other string, from the opposite side of the bean off, as you pull it down the length of the bean.

Finally, snap any strung green beans in half or thirds if they are too long, to make more bite size green beans.

Hint: Depending on the type and size of the beans you are using they may or may not have a lot of strings. I have found larger beans have bigger strings, while skinnier beans don't, for example.

Snapping and stringing beans is a great job for kids. My son, when he was just about 2, loved this job and used to beg to "break-a da beans!" (He'll kill me for sharing that later, but it was just so cute!) Just watch their work, or you may end up with too many strings in the beans, which doesn't taste so good.

frying salt pork
Now that the labor intensive part is done you can actually get down to cooking green beans, southern style. First, fry up your salt pork. We put just a little vegetable oil in the bottom of the pan, just to make sure the pork doesn't stick and burn when it is first laid down. (See picture on the left.)

Next, add your green beans and let them get coated with the grease from the salt pork. Then, almost immediately add enough water to cover the beans along with salt and pepper, to taste. Remember that the salt pork adds quite a bit of salt, so we just add a dash of salt, and perhaps a teaspoon of pepper. (You can always add more salt and pepper at the end, to taste.)

Add a lid to the pot, and bring to a boil, and then turn the heat down and let it simmer at a low boil, slowly allowing the water to all cook off. Keep the lid on, because this keeps more flavor in the beans. This will generally take a couple of hours. You don't need to stir too often, but be careful once most of the liquid is gone to stir more frequently, just to make sure the green beans don't burn.

Once all the water has boiled off, then let the green beans rest for a couple of minutes before serving.

Hint: Many people don't actually eat the meat in the green beans, but just enjoy the flavor they impat to them. Others, like my Dad, always look forward to eating a piece along with their beans.

That is our family secrets for cooking green beans southern style. I hope you and your family enjoy this recipe as much as my family does!

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