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Kentucky Derby Recipes: Our 17 Favorites

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Roger Pratesi

Since 1875, the first Saturday of May has been the date for the Triple Crown contenders to race on beautiful Churchill Downs to win the Kentucky Derby.

To keep you a winner, we’ve come up with Kentucky Derby party food like mint julep recipes, Derby pie and other Kentucky Derby desserts as well as classic Southern favorites like fried chicken, grits, ham, biscuits, pimento cheese, bourbon balls and more. Just throw on your hat, get out your binoculars and get ready for your own Run for the Roses. (We’re thinking the wine, not flowers.)

  • Recipe

    The Greenbrier’s Mint Julep

    The mint julep’s history is about as muddled as the mint in this drink. Some say it was the Virginians who first took this drink, while others believe it originated in Kentucky. Rather than using simple syrup, as most do now, it originally called for sugar and water to be muddled with the mint. The Greenbrier hotel and resort was probably the first to offer the julep, at its lobby bar, and more than likely gussied it up with a silver cup. This is very close to that recipe.

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  • Recipe

    Bourbon-Orange-Glazed Ham

    Make this glazed ham the star of your crowd-friendly buffet. It’s delicious warm or at room temperature and it makes great sandwiches, too. To give your guests that option, serve with biscuits (store-bought or homemade), horseradish cream spread, and orange-maple mustard.

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  • Recipe

    Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits

    For a few delicious variations on this recipe, check out Cheese Biscuits, Fresh Herb Biscuits, and Caramelized Onion Biscuits.

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  • Recipe

    Baked Cheddar Grits with Bacon

    Whipped egg whites lighten the grits, giving them a soufflé-like texture.

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  • Recipe

    That Horse Race Pie

    “That horse race” is the Kentucky Derby, and this pie is a tradition for Derby Day parties. Can’t call it a Derby Pie, though, because a bakery in Louisville gets real upset. This pie is too good for just one day. The chocolate, bourbon, and nuts just blend to perfection. It travels well, making it great for potlucks and family reunions.

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  • Recipe

    Derby Day Mint Julep Cocktail

    There are as many variations of the mint julep as there are thoroughbreds that have run in the Kentucky Derby, which is when this sweet concoction is traditionally served. It’s often stirred with ice in a silver cup; this version calls for shaking with a slice of lemon for a frothy, refreshing drink.

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  • Seelback-Cocktail-recipe
    Recipe

    The Seelbach Cocktail

    This cocktail was invented just before Prohibition at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. The recipe was lost for many years but later unearthed and once again made at the hotel. The sweetness of the bourbon, Cointreau and champagne is balanced by the big dose of bitters that also give the drink depth.

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  • Recipe

    Kentucky Hot Browns with Manchego-Jalapeño Mornay Sauce

    The history of the Kentucky Hot Brown is rooted in late-night revelry at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. The story goes that following a late night of drinking and dancing, partygoers at this landmark hotel were hungry and needed something to soak up the evening’s alcohol, so the chef whipped up a meal with what he had: thick slices of bread, roast turkey, bacon, cheese, cream, and tomatoes.

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  • Recipe

    Southern Fried Chicken

    This recipe uses a dry brine (a spice rub containing ample salt) to add savory flavor without diluting the bird’s inherent chickeny flavor. The salt dries out the skin, so it becomes extra crisp. A dredge in a buttermilk and egg batter gives the pieces a thick crust that snaps and crackles with each bite. Rice flour lightens the coating and prevents bits of the batter from falling off in the hot oil.

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  • Recipe

    Deviled Eggs with Crabmeat and Cayenne

    Here, the classic deviled egg filling is made even tastier with sweet crab, sherry, Worcestershire sauce and a hit of cayenne. Set these kicked-up nibbles on a platter at your next party and watch them disappear. Luckily for your guests, the recipe is easily doubled or tripled to serve a crowd.

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  • Recipe

    Spiced Pecans

    Cayenne and maple syrup make a hot-sweet flavor that is addictive.

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  • Recipe

    Baked Smithfield Ham with Bourbon, Honey, and Pecan Glaze

    Hams dry-cured, hickory-smoked, and aged in and around Smithfield, Virginia, have been legendary since the days Thomas Jefferson and Queen Victoria ordered them special, and today there is still no more ceremonial ham for the formal buffet table. When the ham is slowly baked, and then subjected to a luscious glaze such as this one with bourbon, honey, and pecans, the result is a culinary masterpiece.

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  • Recipe

    Slow-Cooker Southern-Style Short Ribs with Pimiento Grits

    Tender, meaty beef short ribs are classic cold-weather comfort fare, but these—made in a slow cooker while you tend to the rest of your life—harken back to summer, thanks to their barbecue flavor. Fans of pimento cheese (as well as those who have never heard of this Southern staple) will adore the accompanying grits.

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  • Recipe

    Bourbon Balls

    For some of us, it wouldn’t be Kentucky Derby Day without these rich, potent treats. I like to make them with chocolate or vanilla cake scraps that I’ve saved in the freezer, but you can also use a store-bought pound cake, since saving scraps takes some forethought. But if you happen to have scraps, or even a leftover cake layer, here’s your chance to use them.

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  • Recipe

    Hot Brown Bites in Turmeric-Black Pepper Pastry

    These hors d’oeuvres are a homage to Louisville’s most famous culinary creation. The traditional Hot Brown is an open-face turkey and bacon sandwich topped with cheese sauce and broiled until the bread is crisp and the sauce is puffed and lightly browned. It’s a meal unto itself, but these are smaller and in an easy-to-make black pepper and turmeric-spiced pastry.

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  • Recipe

    Kentucky Jam Cake

    Studded with raisins and nuts, fragrant with nutmeg and cloves, the secret ingredient in this recipe is blackberry jam, which both flavors and colors the cake.

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  • Recipe

    Benedictine Dip with Crudités

    This bright cucumber spread is often used to make Benedictine sandwiches, a traditional Kentucky Derby snack. I prefer to serve it as a dip with crudités to lighten things up.

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