17 Recipes to Make for the Kentucky Derby

Vegan pimento cheese, served with fried saltine crackers and pickles green tomatoes
Photo: Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

The Kentucky Derby race itself might famously take just two minutes, but the occasion — on the first Saturday in May — warrants an afternoon-long celebration of food and drink. Kick things off with a Mint Julep (which boasts a more complex history than what you might expect) or a Vodka Rose Punch that's garnished perfectly for the Run for the Roses while you snack on Spiced Pecans and Deviled Eggs with Country Ham. And don't forget about Pimiento Cheese—we have a classic recipe, a Vegan Pimiento Cheese, and even a recipe for Oysters Rockefeller with Pimiento Cheese for you to serve. And your Derby party won't be complete without some Southern Fried Chicken or Kentucky Hot Brown Mac and Cheese. Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon (aka Derby Pie) is the traditional dessert for the day, but a Red Velvet Cake will have its own fans. Or maybe some Bacon-Bourbon Brownies are in order? Read on for even more of our favorite recipes to enjoy while we cheer for our horses on Derby Day.

01 of 17

Mint Julep

Mint Julep
Photo by Huge Galdones / Food Styling by Christina Zerkis

To make this Derby Day favorite, you'll need mint, simple syrup, bourbon, and finally, crushed ice. Equipment-wise, make sure to have a chilled julep cup or fizz glass on hand, as well as a muddler and a swizzle stick or bar spoon for mixing the drink. Sip on it, and read more about this drink's fascinating history.

02 of 17

Deviled Eggs with Country Ham

Deviled Eggs with Country Ham
© Wendell T. Webber

Chef Ford Fry's deviled eggs get their terrific flavor from goat cheese, Dijon mustard, and cornichons, plus a topping of country ham. Finish the hors d'oeuvre off with a sprinkle of fresh chives.

03 of 17

Vodka-Rose Punch

Vodka-Rose Punch
© John Kernick

Cookbook author and TV host Padma Lakshmi uses rose syrup in this lovely pink-hued punch. "I love the floral accent and the frilly pink tinge it gives mixed drinks," she says. The punch comes together in just 10 minutes, so it's a perfect low-lift option for entertaining.

04 of 17

Oysters Rockefeller with Pimiento Cheese

Pimiento Cheese Oysters Rockefeller

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Emily Nabors Hall / Prop Styling by Shell Royster

These oysters are Chef John Ondo’s Lowcountry riff on classic Oysters Rockefeller. He swaps out the usual pureed greens for finely chopped collard greens and bacon melted with pimiento cheese. The oysters are topped with buttery cracker crumbs, making them a perfect party appetizer.

05 of 17

Pigs in a Blanket

Pigs in a Blanket with Black Pepper Pastry
© Abby Hocking

Jen Pelka of San Francisco's The Riddler loves serving Champagne with playful bite-size foods like pigs in a blanket. To take them up a notch, she brushes the puff pastry with a tasty mix of honey, mustard, and fresh black pepper before rolling up with the hot dogs and baking.

06 of 17

Pimiento Cheese with Salt-and-Pepper Butter Crackers

Pimento Cheese with Salt-and-Pepper Butter Crackers

Chef Carla Hall makes her own crunchy crackers to serve with her cheese spread, a riff on a Southern classic. The cheese can be refrigerated for up to one week in an airtight container, while the crackers can be stored in an airtight container overnight.

07 of 17

Blackberry-Mint Julep

Blackberry-Mint Julep
© Peden + Munk

Adding blackberries to a mint julep adds fruity flavor to the classic warm-weather cocktail. As you shake the blackberries in a cocktail shaker along with the other ingredients, they'll also impart their vibrant color to the drink.

08 of 17

Vegan Pimiento Cheese

Vegan pimento cheese, served with fried saltine crackers and pickles green tomatoes
Photo by Antonis Achilleos / Food Styling by Ruth Blackburn / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

Pimiento cheese is an iconic snack in the South, and beloved all over. For this vegan version, sweet pimientos stud a creamy and savory base made with extra-firm tofu. The pickle brine and apple cider vinegar lend an acidic brightness to the mixture, while nutritional yeast and miso provide deep umami notes that keep you coming back for more. Be sure to chill this spread for at least two hours to let the flavors meld and achieve the right consistency. Serve it with fried saltines, pickled green tomatoes, and fresh celery.

09 of 17

Kentucky Hot Brown Macaroni and Cheese

KY Hot Brown Mac and Cheese
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Claire Spollen

The Kentucky Hot Brown is a classic open-faced sandwich. It was created by Fred Schmidt in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville and features thick Texas toast topped with slices of roast turkey, tomato, and bacon, and doused with Mornay sauce. Here, we took the essential components of a Hot Brown and combined them for an untraditional macaroni and cheese with the soul of the original. The halved cherry tomatoes add pops of brightness to each bite of pasta coated in the rich, creamy sauce, while a crunchy bacon and bread topping nod to the dish's origins. Be careful while cooking the Mornay sauce; keep the whisk in contact with the bottom of the pot while whisking to ensure that the sauce doesn't get lumpy or scorched.

10 of 17

Buttermilk Biscuits

Flaky Buttermilk Biscuits
Photo by Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Torie Cox

Made with a combination of grated cold butter for flavor and vegetable shortening for tenderness, Carla Hall's biscuits owe their towering, flaky layers to her classic laminating technique.

11 of 17

Macaroni and Cheese with Buttery Crumbs

Macaroni and Cheese with Buttery Crumbs
© Matthew Armendariz

Distributing small chunks of cheddar and Colby cheeses throughout this macaroni and cheese gives it a perfect hit of flavor and fabulous gooey texture. The end result is a bubbling, golden dish of cheesy pasta that you'll want to make again and again.

12 of 17

Kentucky Hot Brown

Kentucky Hot Brown

Star chef Bobby Flay smothers an open-face turkey sandwich with cheese sauce and bacon for his version of the beloved Louisville classic. If you'd like to get a head-start on the recipe, you can make the sauce one day in advance, refrigerate it overnight, and then re-warm it before serving.

13 of 17

The Ultimate Southern Fried Chicken

The Ultimate Southern Fried Chicken
© Con Poulos

This fried chicken from chef Shaun Doty of Bantam + Biddy in Atlanta is a no-fail, no-fuss version of classic fried chicken with a perfectly crunchy seasoned crust (the trick is the cornstarch) and juicy meat. If you want to serve wine with the dish, try pairing the chicken with Champagne, Lambrusco, or Pinot Noir.

14 of 17

Pimiento Cheese Grits

Pimento Cheese Grits
© Michael Crook

In this clever dish from Bobby Flay, he folds the classic ingredients of pimiento cheese into warm, creamy grits, switching up smoky Spanish piquillos for the jarred pimientos.

15 of 17

Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon

Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon

Cookbook author and pastry chef David Leibovitz's Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon is everything you want in a dessert. The all-butter pie crust is a cinch to throw together thanks to your food processor, and the dough can be made weeks or months in advance and frozen, if you'd like to get ahead. A nip of sweet, caramel-scented bourbon adds depth to the traditional super-sweet filling; chocolate levels it up with its rich texture and just a hint of balancing bitterness. Leave some of the pecans whole to give this classic a slightly more refined look.

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Red Velvet Cake

Red Velvet Cake
Abby Hocking / Food & Wine

This towering dessert is made with deep red cake layers and plenty of cream cheese frosting. Unsweetened cocoa powder and red food coloring give the cake its signature hue.

17 of 17

Bacon-Bourbon Brownies with Pecans

Bacon-Bourbon Brownies with Pecans. Photo © Fredrika Stjärne
© Fredrika Stjärne

F&W Executive Features Editor Kat Kinsman tops her rich brownies with bacon and pecans. To enhance the smoky flavor, she mixes some of the bacon fat into the batter.

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