Ever had mutton BBQ?

Hot Brown, Louisville
Credit: Courtesy of the Brown Hotel

The Bluegrass state is home to some of the nation’s most beloved foods, along with a very famous horse race. Should you visit Kentucky this year for the Derby, these are the seven most important foods (and drinks) to sample during your trip.

Barbecued Mutton

About 100 miles southwest of Churchill Downs is the town of Owensboro, the mutton barbecue capital of the world. Once a center for the local wool trade, Owensboro residents started barbecuing sheep as a necessity and more than a century later, the tradition continues. For a taste of Kentucky's contribution to the barbecue world, make a stop at Moonlite Bar-B-Q Inn or Old Hickory Bar-B-Q.

Country Ham

The finest American ham comes from Kentucky. Coated in sugar and salt and left to age, country ham is completely unique to the state and is best enjoyed as you would prosciutto; sliced thin and not fussed with. While country ham can be found at any number of Louisville restaurants these days, chef Ed Lee's 610 Magnolia and Milkwood are two great restaurants to sample the ham in its many forms, from a salad accouterment to the base of ramen broth.

Fried Chicken

We know what you're thinking and just relax, okay? While technically we are talking about Kentucky fried chicken here, we're not referring to the world famous fast-food chain. While the Colonel's empire still reigns supreme, there are a number of other great fried chicken options to enjoy in the greater Louisville area. For a local take, check out the Louisville Courier-Journal's suggestions for where to eat fried chicken.


Try not to tell anyone, but the best soda in the country actually comes from Kentucky. Ale-8-One, known locally as simply Ale-8, is a carbonated citrus-ginger drink that you will undoubtedly become addicted to during your Derby visit. While it's delicious all on its own, Ale-8 is even better with bourbon, a combination that is known as the "Kentucky Cocktail."

Hot Brown Sandwich

Calling the Kentucky Hot Brown a proper sandwich is a stretch, but this epic, indulgent open-faced behemoth must be tasted to be understood. A proper Hot Brown is an open-faced sandwich with turkey and bacon that is then covered in Mornay sauce and tomatoes, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and baked or broiled until the bread is crisp and the Mornay begins to brown. To enjoy a Hot Brown as it was intended, stop by Louisville's historic Brown Hotel, where the dish was invented.


Bourbon is the only spirit that is legally required to be made in America and we're all the better for it. While bourbon doesn't have to be produced in Kentucky, the Bluegrass state is home to upwards of 95 percent of all bourbon production, along with the famed Bourbon Trail. If you're staying around Louisville for the Derby, take a day trip to one of the many nearby distilleries, including Bulleit, Jim Beam and Buffalo Trace.


Burgoo is Kentucky's take on Irish or Mulligan stew, a dish that aims to take whatever scraps you have available and turns them into sustenance. Common ingredients include pork, chicken, mutton or beef and vegetables, such as lima beans, corn, okra, tomatoes, cabbage and potatoes. Cornmeal and ground beans are often added for thickening. If you're looking for a hearty lunch to eat before hitting the track, burgoo is definitely a winning bet.