We Made Authentic Kentucky Hot Browns, and Now We Know Why This Recipe Is Famous

This recipe for a traditional Kentucky Hot Brown will keep you dancing all night long!

The Kentucky Hot Brown is the best sandwich you will ever eat with a knife and fork. This epic open-faced delight is made with thick slices of bread, turkey, bacon, tomato and cheese, all bathed in a rich sauce that is simply irresistible.

History of the Kentucky Hot Brown

kentucky Hot BrownKristina Vanni/Taste of Home

The Hot Brown was created in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. At that time, the hotel would draw over 1,200 guests every night to its evening dinner dance. Inevitably, these late-night revelers would begin to feel peckish after hours of dancing, and the crowds would make their way to the hotel restaurant for a bite to eat.

Chef Fred K. Schmidt wanted to offer the guests something more glamorous than ham and eggs, so he set out to create a unique dish that would please their palates. The substantial and hearty Hot Brown was born! It quickly became the signature dish at the hotel and has come to represent Louisville as well as the Kentucky Derby.

To this day it is still served at the hotel and appears on Derby party menus everywhere.

What’s in a Kentucky Hot Brown?

A true Kentucky Hot Brown begins with thick slices of Texas toast. They are placed in an oven-safe pan along with sliced plum tomatoes and thick slices of roast turkey breast. Everything is drenched in a rich Mornay sauce. It’s warmed to bubbly perfection in the oven and then topped with two slices of crisped bacon, a dusting of paprika and a sprinkle of fresh parsley.

Other variations on the original Hot Brown recipe might use sourdough bread or Monterey Jack cheese. Some add breadcrumbs, omit the bacon or add mushrooms. There are riffs on the Hot Brown that turn it into a casserole, eggs Benedict, sliders, pasta or even hot dogs. It seems the possibilities are endless!

How to Make a Kentucky Hot Brown

kentucky Hot Brown Kristina Vanni/Taste of Home

The website for the Brown Hotel offers its signature recipe for “The World Famous Hot Brown.” I adapted the official Brown Hotel recipe to work well for home cooks. The restaurant serves the Hot Brown in a traditional pan, which happens to be available in the hotel gift shop.

This recipe makes 2 Hot Browns.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 slices Texas toast, crust trimmed
  • 2 plum tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 14 ounces thickly sliced roast turkey breast
  • 4 slices bacon, cooked
  • Paprika
  • Fresh parsley, finely chopped

Directions

Step 1: Make a Mornay sauce

In a 2-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste, or roux. Continue to cook the roux for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Slowly whisk the heavy cream and whole milk into the roux, about 1/4 cup at a time until incorporated. Stir and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Remove the sauce from the heat and slowly whisk in 1/2 cup of the Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add a pinch of nutmeg, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set the sauce aside.

Step 2: Assemble the Hot Browns

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place two oven-safe dishes on your work surface. For each Hot Brown, place a slice of toast with the crusts cut off in the center of each dish. Take the remaining two slices of toast and cut each in half corner to corner to make two triangles. Place the two triangles on either side of the whole piece of toast. Top each dish with 7 ounces of turkey. Take the two halves of plum tomato and set them in each dish. Pour the prepared Mornay sauce over the turkey, bread and tomatoes. You will use half of the sauce for each dish.

Step 3: Bake

Place the dishes in the oven and cook until they begin to brown and bubble, about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, then cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon Romano cheese, paprika and parsley. Serve immediately.

Tips for Making a Kentucky Hot Brown

kentucky Hot BrownKristina Vanni/Taste of Home

Do I need to use Texas toast for a Hot Brown?

While Texas toast is the classic choice, thick slices of any hearty bread will work. Test this recipe with sourdough, ciabatta or even day-old sandwich bread.

What other kinds of cheese can I use?

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese can be used in place of the Romano cheese. You can also try shredded Monterey Jack cheese or Swiss cheese.

How can I make Hot Browns for a crowd?

Instead of making individual Hot Browns in a single-serving oven-safe dish, make them side by side on a rimmed baking sheet. This way you can bake several sandwiches at the same time and then transfer to individual plates to serve. If you use this method, place the tomato slices and turkey directly over the bread slices and use caution when pouring the Mornay sauce. Make sure it won’t overflow from the baking sheet in the oven. You can also make Mini Hot Browns!

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Kristina Vänni
Internationally recognized culinary authority Kristina is a food writer, TV host, recipe developer and food stylist. In addition to writing for Taste of Home, Better Homes & Gardens and The Kitchn, she is a frequent featured expert on national media outlets and has served as a spokesperson and recipe developer for numerous national brands including Finlandia, KitchenAid and Post Foods. Kristina is currently writing her first cookbook, an exploration of the traditional and seasonal cuisine from her family's dairy farm in Finland.