Kentucky Hot Brown is 'the ultimate drunk food'
April 29th, 2014
10:30 AM ET
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Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. Writer Sarah Baird grew up in Kentucky and lives in New Orleans. Her first book, "Kentucky Sweets: Bourbon, Spoonbread, and Mile High Pie," was published earlier this year.

Drenched in gooey cheese, anchored by salty meat, and with enough thick bread to sop it all up, the Hot Brown is quite possibly the ultimate drunk food.

Over the years, the sandwich has not only reached far across the Commonwealth as a go-to remedy for a night of hard drinking, but has become the sandwich ambassador of Louisville’s dining scene. Crafted almost 100 years ago in one of the city’s finest grand hotels, the Brown (which is regal enough to give any Wes Anderson creation a run for its money), its decadence has become a thing of legend.

The story goes that in 1926, the Brown’s executive chef Fred K. Schmidt was looking for a luxurious, late-night food to feed to the thousands of dancers and merrymakers coming to the hotel each week. Not wanting the fall back on the old standby of ham and eggs, Schmidt crafted his take on a traditional Welsh Rarebit: an open-faced turkey sandwich on thick white bread covered in a thick, bubbly Mornay sauce.

The dish was an instant hit, and quickly spread to restaurants throughout the community. (His other concept, the cold brown—which consisted of turkey, hard boiled eggs, rye, and Thousand Island dressing—didn’t quite take off in the same way.)

While there has been a resurgence in interest in the hot brown in recent years (even David Chang of the Momofuku empire tried his hand at a deconstructed version) the classic, original sandwich is all one needs to cure her hangover or enter into a deep, food-induced sleep.

Bonus: If you’re in Kentucky, there’s even a trail you can follow, the Hot Brown Hop, to try different takes on the sandwich across the city!

Hot Brown
Yield: Four sandwiches
Time: 30 minutes, 20 minutes active
Special Tools: Individual casserole dishes

For the mornay:
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ounce gruyere cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

For the sandwich:
1 pound oven roasted turkey, thinly sliced
8 slices thick toast (Italian or French bread), crusts trimmed
4 slices beefsteak tomato (if seasonal)
8 strips bacon, cooked until crisp
1/2 cup Pecorino Romano

To prepare:
For the mornay:
Melt butter in a heavy bottom saucepan over medium heat. Working quickly, whisk in the flour and cook until golden and combined, about one minute. Stir in milk, bring to a boil and cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about four minutes. Whisk in cheese and cook until melted and combined. Season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.

To assemble:
Cut toast in half diagonally to form small triangles, and arrange place in the bottom of individual baking dishes. Place sliced turkey on toast points, and cover with mornay sauce. Top with bacon strips (preferably in an “X” shape) and tomatoes. Sprinkle cheese generously on top of each sandwich. Broil until golden brown and bubbly, about 5-6 minutes.

Read more at the Southern Foodways Alliance's blog

Trot on over to our other Kentucky Derby coverage:
Mint juleps, bourbon slush, benedictine and burgoo with just a smidge of squirrel
Mint juleps, five ways for Derby Day
Derby Day delights
The mint julep's muddled history
Mutton, pork butts and burgoo – an intro to Kentucky barbecue

soundoff (89 Responses)
  1. ron

    Would it have been too much trouble to have a print friendly key for the recipe and photo?

    May 9, 2014 at 11:07 am |
  2. Oliver Holz

    4 Tbsp of butter, 6 Tbsp of flour and 2 1/2 cups of heavy cream will not make a white auce, all it will make is a gelatinous ball of snot.

    Should be 3 Tbsp of butter, 2-3 Tbsp of flour and 2 cups of whole milk. That makes a white sauce. For mornay, you do not brown the roux, it should be only slightly golden before adding the milk.

    Other than that, the recipe appears to be an accurate interpretation of a Hot Brown.

    May 4, 2014 at 6:59 pm |
  3. Ky mom

    I have lived in KY my whole life and have always been aware of hot browns. It was not something we ate at home, but it shows up on restaurant menus from time to time. I have always been told that the authentic recipe has to have two sauces though, a béchamel sauce and a cheese sauce. I have never seen one with shredded cheese on top like this one. If you ever visit Lexington and want to try one, I highly recommend Ramsey's for a good one.

    So haters are going to hate, but every area has their own charming food items. It won't kill you to eat one a year (probably the rate for me) and it's good to try local things when you travel. Pouting looks disgusting to me but if I visited that area, you bet I would try it.

    May 4, 2014 at 10:01 am |
    • Ky mom

      ^ poutine (silly auto correct)

      May 4, 2014 at 10:01 am |
  4. whatsamatta_u

    That's no sandwich, that's a Weapon of Mass Digestion

    May 3, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
  5. Solomon Walker

    This dish comes from the same people that grow lettuce in heavy red clay. It's a hoot to watch them harvest.

    May 3, 2014 at 11:14 am |
  6. wadej420

    you people you know like dumb#$s Kentucky redneck douchb@gs. and say this as a resident of the ky

    May 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm |
    • Twerp

      Please kill yourself. Immediately.

      May 2, 2014 at 9:47 pm |
    • zodiac

      Ever hear of grammer?

      May 4, 2014 at 9:56 pm |
      • Denied

        LOL! Ever hear of spelling?

        May 5, 2014 at 6:42 am |
  7. ∞ Weeds ∞

    Sounds like it would hit the spot after a day at the races and a hardy post derby celebration.
    Swap the bread for homemade biscuits, add eggs and that'd make a fine breakfast. Don't forget the hash browns or grits.

    May 1, 2014 at 10:52 am |
  8. HamiltonHab

    Two syllables for you people: Pou-tine

    April 30, 2014 at 12:30 pm |
    • Kirk Lazarus

      What do you mean :"you people?"

      April 30, 2014 at 12:34 pm |
      • HamiltonHab

        I mean everybody reading.....what do you think I mean by "you people"?
        I imagine it's a race thing as everything is the US seems to be a race thing.

        April 30, 2014 at 8:03 pm |
        • Sound Advice


          May 1, 2014 at 7:09 am |
      • suj

        Another way to youse guys

        May 1, 2014 at 9:23 am |
      • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

        Obviously the joke was lost on several people around here. LOL

        May 2, 2014 at 2:37 pm |
        • Haywood Jablomey

          Joke? Glad you told us.

          May 3, 2014 at 4:58 pm |
    • Royal Reenie

      Oh yeah baby!!! Best thing in Canada other than Molson!

      April 30, 2014 at 8:18 pm |
      • Shamrock Rancher

        I don't know about that. Those Montreal women.... ooo la la!

        May 6, 2014 at 6:04 pm |
  9. Roger Overnout

    I have lived in Kentucky all my life. We never actually eat these. We use this dish the same way we use Mint Juleps, which we never actually drink. Both are served to snooty Yankee tourists, as a trick to make them barf. We then say: "Y'all come back.", thankful that you won't. Snarky know-it-all bitches.

    April 30, 2014 at 8:13 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I grew up in Kentucky, and we ate local dishes like that all the time. If you're skipping them, you're just missing out. A well-made julep is a glorious thing.

      April 30, 2014 at 10:07 am |
    • RC

      You can tell the toothbrush was invented in Kentucky. Otherwise it would be called a teethbrush. Present company (Kittenwithawhip) excluded :)

      April 30, 2014 at 1:27 pm |
    • Burbank

      Wow! My family comes from Kentucky, unlike you, they are nice people.

      May 2, 2014 at 1:29 pm |
      • Wilma Dichfitt

        His family was probably carpetbaggers, not native Kentuckians...

        May 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm |
    • Thinking things through

      I was born in Kentucky, and no, I don't remember most of what all we ate, since we moved out when I was 2 years old.

      Evidently, it wasn't a problem, however.

      May 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm |
    • Roger Overnout

      My dear fellow Kentuckians.... My post was meant as a sarcastic reply to all those who were criticizing the delicious hot brown as "puke" and "looks the same going down as coming up". I have had many restaurant versions and made my own, many times. It is a fantastic dish. I even add thin sliced country ham under the fresh roasted turkey, for an extra layer of salty flavor.

      >>>>> Please forgive me for not making the sarcasm more clearly identifiable.

      May 7, 2014 at 12:04 pm |
  10. Who Flung Poo?

    OK Caucasas. Just digested many favours meant for tomorrow. Your loss!!!

    April 30, 2014 at 3:15 am |
  11. Who Flung Poo?

    Put the bacon on the rack and open the beer!!! Time for Separate the Asian from the Gringo!! More beer please!!!!!

    April 30, 2014 at 3:12 am |
  12. Mike

    Makes my head spin just by looking at it while being sober. If I were drunk then my cookies would definitely be gone before even taking a bite.

    April 30, 2014 at 2:26 am |
  13. scubalifestyle

    The ironic thing with this meal is that it looks the exactly same going down as it does after it comes back up again.

    April 30, 2014 at 1:48 am |
    • rufus

      That's not irony.

      May 6, 2014 at 5:11 pm |
  14. Phil

    I may have a few of these in my younger years.

    April 30, 2014 at 12:49 am |
  15. Bubs

    I'm gonna double the bacon, add tater tots and over easy eggs!

    April 30, 2014 at 12:28 am |
  16. jodaddy59

    @ d
    any and everything in moderation...!

    April 30, 2014 at 12:06 am |
  17. jodaddy59

    A fine example of Vitamin GwC (grease with carbohydrate) at work and doing its job...!
    Every kitchen, street corner grill coast to coast and around the world has their variation... I HOPE

    p.s. a few big hits off an OXYGEN Tank is like HEAVEN...!!!
    insto prinsto, hangover gone!!!

    April 29, 2014 at 11:35 pm |
  18. Pie Guy

    I've had it at The Brown Hotel in Louisville
    Not only is it very tasty it is truly what you need after a few or many bourbons!!

    April 29, 2014 at 10:55 pm |
  19. d

    can we PLEASE start fining people for being so fricking irresponsible with their health? I'm tired of paying for skyrocketing health insurance (that I'm NOW forced to buy) when I'm a vegetarian who goes to the gym 7 days a week and doesn't smoke or get drunk.

    April 29, 2014 at 10:54 pm |
    • d

      if you slobs want to kick the bucket at 40, be my guest. Quit expecting everyone else to pay for it.

      April 29, 2014 at 10:57 pm |
      • Adam

        Where does this article mention health insurance? I'm sorry to break it to you but your hippie lifestyle doesn't make you any better or healthier than those like me who indulge in a treat every now and again. There is no stable evidence to suggest that vegetarians live any longer but there are high correlations with vegetarianism and depression. Go figure. Eat on carnivores!

        April 29, 2014 at 11:13 pm |
        • Liberal Omnivore

          Any correlations to rage?

          April 30, 2014 at 6:51 am |
      • Dover

        I am 53 years old. I have eaten anything I like my whole life. That includes prime rib, steaks, cheeseburgers. I don't particularly like sweets. I get a little exercise now and then, but not much. If it is fun, I'll do it: hiking, snorkeling, sex. I am a little overweight for my height but every pound has been very enjoyable. My theory is, my lifestyle may take a few years off of my life, but those are the years I am in diapers anyway! I have not had some boring 7 day a week regimen of doing reps in a gym. I have not passed on the truly enjoyable culinary temptations so I could force myself to pretend I like salad three times a day. I live! 63 year old triathlete friend who looked like a body builder and ate very healthy foods, avoiding meats etc, dies of a heart attack. The day he died I had a cheeseburger in his honor, because it proved to me there is no real rhyme or reason sometimes. I live how I want and will be happy every day of my life instead of living a little bit longer and dreading every bite I take. To each his own.

        April 30, 2014 at 2:49 am |
        • Gretchen Mann

          You had a cheeseburger in his honor? What a nasty little person you are!

          May 3, 2014 at 1:26 am |
        • omikron

          Ditto Dover, In my 50's have always been on weight or underweight and eat whatever I want whenever I want. I don't particularly care if it's healthy, unhealthy as long as it tastes good, I don't care if I live a few less years in diapers would rather enjoy life now!

          May 4, 2014 at 1:03 pm |
    • Chris

      I'm sorry your life is so boring. Give me 65 years of good food and fun instead of 80 years of kale and sweat!

      April 29, 2014 at 11:05 pm |
    • Ney

      Going to the gym 7 days/week is not healthy. Your body needs rest to recuperate. Sounds like you're the type of person who is the marathon runner that dies at a young age because their heart is over-worked. It's good that you exercise but, like anything else, a responsible amount is key. Eating only vegetables isn't natural, btw.

      April 29, 2014 at 11:43 pm |
    • Okeedokee

      I don't know any vegetarians that are immortal.

      April 30, 2014 at 12:30 am |
    • ironwolf56

      Yep a vegetarian upper middle class liberal proving every nanny state stereotype about you correct I see.

      April 30, 2014 at 12:53 am |
      • Dover

        So his whining about Affordable Care Act made you label him as a liberal? You right wingers are not too perceptive now, are you?

        April 30, 2014 at 2:51 am |
    • Phil

      Sure, as soon as you young'ens start protection and learn that AIDS truly means, a death sentence!

      April 30, 2014 at 12:57 am |
      • Royal Reenie

        How did a sandwich become about HIV/AIDS? And who are you kidding? Ever heard of antivirals? They do wonders. People are now living into their 30th year of being HIV positive and are no closer to death than you or I!!!! Wow education goes a long way!
        Now back to that sandwich!!! Looks like it could be a nice little indulgent I wouldn't mind trying at least once.

        April 30, 2014 at 8:11 pm |
    • Tim

      And people who take care of their health are draining Social Security and public pensions by living longer and eating more of our tax money. It goes both ways!

      April 30, 2014 at 6:09 am |
    • Carn E. Vore

      Wow, a whiny, uptight narcissistic vegetarian. I've never , NEVER met one of those before!

      April 30, 2014 at 2:13 pm |
    • Truth

      Ooooohhh, you're a vegetarian. That explains *everything*.

      May 2, 2014 at 4:53 pm |
  20. joe

    Hot dog hot dog hot digity dog!

    April 29, 2014 at 10:04 pm |
  21. Thinking things through

    I was born in Kentucky, and I've never heard of, much less eaten, this item. It really doesn't sound all that appealing, even as a hangover cure.

    April 29, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
    • Eastender

      True – just looking at that hot mess wants me to puke. In my early days the only go to food was top ramen. Now that I'm 50, I don't imbibe like I used to, but I don't regret having fun :)

      April 30, 2014 at 12:51 am |
    • Kat Kinsman

      I grew up in Kentucky and it was actually on our school lunch menu from time to time!

      April 30, 2014 at 9:03 am |
  22. chrisf

    Slingers, at least the ones at Diner, Irving Park Rd, Chicago, worked wonders....

    April 29, 2014 at 9:02 pm |
  23. Hmmmmm

    So somebody finally made a sandwich that makes Carl's Jr. look nutritious in comparison.

    April 29, 2014 at 8:32 pm |
    • christiantfarmer

      This sandwich is a hundred years old.

      April 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm |
      • Hmmmmm

        What, couldn't they make a fresh one?

        April 29, 2014 at 9:25 pm |
      • Dover

        And STILL no one has eaten it.

        April 30, 2014 at 2:53 am |
  24. dave

    throw a couple of over easy eggs on top and you got a meal

    April 29, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
  25. i'drathereatvomit

    so, diarrhea cures a hangover? interesting.

    April 29, 2014 at 8:22 pm |
    • I like this

      You want to pass the toxins in your bowls quickly. This is why it works.

      I'm being totally serious. That's why I taco shop here in cali. You will get the runs for sure.

      April 29, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
    • Dover

      Mornay is a cheese sauce. Cheese tends to bind, not loosen. Derp.

      April 30, 2014 at 2:54 am |
      • Royal Reenie

        Hey... maybe the DERP is lactose intolerant? Ever think of that you DERP? Cheese will cause horrible GI distress and diarrhea in some with lactose intolerance. SCHOOLED!!!!

        April 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm |
  26. There's about two weeks of calories in that thing

    It cures hangovers by giving you a massive coronary. Cures breathing too.

    April 29, 2014 at 8:20 pm |
    • I like this

      Two weeks of calories means 14 days of nothing but drinking.

      April 29, 2014 at 8:32 pm |
  27. cali girl


    April 29, 2014 at 8:12 pm |
  28. Julie

    I'd prefer a slinger to this.

    April 29, 2014 at 7:55 pm |
  29. Jamielee

    Not sure what a hot karl is in your neck of the woods but in mine a hot karl belongs to a fetish group.

    April 29, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
    • Really?

      G0d you are naive.

      April 30, 2014 at 7:00 am |
  30. I like this

    I could really go for one of these right now.

    April 29, 2014 at 7:43 pm |
  31. RichardK

    Yeah that's all your liver and kidneys needs after a night of hard drinking, salty greasy food...

    April 29, 2014 at 7:10 pm |
  32. Mancee Graice

    Is this kosher?

    April 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm |
    • Tim

      Don't think so, meat and dairy mixed.

      April 29, 2014 at 7:24 pm |
      • BigE

        and one of those meats is bacon ;-)

        April 29, 2014 at 7:37 pm |
    • Sark Azum

      Yes. Now say goodnight Gracie.

      April 30, 2014 at 6:59 am |
  33. Blumpkin

    This is what causes spastic colon...

    April 29, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
    • Klosh Manish

      Ironically, it also cures spastic colon.

      April 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm |
  34. MR GT.

    This plate is nothing compared to Nick Tahoe's Garbage Plate... Rochester NY...

    April 29, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
    • dcg

      AMEN !

      April 29, 2014 at 8:55 pm |
    • Bilbo Snagglins

      Right on. Cheesburg' plate, home fries, french fries, no onions...

      April 29, 2014 at 9:15 pm |
  35. meh

    not impressed. too difficult to make and sounds outright disgusting. NEXT.

    April 29, 2014 at 4:00 pm |
    • birdhouse9

      You call that difficult to make? lol!

      May 3, 2014 at 10:22 am |
  36. RC

    The Hot Brown Hop? I think that's what you'll get if you eat that thing......

    April 29, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
  37. Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

    Only 8 strips of bacon? Pfft. DOUBLE IT.

    April 29, 2014 at 12:02 pm |
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