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Food & Recipes

Kentucky Hot Browns Are the Perfect Bacony, Cheesy Sandwich — Easy Broiler Recipe

Learn to make your own Mornay sauce for extra rich flavor

Dust off your mint julep recipe and fire up the broiler: the Kentucky Derby is almost here! And what better way to celebrate “The Run for the Roses” than with a Kentucky Hot Brown. This legendary sandwich is bursting with flavor: Imagine tender turkey, crispy bacon and a luxuriously creamy cheese sauce piled on toasted bread with roasted tomato slices. We’ve got an authentic recipe that takes just 35 minutes to assemble. Plus, learn how to make a homemade Mornay sauce and customize to create your own “winner, winner, Hot Brown dinner.” Here’s your guide to Kentucky Hot Browns.

What are Kentucky Hot Browns?

A true Kentucky staple, this open-faced sandwich boasts a history as rich as its ingredients. The Hot Brown’s origins can be traced back to the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, in the 1920s. (Louisville also happens to be the host city of the Kentucky Derby.) Legend has it that the late chef, Fred Schmidt, created this dish late one night to satisfy a group of hungry patrons. The result? One delicious sandwich that’s stood the test of time as a local specialty.

Traditionally, a Kentucky Hot Brown features a base of toasted white bread, layered with thinly sliced turkey or chicken breast. Next comes a generous helping of crispy bacon for crunch and smokey flavor, then roasted sliced tomatoes for freshness and acidity. The star of the show, however, is the Mornay sauce – a luxurious creamy cheese sauce that covers the entire sandwich. The assembled sandwich then goes under the broiler until the cheese becomes golden and bubbly. Now you see why we love this recipe?

Want another Southern classic? Try this recipe for Kentucky Butter Cake.

Make your own Mornay sauce

Kentucky Hot Browns: Mornay cheese sauce in pot with ingredients like butter and flour on the side

This sandwich wouldn’t be the same without its decadent Mornay sauce. And while we can appreciate the store-bought jar for convenience, making your own tastes so much better. Originally used in French cuisine, this béchamel sauce comes together with a base of butter and flour, also known as a roux, to thicken the sauce. Then, the roux gets whisked with milk or heavy cream, before adding grated cheeses like Gruyère or Pecorino Romano and nutmeg. The finished sauce should be creamy and easily pourable.

Brian Theis, cookbook author and creator of The Infinite Feast, shares his recipe for the perfect mornay sauce using heavy cream. You can adjust the amount of cheese or add others for a cheesier flavor. This sauce can also be made ahead and then rewarmed.

Mornay Sauce


  • ¼ cup (half stick) butter
  • ¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • Freshly ground white pepper, optional
  • Pinch of nutmeg, optional


  • Active Time: 10 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings  
  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Then, gradually whisk in the flour to make a roux, stirring continuously.
  2. After about two minutes, whisk in the heavy cream and heat the mixture to a simmer.
  3. Remove from burner and stir in the grated cheese until combined. Add pepper to taste.

Helpful tips

“The key is to make a smooth béchamel, which involves lots of whisking and gradually adding milk to your roux. And then adding plenty of cheese!” says Dagan Lynn, Executive Chef for Beef. It’s What’s For Dinner.

When making your roux, let the flour brown a bit before adding the milk. This prevents the sauce from having a raw flour taste. Additionally, don’t stir the sauce too much or it will become stringy.

Worried about a dirty cheese grater? Learn how to use a lemon to clean it in seconds.

Tips for making perfect Kentucky Hot Browns

Nailed the Mornay sauce? Got the best sliced turkey? Now you can assemble your Hot Browns! While they seem relatively straightforward, a few key techniques can elevate your sandwich from good to great. Here, some expert tips to ensure they come out tasting great.

1. Start with this bread

Choose a hearty and sturdy bread that can hold up to the weight of the ingredients without becoming soggy. Texas toast, brioche or a good quality white bread all make excellent options. Additionally, Theis adds that “you can easily fry up your own using thick-cut Brioche bread and garlic butter in a skillet.”

2. Crisp up the bacon

For perfectly crisp bacon, precook it in the oven or microwave until almost done. Then, finish crisping it in the skillet over medium heat just before assembling your sandwiches. For added caramelization, you can drizzle some maple syrup over your strips while baking!

3. Pre-cook the turkey

While not essential, pre-cooking your turkey or chicken slices can add another smokey element. Lightly brown them in a skillet, but don’t overcook or they’ll dry out in the broiler. You can also use re-heated leftover turkey.

4. Watch the broiler

“Make sure to run the assembled Brown under the broiler as your last step (watch carefully—the tomatoes, Mornay and Parmesan should start to take on color),” says Theis. They cook quickly due to the high heat, and you want the cheese melted but not burnt. Broil for just a few minutes, or until they turn golden brown and bubbly.

Easy Kentucky Hot Browns recipe

Try this traditional recipe from House of Nash Eats for your upcoming Derby Day festivities, and it will surely be a hit. This recipe uses fresh Texas toast for optimal flavor. Additionally, use a rimmed baking sheet or oven-safe skillet so the cheese sauce doesn’t drip everywhere.

Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwiches

Kentucky Hot Browns Recipe: Finished sandwich in a cast iron pan on a towel


  • 4 slices thick bread, like Texas toast
  • 1 lb. roasted turkey thickly sliced
  • 2 Roma tomatoes sliced
  • Homemade Mornay sauce (see above)
  • ¾ cup sharp white cheddar or Gruyère cheese
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese
  • 8 slices thick cut bacon, cooked until crisp
  • Freshly chopped parsley, for sprinkling on top
  • Paprika for sprinkling on top


  • Active Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings
  1. Set your oven to broil. Then, arrange tomato slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil the tomatoes for 1-2 minutes per side, until slightly charred.
  2. After, butter the bread slices and place on foil-lined baking sheets. Toast under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, then flip and toast the other side.
  3. Top the toasted bread with the turkey, then tomato, then sauce, then sprinkle with additional cheese and broil for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to plates and top with bacon. Finally, sprinkle with parsley or chives.

Storing and reheating Kentucky Hot Browns

While Kentucky Hot Browns are best enjoyed fresh, you can still store them for future meals if desired. Let the assembled sandwiches cool completely, then wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Store them in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

To reheat, preheat your oven to 375°F and wrap the leftover sandwiches in foil. Heat for 10-15 minutes, or until warmed through and the cheese melted. But for the best results, we recommend storing and reheating the mornay sauce and sandwiches separately.

Customize your Kentucky Hot Browns

If you’re not too interested in authenticity, you can customize this sandwich in so many ways. Below are some ideas to turn your Kentucky Hot Browns into a Derby-worthy masterpiece.

1. Pick a different meat

Swap out the turkey or chicken for sliced roast beef or shredded pork. For a vegetarian option, you can also use grilled vegetables. “Whenever I make a Kentucky Hot Brown, I personally like to use a combination of roast beef and bacon,” says Chef Lynn. “The roast beef in particular adds a great flavor dimension to the dish.”

2. Experiment with cheeses

Feel free to use different cheese in your sauce. For example, gruyère, cheddar, gouda or a combination make good alternatives.

3. Add some greens

Add a layer of fresh spinach, lettuce or arugula for a pop of color as well as a touch of healthy greens to your bite.

4. Kick up the spice

Like things a little spicy? You can add a bit of cayenne pepper, chili flakes as well as some hot sauce to your Mornay sauce.

Bonus: Hot Brown skillet dip recipe

Chef Lynn shares a fun variation of the Kentucky Hot Brown you have to try: a Cheesy Bourbon Hot Brown Skillet Dip. “It includes all the great flavors of a Kentucky Hot Brown, as well as the addition of bourbon (another Kentucky staple!). And you can serve the classic Texas toast or French bread on the side for dipping. It’s sure to please a crowd!”

For more cheesy comfort sandwiches, try these recipes below:

How to Make the Best-Ever Pimento Cheese Sandwich — Chef’s Secret Is Easy + Delicious

How to Take Your Grilled Cheese to the Next Level: Chef’s Tips To Ultimate Ooey-Gooey Goodness

What’s Better Than A Grilled Cheese Sandwich? One That’s Dipped in a Light Batter and Fried, Italian-Style — Delizioso!

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