The Hot Brown: A Kentucky Tradition

Events / Travel

The famous Hot Brown. (Photos courtesy of The Brown Hotel)

The Hot Brown is more than just a cheese sauce smothered, open-faced turkey sandwich topped with bacon (although that sounds just splendid to me) – it’s part of Kentucky's culinary heritage. It’s synonymous with Louisville, like the Kentucky Derby.

The Hot Brown is a comfort food – it’s a staple for those who have grown up in Louisville and for visitors it’s a must try bucket-list item steeped in great tradition. People come from all over to enjoy the delightful dish at the historic Brown Hotel, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Even people that aren’t staying at the 91-year-old hotel will come enjoy their famous Hot Brown.



Featured in Southern Living, the Wall Street Journal and the Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food" to name a few, the Hot Brown was invented by Chef Fred Schmidt of The Brown Hotel back in the 1926. Each evening the hotel regularly drew thousands of guests for its dinner dance, which tended to last until the sun came up and then some. Of course, all that dancing made the guests hungry, and in turn they headed to the restaurant for something to eat. Traditional ham and eggs were beginning to bore the diner’s palates and Chef Schmidt wanted to make something more substantial, something that would sit in their stomachs. He saw what he had on hand, whipped it up and the Hot Brown was born – a glorious open-faced turkey sandwich with a delicate Mornay sauce, topped with bacon, tomatoes and parsley.



Back in November, Brown Hotel Executive Chef Josh Bettis relocated to Louisville from Scottsdale, Ariz., where he served as executive sous chef at the luxurious Montelucia Resort and Spa. Lo and behold, who could have guessed what one of the first meals he and his wife had? None other than a famous Kentucky Hot Brown! Bettis, a graduate of the Scottsdale Culinary Institute, has spent the past 18 years in hotel kitchens around the world mastering Latin American fare in Miami, Old World European techniques in Ireland and Southwestern flavors in Arizona. 

Although he was the youngest of four children he was the only one that didn’t order off of the children’s menu - shrimp cocktail or an omelet with everything in it was always more appealing. He’s always been adventurous with food and although there was never one moment that led him to become a chef he always wanted to know what those swinging double doors into the kitchen lead to, what was happening from the time he ordered off the menu until the food reached his table.



Now he gets to create the magic that happens behind those swinging doors. While going over plans for the upcoming Run for the Roses, The Brown Hotel predicts it will serve around 1,500 Hot Browns – how’s that for a WOW moment! His favorite dish to make is whatever makes the guests’ happy, and with the upcoming 4-day Kentucky Derby weekend approaching, there surely will be plenty of happy diners.



Can’t make it to Louisville but want to enjoy the delectable dish? Here’s the ingredients and recipe from The Brown Hotel for you to make two Hot Browns to enjoy from the comfort of your own kitchen.

• 1 1/2 tablespoons salted butter

• 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

• 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, plus extra for garnish

• Pinch of ground nutmeg

• Salt and pepper

• 14 oz. sliced roasted turkey breast, slice thick

• 4 slices of Texas toast (crusts trimmed)

• 4 slices of bacon

• 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half

• Paprika

• Parsley

In a two-quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined to form a thick paste or roux. Continue to cook roux for 2 minutes over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk heavy cream into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2-3 minutes. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in Pecorino-Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste. For each Hot Brown, place one slice of toast in an oven safe dish and cover with 7 oz. turkey. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and two toast points and set them alongside the base of turkey and toast. Pour half of the sauce over the dish, completely covering it. Sprinkle with additional cheese. Place entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove and cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top. Sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.

Need more convincing that the Hot Brown is a must try? I doubt it, but just for fun you can watch horse racing fan, owner, and famous chef Bobby Flay take on former Brown Hotel executive chef, John Castro, and his brother in an episode of ‘Throwdown with Bobby Flay’ to see who can make the perfect Kentucky Hot Brown.


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