Kentucky Hot Brown

This open-faced sandwich is piled high with roasted turkey, tomatoes, smothered in a mornay sauce, and topped with bacon—just the indulgence you need to celebrate the Kentucky Derby.

Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich
Vivian Jao

If you like a good old fashioned hot turkey sandwich, you’ll love a Kentucky Hot Brown!

This decadent and over-the-top open-faced sandwich starts with thick sliced bread toasted and piled high with thinly sliced roasted turkey, tomato, and a creamy mornay sauce. It’s then broiled until the sauce is browned in spots and topped off with crispy bacon slices and a sprinkle of parsley.

A Kentucky Hot Brown is indulgence personified. It’s a party of textures - the bacon provides crispness, the cheese sauce adds creaminess, you get tang from the lightly broiled tomato, and the toast is there to sop up all that extra sauce. If you need a side to pair with it, a simple salad will help balance out all the richness.

Kentucky Hot Brown History

During the Roaring Twenties the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky was regularly packed with revelers dancing the night away. In an effort to satisfy the famished guests, the hotel’s chef Fred Schmidt, created the Hot Brown to feed the hungry guests when the night came to a close.

Today, tourists and locals alike can find the Kentucky Hot Brown on restaurant menus throughout Louisville.

Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich
Vivian Jao

Best Bread for a Kentucky Hot Brown

A traditional hot brown sandwich calls for Texas toast, a thick-cut square loaf of white bread. You can sometimes find it packaged in the bread aisle, but frequently its sold buttered and frozen in the freezer aisle. You don’t want the buttered frozen loaf.

If you can’t find unbuttered Texas toast, then buy a Pullman’s loaf and slice it yourself, or just buy the thickest white bread you can find. You want it at least 3/4 inch thick.

Trim the crust if you want to be authentic or leave it on if that’s your preference. Remember, this is a gussied up turkey sandwich so anything you would use for a turkey sandwich should be fine here.

Swaps and Substitutions

The Hot Brown has evolved into many forms throughout Kentucky, using all different types of breads, cheeses, and toppings. It’s one of those dishes you can easily personalize to your palate, or to whatever is in your fridge and pantry.

The Pecorino Romano cheese can be substituted with:

  • Parmesan cheese
  • Gruyere
  • Cheddar

Common Hot Brown variations:

  • Add slices of ham
  • Cut tomatoes into wedges and roast them on the side
  • Top with sautéed mushrooms
Kentucky Hot Brown Recipe
Vivian Jao

How to Make a Hot Brown for A Crowd

This open-faced sandwich is a relatively quick and easy meal to scale up for large crowds—you can double or triple the recipe if you need. Just make sure when you’re building the sandwiches, you make an assembly line to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

  • Arrange the toasted bread, spaced out in a single layer, on a foil-lined baking sheet
  • Top the bread with sliced turkey
  • Top all the sliced turkey with tomatoes
  • Make and spoon on the sauce over the top
  • Broil and serve

Also be sure to have the bacon cooked, and the sandwiches layered before starting the cheese sauce which will make the final assembly a quick and easy process.

Curb Your Sandwich Craving with These Recipes

Kentucky Hot Brown

Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Total Time 30 mins
Servings 2 servings
Yield 2 open-face sandwiches

Ingredients

  • For the sandwich
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 4 thick slices Texas toast or white sandwich bread
  • 10 ounces deli-sliced roast turkey
  • 1 tomato
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
  • For the cheese sauce
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Method

  1. Preheat the oven, prepare two baking sheets:

    Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with heavy duty aluminum foil—one for the bacon and other to assemble the sandwiches, it should be large enough to set two slices of bread side by side.

  2. Cook the bacon:

    Lay the bacon slices on one of the baking sheets.

    Cook the bacon, until crispy and to your liking, rotating the pan halfway through cooking if necessary, and checking for doneness at about 12 minutes.

    Transfer bacon to a paper-towel lined plate to drain excess grease.

  3. Toast the bread and assemble the sandwiches:

    Toast 4 slices of bread in a toaster, toaster oven, or regular oven.

    On the remaining baking sheet place two slices of toast side by side in a single layer. Cut the other two slices of toast on a diagonal to form triangles and set those pieces aside.

    Cut four slices of tomato. Divide the turkey evenly between the slices of toast on the baking sheet. Top each stack of turkey with two slices of tomato. Season with salt and pepper.

    Kentucky Hot Brown Recipe
    Vivian Jao
    Louisville's Famous Kentucky Hot Brown
    Vivian Jao
  4. Make the cheese sauce:

    Set a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the butter. Once it melts, slowly whisk in the flour and continue to whisk until the mixture turns a shade darker and begins to smell slightly nutty, about 1 minute. This will allow the raw flour taste to cook out.

    Slowly pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth and thick, about 3 minutes. When you first start pouring in the liquid, it will look ugly and grainy. Don't worry! It will calm down, come back together and smooth itself out once all of the liquid is whisked in.

  5. Remove from heat and add the cheese:

    Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk in the cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk to combine until the cheese melts. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary, keeping in mind the saltiness of your turkey.

    Spoon half of the sauce over each sandwich.

    Louisville's Famous Kentucky Hot Brown
    Vivian Jao
  6. Broil the sandwiches:

    Set the oven rack about 5 inches from the broiler element. Preheat the broiler. Broil the sandwiches until the sauce is browned in spots and bubbling, 3 to 5 minutes.

    Louisville's Famous Kentucky Hot Brown
    Vivian Jao
  7. Serve the sandwiches:

    With a spatula, transfer each sandwich and two triangles of toast to a plate. Spoon the remaining sauce from the baking dish onto the plates.

    Crisscross 2 slices of bacon over top each sandwich and garnish with parsley. Serve while still hot.

    Homemade Kentucky Hot Brown Recipe
    Vivian Jao