The Best Food at the Kentucky Derby

Every year more than 150,000 people head to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby. The horses may run for the roses, but savvy attendees race for the refreshments. David Danielson, Executive Chef of the Kentucky Derby, strives to make sure each dish represents Kentucky cuisine, so we've rounded up a few of his must-try dishes. Hosting your own party instead? We've also included recipes that will take your tastebuds to the track.

Derby Sundae

Consider this a Derby-style twist on a classic ice cream sundae. Vanilla ice cream is infused with mint for a nod to the iconic mint julep. Then, maraschino cherries are soaked in Woodford Reserve bourbon (the official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby) before sitting atop a dollop of whipped cream. And it's all served in an official 2018 Kentucky Derby souvenir glass.

Cracklins' with Pimento Cheese

In the exclusive Turf Club where celebrities like Tom Brady and Bobby Flay watch the race, Danielson serves another Southern specialty: pimento cheese. Freshly fried pork rinds are the perfect vessel for creamy pimento cheese spread made with two kinds of cheddar and Duke's mayo (beloved by every good Southerner). Danielson also adds some chopped pecans and bacon to his recipe for an even heartier spread. Make your own pimento cheese for a crowd with this recipe from Sunny Anderson.

Loaded Kentucky Nachos

Danielson is a big advocate of "Kentucky Proud," a statewide campaign that supports local farmers and makers by encouraging consumers to buy Kentucky-made products. In the interest of eating local, these nachos are topped with pulled pork made from Kentucky-grown pigs and drizzled with local barbecue sauce. Topped with traditional nacho fixings like pico de gallo, sour cream and jalapenos, this is the ideal Cinco de Derby dish. Make loaded nachos like these for your own gathering.

Kentucky Burgoo

If you live anywhere outside of Kentucky, chances are you've never heard of burgoo. For anyone new to the dish, it's a spicy meat stew that's been a Kentucky staple for more than a century. This one served at Churchill Downs is made with pork, turkey and beef, and packs some heat. Thankfully, it's served with a side of freshly baked cornbread to temper the spice. Want to serve burgoo party-style? Try a burger version.


This bright green spread is a Kentucky classic. It's a mix of cream cheese, cucumber and green food coloring served on white sandwich bread and ideal on a warm day. The simple dish has been served in Kentucky for decades, so it's only fitting that it would make an appearance at the state's biggest sporting event of the year. Serve it as a party spread with plenty of crackers at home.

Old Forester Mint Julep

You can't let the whole day at Churchill Downs go by without sipping at least one mint julep. Because the demand is so high — spectators buy 120,000 each year — Old Forester creates a pre-mixed version just for race day. The key ingredient for a mint julep according to experts, though? Crushed ice and a frosty glass. If you're looking for an ultra-luxe experience, Woodford Reserve is mixing up 90 $1,000 Mint Juleps at the Derby, but in order to snag one you have to place an order online before the big day. Watching from your couch? Mix yourself a mint julep just like Alton Brown.

BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich

This is the ultimate Kentucky-style pulled pork sandwich. The pulled pork and barbecue sauce are the same as in the Kentucky Loaded Nachos, the bread is made by a local baker, and the mayo-based coleslaw is made in-house. (Pro tip: Add some slaw to your sandwich for a nice crunch.) For your Derby Party, make a big batch of pulled pork in a slow-cooker and let guests serve themselves throughout the day.

Chicken Tenders and Fries

Yes, these are totally a stadium staple, but hear us out: The line for these deep-fried tenders is the longest of any concession stand all Derby Day long, according to Churchill Downs employees. Order the tenders with a side of Cajun-seasoned waffle fries and these will definitely hit the spot — especially after a couple juleps. If you're watching the race at home, make these frozen tenders ahead of time and pop them in the oven before the action starts.

Bourbon Old Fashioned Pecans

If you need a break from mint juleps, snack on Old Fashioned-flavored pecans instead. These pecans are candied and then soaked in bourbon to give them a smoky and sweet flavor. It's the ultimate taste of Kentucky in a snack. You can even make them at home with Danielson's own recipe.