Kentucky Hot Brown

Kentucky Hot Brown Vidalia Onion Bites

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Kentucky Hot Brown Bites

Kentucky is world-famous for the Kentucky Derby, held the 1st Saturday in May, fine bourbon, and thoroughbred racehorses. The Blue Grass state is also known for a sandwich that has a little bit to do with all three. The Kentucky Hot Brown is a lusciously creamy, cheesy decadent delight that originated at the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, and has become a Derby Day tradition. It’s made of thinly shaved juicy turkey, crispy bacon, and bathed in a rich cheese sauce. What’s not to love? Well, you are not going to believe that I’ve lightened this one up. Read on for my recipe for Kentucky Hot Brown Bites as well as my Kentucky Derby Party Tips so that you can host your own celebration — without running yourself like a horse on the track!

Kentucky Hot Brown Bites

Getting Sauced

According to the Brown Hotel website, in the 1920s, The Brown Hotel drew over 1,200 guests each evening for its dinner dance. By the wee hours, guests would stumble, I mean, make their way to the restaurant for a bite to eat. (We all know it wasn’t just being tired of dancing. I suspect they needed something to soak up some of that famous brown water from the region.)

The chef set out to create something new to tempt his guests’ palates. His unique dish? An open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and delicate Mornay sauce that came to be known as a Hot Brown. Odds are you think this is all about the turkey and bacon, but the real winner in a Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich is the sauce — and guess what, I doubled down on the bet by adding golden brown, sweet, and delicious Vidalia onions. 

Kentucky Hot Brown Bites

Mother Sauces

 Let’s back it up just a second…. The French chef Antonin Carême evolved an intricate methodology by which hundreds of sauces were classified under one of five “mother sauces”: Béchamel, Velouté, Espagnole; Hollandaise, and Tomate. 

Kentucky Hot Brown Bites

Sauce Béchamel

Béchamel is one of the most useful of mother sauces. It is a white sauce made by stirring heated milk into a fat-flour roux.  The thickness of the sauce depends on the proportion of flour and fat to milk. Sauce Mornay is a cheese sauce, one of the “children” of Sauce Béchamel is simply a white sauce to which cheese has been added.

Spring in the South

There’s another famous offshoot of  Béchamel known as a Sauce Soubise. Sauce Soubise is a classic white sauce made by sautéeing onions and adding them to a béchamel sauce. The result is rich and velvety, making the sauce an excellent accompaniment for vegetables, eggs, fish, and meats, or as a base for casseroles and gratins.

This year’s “Run for the Roses” brings together two of America’s most iconic rites of spring – America’s “favorite sweet onion” will be served at “America’s Greatest Race.”

Creamy cheese sauce plus golden brown Vidalia onions? Y’all know I love Vidalia onions so it sure sounds like a sure bet to me. I knew the combination of the two would be a winning combination for my Kentucky Hot Brown Bites.

You’re going to love my Kentucky Hot Brown Bites at your Derby Party. And, for more ideas, please check out these Kentucky Derby recipes from my friend and Churchill Downs Executive Chef Dave Danielson. I was able to work with Chef Dave when I was the Guest Chef at the Mansion for the 143rd Kentucky Derby, one of the most amazing events of my career.

Here are my Lucky #7 Kentucky Derby Party Tips:

  1. Entertaining should be relaxed for both the hosts and the guests — and that comes with organization and planning ahead, from the guest list to the music to the menu — and everything in between.
  2. Always start a party with a clean dishwasher, empty trash cans and recycling bins, and a spotlessly clean kitchen.
  3. Set your buffet with empty serving platters and bowls and mark the locations with sticky notes. This serves several functions: you know that the serving pieces will fit and how many you need for your menu. And, best of all, when someone asks, “May I help you?” you can smile and say, “Would you please put this on the table where the note is?
  4. Be realistic and give yourself permission to outsource. If you don’t have time to make everything from scratch consider swapping out some dishes for ready-made nibbles from your local market.
  5. The Kentucky Derby is also known as “The Run for the Roses” in honor of the roses draped upon the winning horse and small bouquets of roses would be both beautiful and appropriate. (Psst — You don’t have to buy super expensive long-stem red roses; Costco and other big box stores offer fairly inexpensive bouquets.)
  6. Stop by the fabric store and buy a couple of yards of seersucker that can be used as an accent piece, tablecloth, table runner, or even cut into cocktail napkins.
  7. Remember that Kentucky Derby parties don’t have to be fancy. They can be a casual outdoor event or a tailgate – and being outside for festivities is still a good idea. Place the utensils in Mason Jars; use galvanized buckets for the drinks, and enamelware for the serving pieces. Place a few bales of hay for guests to sit and set up a game of horseshoes in the yard.
Kentucky Hot Brown Bites

Point it Out!

These Kentucky Hot Brown Bites are indulgent and rich — and only come in at 1 WW blue point per cup or

You simply won’t believe how good they taste. Thinly sliced deli turkey forms the cup, the filling is sweet and savory with a judicious amount of bacon, sweet sauteed Vidalia onions, and creamy, cheesy sauce. Topped with even more melted cheese and herbs, these Kentucky Hot Brown Bites are a real winner!

Thanks so much for reading. If you make these for your Kentucky Derby Party please make sure to tag me and let me know.

Bon Appétit, Y’all

Virginia Willis

Kentucky Hot Brown Bites

Kentucky Hot Brown Vidalia Onion Bites

These decadent and delicious bites come in at ONLY 1 blue WW point per cup.
Prep Time20 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Course: Appetizer, brunch, hors d'oeuvres
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: cheese sauce, derby party, kentucky derby, kentucky hot brown, mini quiche, spring, vidalia onion recipes
Servings: 12 bites


  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • 6-8 slices deli turkey about 6 ounces
  • ½ Vidalia onion chopped
  • 2 slices bacon cut into lardons
  • 1 tablespoon all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup reduced fat milk
  • ¼ cup 1 ounce grated swiss cheese, divided
  • 1 large egg whisked until smooth
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley plus additional leaves, for garnish
  • Pinch cayenne pepper or to taste
  • Pinch freshly ground nutmeg or to taste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper


  • Heat the oven to 350°F. Spritz a 12-cup muffin tin with non-stick spray and set aside. Using a 3-inch biscuit cutter, remove circles of deli meat from the larger slices. Reserve the scraps for another use. Depending on the shape of the deli meat, you may need an additional slice or two. Using your fingertips, gently press the meat down into the prepared muffin tin. (It may tear a bit, but don’t worry. As long as it’s mostly intact you’ll be good to go.)
  • Heat the bacon in the skillet over medium heat and cook until the bacon is crispy and the fat has rendered, about 7minutes. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels. Pour off the bacon fat so that only a sheen remains in the pan.
  • Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the flour. Stir to combine. The mixture will be dry. Whisk in the milk until no flour lumps appear. Remove from the heat. Add half of the cheese and stir to combine. Whisk in the egg, parsley, and spices. (You will have about 1 cup of sauce filling.)
  • Using a 1 tablespoon measuring spoon or scoop, fill the prepared turkey cups. Top with remaining cheese. Transfer to the oven and bake until puffed and set, about 10 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Garnish with parsley leaves and serve.

Disclaimer: When there’s an appropriate mutually beneficial opportunity I partner for sponsored blog posts. In full disclosure, I was provided product to work with by The Vidalia Onion Commission for recipe development and compensated for this blog post and its social media promotion. #AD 

Please note that this post may contain affiliate links and I may make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.

Heads up! I am not a doctor, RD, or health professional nor am I an official WW ambassador or representative. I am sharing here what works for me. Thanks for reading!

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Please note that this post may contain affiliate links.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 2 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network’s Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of “Seven Food Writers You Need to Know.” Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Another winner. I have your strawberry buttermilk cake cooling on the counter. These are next.

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