40 Recipes For Your Kentucky Derby Watch Party

While April showers may bring May flowers, the month of May also brings one of the premier horse racing events. You may be tempted to spend your first Saturday in May enjoying the warm weather but come Saturday afternoon, many will be gathering around their TVs. Having started in 1875, the annual Run for the Roses, aka the Kentucky Derby, has been held on the first Saturday in May every year since 1946. 

Unlike the Super Bowl, the Derby is less of a wings and pizza kind of occasion, as there's something a little more "dressy" about it. Perhaps it's the fancy hats worn by so many in attendance or maybe it's all the close-ups of dressed-to-the-nines billionaires in the Winner's Circle. Still, it's a TV watch party, so we don't want to cook a formal multi-course meal here. 

What's more, the race is held in Louisville, Kentucky, a more or less Southern state that's nonetheless just a few miles from being a Midwestern one. For these reasons, we've tried to include a mix of recipes that honor the unique location and nature of the occasion.

1. Classic Mint Julep

If there's one item that's indelibly imprinted on our collective unconsciousness as an iconic Kentucky Derby dish, it's the mint julep. This drink is actually a very simple one, as in its classic form it consists of nothing more than fresh mint, sugar, and bourbon (plus ice, of course, as no one likes a warm julep). In this recipe, however, we're adding a splash of bitters, although you can leave it out if you're not a "bitter is better" kind of drinker. If you don't drink at all but still want to get in the Derby spirit, you can even make a mint julep mocktail by muddling the sugar and mint and then filling the glass with soda water. 

Recipe: Classic Mint Julep

2. Easy Derby Pie

While the Kentucky Derby is best known for its signature drink, it also does have a signature food of sorts, that being Derby pie. Derby pie is basically one big chocolate chip cookie baked into a pie shell, and yes, it's just as delicious as it sounds (even more so, tbh). While this recipe calls for the addition of a few tablespoons of bourbon, this ingredient is actually not original to Derby pie so you can leave it out with no fear of being inauthentic.

Recipe: Easy Derby Pie

3. Southern Sweet Tea

If you're not a fan of bourbon, feel free to toast the Derby winner with a glass of sweet tea, instead. If you're wondering what makes sweet tea any different from iced tea with sugar in it, it's that the sugar is actually cooked along with the tea to make sure that it stays dissolved. This particular sweet tea recipe does call for one ingredient that may give you pause at first — baking soda. Don't be put off by it, though, as this unusual addition doesn't impart any unpleasant flavors to the tea. Instead, the baking soda is meant to make the tea less bitter.

Recipe: Southern Sweet Tea

4. Easy Copycat KFC Chicken

If there's one dish that people in the other 49 states associate with Kentucky, it would probably be fried chicken. After all, Kentucky Fried Chicken was what KFC once stood for before the chain decided to become a stand-alone acronym. In truth, the fried chicken itself isn't particularly state-specific, but it's nevertheless delicious and makes for great party food no matter the occasion. Yes, you'll need some lead time to prepare this dish, but it need not be cooked at the last minute. Instead, you can keep the chicken warm in an oven on low heat. Alternatively, you can also serve it cold since fried chicken tastes great at any temperature.

Recipe: Easy Copycat KFC Chicken

5. Classic Potato Salad

If you're going to eat fried chicken, you'll probably want some potato salad to accompany it, and this homemade recipe won't require too much time or effort. Here we're taking the basic recipe and doctoring it up with the addition of celery, cilantro, dill, and jalapeños. If you don't care for any or all of these, you can omit them if you wish, and/or swap them out for other additions such as bacon bits, chopped pickles, chives, or hard-boiled eggs.

Recipe: Classic Potato Salad

6. 3-Ingredient Biscuits

Homemade biscuits go great with fried chicken, but another thing we love to do with them is to split them open and fill them with fried country ham. (Believe it or not, the ham slices sold at Dollar Tree are actually pretty amazing, not to mention super-cheap.) This biscuit recipe couldn't be much easier, since, as the name implies, you will only need three ingredients: butter, buttermilk (regular milk works just as well), and self-rising flour. If you don't have this last-named ingredient, you can always do a DIY version by adding salt and baking powder to all-purpose flour. In that case, you'd technically have 5-ingredient biscuits, but it's a minor quibble.

Recipe: 3-Ingredient Biscuits

7. Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

Two weeks after the Kentucky Derby comes the Preakness, aka the underrated second jewel in the Triple Crown. It may not be must-see TV to the rest of the nation, but it is a pretty big deal in its hometown of Baltimore. For that reason, we like to slip a little salute to the sequel into our Derby Day festivities by dishing up an appetizer made with crab. If you're lucky enough to live in the Old Line State, early May means that fresh crabs are just coming into season, but if you reside in a landlocked state you can always make this recipe with frozen or canned crab, instead.

Recipe: Crab Stuffed Mushrooms

8. Southern Pimento Cheese

One classic Southern (or maybe not-so-Southern dish) is pimento cheese, something that actually originated in New York before making its way down through the mid-Atlantic region (where it picked up the addition of Philadelphia cream cheese) and on into the South. Whatever its provenance, this tangy, cheesy, spread goes great with crackers and can also be used to fill finger sandwiches for a slightly more elegant presentation. While this recipe calls for pickle juice, you can replace this non-standard ingredient with hot sauce, instead, for a slightly spicier, less pickle-y version. Distilled white vinegar or lemon juice will work, as well.

Recipe: Southern Pimento Cheese

9. Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs don't belong to any one particular region, but are instead popular all over the U.S. wherever picnics, potlucks, and parties take place. (Side note: Wouldn't Triple-P make for a great Guy Fieri show? We'd love to watch him drop in on baby showers and church basement bingo games.) While this recipe is a pretty basic version, you can dress the eggs up with crumbled bacon, smoked salmon, or even a little caviar if you want to be highfalutin.

Recipe: Deviled Eggs

10. Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

To make pulled pork in approved pitmaster style, you may need to start with a whole pig and smoke it for an entire day. If you'd prefer something a bit less labor-intensive, though, you can try this super-easy three-ingredient version, instead. It starts with a pork tenderloin, some onion soup mix, and a carton of beef broth. These are tossed into a crockpot, then the pot does its thing for a few hours. All you need to do then is to shred the tasty, tender pork and serve it atop slider buns or biscuits for a great party entree.

Recipe: Slow Cooker Pulled Pork Sandwiches

11. Fried Green Tomatoes

Fried green tomatoes, like pimento cheese, is another dish that's not quite as Southern as it's cracked up to be. In fact, it may have originated in Chicago, but then, as we've already established, Louisville lies right at the crossroads where the South starts turning into the Midwest so fried green tomatoes are suitable for a Kentucky-themed spread. These crunchy, tangy tomatoes make a great side for fried chicken or pulled pork, but you can also serve them with a creamy dipping sauce and call them an appetizer.

Recipe: Fried Green Tomatoes

12. Easy Cornbread

You know those kicked-up cake recipes that start with a boxed mix? Well, this is the cornbread equivalent. Stir a can of creamed corn into two boxes of mix, add some sour cream, eggs, and butter, then bake up an extra-moist batch of the side dish that goes perfectly with all things barbecue. The great thing about cornbread as a party food is that it tastes just as good at room temperature as it does when it's fresh out of the oven.

Recipe: Easy Cornbread

13. Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird cake has a name that sounds delicate and colorful, but unlike its eponym, it's actually quite hearty. Essentially it's a spice cake packed with crushed pineapple, smushed bananas, and chopped pecans and topped with cream cheese frosting. While you can bake it into a layer cake as shown here, you could also save some time and effort and turn it into something more suitable for a TV watch party by baking it in the form of a sheet cake, instead.

Recipe: Hummingbird Cake

14. Quick And Easy Coronation Chicken Sandwiches

Kentucky Derby Day, 2023, will go down in the history books no matter who wins or loses the race due to the fact that its date just happens to coincide with a once (or at most twice) in a lifetime event: the coronation of a new British monarch. In honor of this occasion, we suggest making finger sandwiches filled with coronation chicken. This curried chicken recipe was created to honor the last coronation when King Charles' mother ascended the throne back in 1953.   

Recipe: Quick And Easy Coronation Chicken Sandwiches

15. Easy No Bake Buckeye Cookies

Louisville, Kentucky lies along the banks of the Ohio River, and if you follow the river upstream (or is it downstream?) 130 miles or so, you'll get to Cincinnati, although the distance can be less than 100 miles if you opt to drive. Due to this proximity, we feel it's appropriate to serve Ohio's unofficial state candy, the Buckeye, at a party celebrating Louisville's premier sporting event. Even if you're not as geography-obsessed as we are, you're bound to adore these Reese's peanut butter cup taste-alikes.

Recipe: Easy No Bake Buckeye Cookie

16. Classic Tomato Bruschetta

Tomato bruschettas make for an elegant, yet simple, finger food. They can also be pretty economical since you can concoct them out of a loaf of French or Italian bread that's starting to get a little stale. The toppings, too, need not be particularly pricey since all you'll need is fresh tomatoes of some sort plus cheese, garlic, and chopped onions. Fresh basil is nice if you can get it, but it won't be a deal-breaker if you can't since bruschetta is a pretty adaptable dish.

Recipe: Classic Tomato Bruschetta

17. 3-Ingredient Copycat Frosty

Fun fact about Wendy's famously fabulous (or fabulously famous) Frosty: This fast-food item actually has its roots at a racetrack. Not Churchill Downs, to be sure, but a track in the neighboring state of Ohio. We don't know if too many horse racing venues offer milkshakes today, but these drinks were quite a hit when Dave Thomas discovered them back in the '60s, and we quite like the idea of DIY Frostys as a julep alternative for non-boozy Derby parties.

Recipe: 3-Ingredient Copycat Frosty Recipe

18. Quick Easy Pecan Pie Bars

This dessert is a perfect hybrid of South meets Midwest as pecan pie is a Southern classic, while bar cookies are a Midwestern staple. What we love about these bars is the fact that they are actually much easier than pie, since there's no need to roll the crust. All you do is push the dough into a baking pan, then cover it with a filling made from pecans, brown sugar, and corn syrup. Okay, there are a few more steps and ingredients involved, but these pecan pie bars still make for a great dessert that you can throw together in little more than half an hour. Go ahead and prepare them a day or two in advance if you wish, since they taste wonderful at room temperature or even right out of the refrigerator.

Recipe: Quick Easy Pecan Pie Bars

19. Easy Roast Beef Sliders

Sliders make for a great party entree since they're small and easy to fit on a plate along with a selection of other nibbles. For a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, try these roast beef sandwiches with Swiss cheese (although you could swap the latter for cheddar if you prefer). In order to add a homemade touch, the buns are brushed with herbed butter and heated up in the oven until the cheese gets nice and melty.

Recipe: Easy Roast Beef Sliders

20. Easy Strawberry Pretzel Salad

With another nod and wink to Louisville's near-Midwestern status, we present a classic church basement potluck dish: the strawberry pretzel salad, a mysterious mashup that proves that Midwesterners were way ahead of the sweet and salty trend. If you're not familiar with this entirely un-salad-like salad, it consists of a crushed pretzel crust topped with a cheesecake-like layer and finished off with strawberries embedded in Jell-O. Try it, you'll like it, and so will your party guests.

Recipe: Easy Strawberry Pretzel Salad

21. Classic Grasshopper Cocktail

If you want a refreshing mint-flavored cocktail but you're not really into bourbon-forward drinks, we have the perfect julep alternative — a sweet and creamy grasshopper. This low-ABV drink is pretty much a Thin Mint in a glass with a little kick, as it consists of nothing more than green crème de menthe, white crème de cacao, and cream. You could also make your grasshopper with vanilla ice cream, in which case it could double as dessert.

Recipe: Classic Grasshopper Cocktail

22. Quick Deviled Ham Salad

We all know how to devil an egg, but how do you devil ham? Instead of mashing it, you need to chop it up fine, then mix those chunks with mayonnaise and various seasonings to make a creamy sandwich spread. Here we're stirring in chopped celery, onions, and pickles, as well — pick any or all of these add-ins for some extra crunch. Once you have your deviled ham, use it to make finger sandwiches for your Derby Day spread. This salad goes especially well with Hawaiian-style bread rolls since their slight sweetness pairs perfectly with pork products.

Recipe: Quick Deviled Ham Salad

23. Strawberry Sweet Tea

While the standard variety of sweet tea is made with black tea and maybe gets some extra flavor from lemons, this variant is made with green tea, instead. It also gets its pretty pink color and tangy-sweet taste from fresh strawberries. (Okay, the sweetness owes something to the sugar in the recipe, too). The resulting beverage is fresh, fruity, and festive and makes a great thirst quencher for any springtime get-together.

Recipe: Strawberry Sweet Tea

24. Southern Tea Cakes

These tea cakes are a kind of fat, puffy cookie with an almost cake-like texture, thanks to a somewhat unusual ingredient: mayonnaise. If your first thought was "Yuck!!," we assure you that you won't taste the condiment at all once the cookies are baked. The mayonnaise is basically just an unusual way to add a little more egg and oil to the cookie dough, without, you know, using an extra egg and some oil. One fun thing about making these tea cakes is that you can then have all the fun of telling your party guests, "Bet you'll never guess what's in these cookies!" 9 out of 10 times, they probably won't.

Recipe: Southern Tea Cakes

25. 3-Ingredient Sausage Rolls

If you find yourself with unexpected guests who show up at your house shortly before post time on Derby Day, you'll be in need of some quick and easy recipes to help you pull together a last-minute watch party. As long as you have a pound of sausage meat, an egg, and a package of puff pastry in the freezer (something you should never be without if impromptu gatherings are on the horizon), you'll be able to whip up these tasty sausage rolls with minimum effort.

Recipe: 3-Ingredient Sausage Rolls

26. Easy Cinnamon Glazed Pecans

While some may associate cinnamon-roasted pecans with fall or winter holidays, we always think of them as more of a spring/summertime thing since there's always a vendor selling them at many outdoor events. The smell is downright irresistible, as is the taste. Be sure to make several batches for your party guests, as these spiced nuts are sure to disappear as quickly as you can set them out. Should you run out of pecans, try making this recipe with almonds or walnuts instead, as those substitutions are also delicious and nutritious.

Recipe: Easy Cinnamon Glazed Pecans

27. Rose-Tinged Valentine's Day Cake

This cake may be named for a holiday that's associated with romance rather than racehorses, but its floral flavor makes it well-suited for watching the Run for the Roses, as well. For this occasion, though, we'd suggest replacing the heart-shaped sprinkles with edible rose petals, if you can find them. If not, little plastic horses would be cute, or you can just skip the adornment and let the pretty pink frosting stand on its own.

Recipe: Rose-Tinged Valentine's Day Cake

28. Ham And Cheese Sliders

Mini sandwiches always make great party fare, and these ham and cheese sliders are no exception. This recipe calls for deli-sliced honey roast ham with Swiss cheese, but feel free to swap out the former for smoked ham if you prefer, while you can replace the latter with cheddar. For a condiment, any kind of mustard will do. You may want to make two platters of these sandwiches, though — one for super pickle fans (this recipe as given is pretty pickle-heavy) and another for those who aren't quite so partial to pickles.

Recipe: Ham And Cheese Sliders

29. Lemon Cake

Cake can be somewhat sloppy to serve as a TV party dessert, but this lemon bundt is a better bet than a layered affair with lots of gooey frosting. In fact, if you want an even less messy cake, you could skip the glaze and just sprinkle the cake with powdered sugar, instead. Another alternative for serving is to pre-slice it and set the slices out on a platter along with a bowl of whipped cream and another of fresh berries.

Recipe: Lemon Cake

30. Copycat KFC Chicken Pot Pies

These itty-bitty chicken pot pies are fairly similar to the ones served up by KFC, which is a pretty tenuous connection to the Bluegrass State, but we're going with it anyway because mini personal-sized savory pies make a great party entree. These pies are cute but not too messy, and the store-bought puff pastry, canned soup, and rotisserie chicken we're using mean that they don't take much time to put together. Assemble the pot pies in advance, then just pop them in the oven about 20 minutes before you plan to serve them.

Recipe: Copycat KFC Chicken Pot Pies

31. Bobby Flay's Coleslaw With A Twist

Coleslaw is a must-have side dish for any type of barbecue or picnic food, plus it goes pretty well with the aforementioned chicken pot pies. Even people who don't generally eat vegetables will help themselves to a scoop or two, especially if it's an extra-tasty version like this Bobby Flay-inspired salad. As well as using standard coleslaw ingredients like shredded cabbage and mayo, our recipe also includes sour cream, pineapple juice, and even a squirt of sriracha for some slightly sweet heat.

Recipe: Bobby Flay's Coleslaw With A Twist

32. Mini Fruit Tarts

While these tiny fruit tarts make for a gorgeous dessert, they're ridiculously easy to make with a package of phyllo pastry cups. Once you've sourced these shells, all you need to do is fill them with instant pudding, then plop a few berries or other sliced fruits on top. Here we're going with lemon pudding topped with kiwi and berries, but vanilla pudding with peaches would also be lovely, as would pistachio or coconut pudding with pineapple and/or shredded coconut. Chocolate pudding, too, would be perfect with just about any topping.

Recipe: Mini Fruit Tarts

33. Easy Caprese Skewers

Derby Day may take place in the middle of spring, but in some parts of the country, summer is right around the corner. These caprese skewers give a little taste of the season to come. They conjure images of outdoor meals on the deck or by the side of the pool (even if it is a plastic kiddie pool). They also make for a rather refined TV snack, and one that's even quite healthy. To make the skewers more carpet friendly, though, you might want to assemble them well in advance and let them marinate in the balsamic glaze. Take them out about 30 minutes or so before you serve them so they'll have a chance to dry off, thus minimizing any potential dripping.

Recipe: Easy Caprese Skewers

34. Copycat Chick-Fil-A Chick-N-Minis

Chick-Fil-A may offer Chick-N-Minis as a breakfast item, but they also make a perfect snack or appetizer. While fried chicken biscuits may be pretty time-consuming to make from scratch, our copycat version takes a few shortcuts since both the rolls and the nuggets are frozen. Besides heating up these two items and inserting the latter into the former, all you'll need to do is to mix some honey and butter and spread it over the tops of the rolls.

Recipe: Copycat Chick-Fil-A Chick-N-Minis

35. Best Goat Cheese Crostini

Were you aware that Churchill Downs actually has goats onsite to help calm down the typically high-strung racehorses? In honor of a horse's best friend, we suggest serving goat cheese crostini at your Derby party. These tangy, tasty, tomato-topped appetizers aren't too difficult to make. Sure, you can go ahead and prepare them on an outdoor barbecue if you've got plenty of time on your hands before the festivities, but that grill pan (or any heavy frying pan) will heat up just as well over a stove burner.

Recipe: Best Goat Cheese Crostini

36. Bourbon Pecan Pralines

Besides horse racing, Kentucky is also pretty well known for its bourbon, which is probably why the Derby's signature drink is bourbon-based. If you're not into juleps, though, you can still salute the unofficial state booze by using it to flavor these crunchy-sweet pecan pralines. These candies are the perfect make-ahead dessert since you can prepare them well in advance of race day. If any of the candies crumble, that's no problem, since they can always be repurposed as a topping for other desserts like cakes, cookies, or ice cream.

Recipe: Bourbon Pecan Pralines

37. Cincinnati Chili

Churchill Downs may host America's best-known horse race, but Louisville is a little short on other big league sports franchises apart from the Racing Louisville NWSL team. Both the Cincinnati Reds and Bengals, however, consider this Kentucky city to be part of their territory, so in honor of their inclusion in these fandoms, we've included a recipe for Cincinnati's famous chili. If you want to go all-out, be sure to provide the fixings for serving it five-way complete with spaghetti, beans, onions, and cheese.

Recipe: Cincinnati Chili

38. Lemon Tarts

The best thing about lemony desserts, besides their tangy-sweet taste, is a sunny yellow color that's perfect for any spring or summer occasion. These lemon tarts are not too tricky to make as they start with a store-bought pie crust. If you don't have dedicated tart molds, feel free to use mini foil pie pans or a muffin pan instead. For an even easier version, you could even swap out the homemade lemon cream filling for lemon curd, as well. While you could top the tarts with candied lemon peel for a monochromatic look, you could also opt for blueberries, raspberries, or both.

Recipe: Lemon Tarts

39. Spinach Artichoke Bites

Frozen puff pastry is just the greatest stuff! All you need to do is thaw it out, then you're ready to create kitchen magic. Here we're using the pastry to line muffin cups, then filling them with a mixture of spinach, marinated artichokes, sour cream, and cream cheese. With a sprinkle of parmesan and about 15 minutes in the oven, these ingredients will transform into an appetizer that looks like you put a lot more work into it than was actually the case.

Recipe: Spinach Artichoke Bites

40. Classic Pink Champagne Cake

When the race is over, all the fat cats in the winner's circle will be celebrating with a little bit of bubbly. You and your party guests can join in the celebration in a far sweeter (and cheaper) way with a slice of pink champagne cake. This vintage cake recipe first became popular back in the '60s and still proves to be a popular choice even now. Even if you make it with the cheapest sparkling wine you can find, it'll still taste absolutely delicious. For an even cheaper (and more brightly-colored) alternative, you can even swap the wine for strawberry soda.

Recipe: Classic Pink Champagne Cake