Here are 10 food and cocktail recipes to try for your 2024 Kentucky Derby party

March 15, 2024

The  is Saturday, May 4 and that means it’s time to saddle up and start planning your Derby party. If you’re not sure where to start, Louisville entertaining mavens Peggy Noe Stevens and Susan Reigler have written a book filled with entertaining ideas and recipes called 

It includes traditional Southern cocktails and appetizers that will take your 2024 Kentucky Derby party up a notch, from nontraditional mint juleps to everything from Kentucky classic Benedictine to cheese grits and corn pudding.

Entertaining experts Tim Laid and David Danielson, the former executive chef at , have also co-authored a Southern-inspired cookbook The beautifully photographed book is filled with recipes from the historic racetrack and more that are just right for Kentucky Derby Week festivities.

So what are you waiting for? Don’t get left behind at the starting gate. You can never start planning a great Kentucky Derby party too early. Here are 10 food and cocktail recipes to try that are guaranteed winners.    

Traditional mint julep cocktail recipe

The traditional cocktail of the Kentucky Derby is the mint julep

The traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, the mint julep, is a must at any home Kentucky Derby party. This recipe iscourtesy of  

1 serving

  • 1-ounce simple syrup
  • 3 to 5 fresh mint leaves plus a fresh sprig for garnish
  • 3-ounces Kentucky bourbon
  • Crushed ice

To make the simple syrup, add 2 cups of granulated sugar to 1 cup of boiling water. Cool, bottle and refrigerate. You can do this the day before the party.

To make the julep, place the simple syrup and mint leaves in the bottom of a julep cup or glass. Muddle. Add bourbon and stir.

Fill to the brim with crushed ice, add a long straw and garnish with a mint spring. 

Note: if you are using mint-infused bourbon, don’t use the muddled mint leaves. 

Other mint julep cocktail recipes

Peggy Noe Stevens suggests mixing bathes of the cocktails you will serve at your Kentucky Derby party ahead of time.

Spice up your traditional mint julep offerings with these four unique twists on the classic cocktail: 

Pineapple julep: Muddle a tablespoon of chopped fresh pineapple with mint leaves and use 2 ounces of bourbon and 1 ounce of pineapple juice.

Strawberry julep: Add 3 fresh chopped strawberries to the bottom of the glass along with the mint and syrup and muddle.

Chocolate julep: No muddling needed here. Combine 2 ounces of Kentucky bourbon, 1 ounce white crème de menthe, and 1 ounce dark crème de cacao; shake over ice, and pour into a stemmed cocktail glass. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Peach-Basil julep: Use fresh basil leaves and a split vanilla bean to make the simple syrup. Add two 5-and-1/2-ounce cans of peach nectar to the syrup. Muddle a peach slice instead of mint.

Traditional Kentucky Oaks Lily recipe

Oaks Lily

Serves 2

  • 2 ounces Finlandia Vodka
  • 2 ounces sweet and sour mix or lemonade
  • 6 ounces cranberry juice
  • Splash of triple sec
  • 6 blackberries

Add all ingredients to a shaker with ice. Shake until cold, and strain into a tall glass filled with crushed ice. Garnish with blackberries on a skewer. Add sipping straws and enjoy.

Bourbon Bloody Mary cocktail recipe

The Bloody Mary cocktail is an afternoon tradition on Derby day. A nice drink to break up an afternoon of Mint Juleps.

The Bloody Mary cocktail is an afternoon tradition on Kentucky Derby Day. This recipe is courtesy of 

1 serving

  • 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, paprika mix
  • 2-ounces bourbon
  • 2 large lemon wedges
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato juice

To prepare the seasoning mix, combine in a mortar one part each smoked sea salt, smoked black pepper and smoked paprika. Finely crush with a pestle and shake together in a jar. 

To a pint glass or a large mason jar filled with ice, add the bourbon, squeeze and drop in the lemon wedges and add 1 teaspoon of the seasoning mix and Worcestershire sauce. Shake. Add more ice and tomato juice. Shake again.

Garnish with a long straw and baby corn, large pitted black olive and cherry pepper, all on a stick. 

Jubil8 cocktail recipe

Ale-8 has brought back its horse racing themed packaging for the Kentucky Derby.

For a Kentucky cocktail to its core, Ale-8-One is known to bring back its traditional horse racing-themed Kentucky Derby packaging.

  • 2 teaspoons Ale-8 infused simple syrup
  • 6-8 mint leaves
  • Crushed ice
  • 1.5 ounces bourbon
  • 1 bottle Ale-8

Gently muddle simple syrup and mint leaves in a silver julep cup. Fill the cup with crushed ice. Add bourbon and fill the cup with Ale-8. Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Cheese Grits recipe

Which Fork Do I Use With My Bourbon?

Serves 6. Courtesy of 

  • 1/2 cup stone-ground grits
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick butter)
  • 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • 3 eggs separated

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a heavy saucepan, bring 2-and-1/2-cups of salted water to boil and add the grits. 

Simmer over medium heat stirring constantly for about 20 minutes. Stir in the butter and remove from the heat. Add the cheese, cayenne and egg yolks. Cover and set aside.

Beat the egg whites until stiff and stir them into the grits. Pour the mixture into a 1-quart buttered baking dish and back for 35-40 minutes until golden brown.

Corn Pudding recipe

Serves 8-10. Courtesy of  

  • 4 cups fresh corn kernels (about 8 cans)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 6 eggs, beaten 
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Process 1 cup of corn in a food processor until ground. Combine the ground corn, the remaining 3 cups of corn kernels, sugar, flour, salt and baking powder in a bowl and mix well. Whisk the eggs, heavy cream, and half and half in a bowl until blended and stir into the corn mixture. Add the butter and mix well.

Pour the mixture into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan and bake for 40 minutes, or unit a sharp knife inserted in the center comes out clean. You can substitute frozen corn for fresh. 

Smoked Macaroni and Cheese recipe

Tim Laird and David Danielson. recommend serving menu items like a Smoked Macaroni and Cheese baked in its own ramekin as you honor the 150th Kentucky Derby.

Serves 6. Courtesy of by David Danielson and Tim Laird

Laird and Danielson recommend serving menu items like Smoked Macaroni and Cheese baked in its own ramekin as you honor the 150th Kentucky Derby.

  • 16 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup grated yellow
  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 and 1/2 cups (8 ounces) grated sharp cheddar cheese, divided
  • 2 and 1/2 cups (8 ounces) grated Monterey Jack cheese, divided
  • 16 ounces hickory wood chips, optional (or your favorite wood chips)
  • Two 12-by-12-inch pieces of aluminum foil, optional (for transforming your grill into a smoker)

Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cook the macaroni according to the directions on the package for al dente. Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the onion and cook for 5 to 7 minutes until translucent. Whisk in the flout and once combined, slowly whisk in the milk until combined. Add the salt and pepper, bring to a boil stirring constantly and cook until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Stir in half of the cheddar and jack cheese and once melted, add the macaroni. Pour into a greased 10-inch cast-iron skillet or 11-by-7-inch baking pan. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese.

Place in the smoker and cook for 1 hour until brown and bubbling. Serve warm.

Note: If you don’t have a smoker you can turn your grill into one by making foil pouches with wood chips. Put 8 ounces of wood chips in the foil and seal. Repeat with the remaining chips and foil. Poke holes in the pouches and place them directly over the heat. Place the skillet over indirect heat, next to the pouches, and bake as directed above. Alternatively, you can bake the mac and cheese in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes.

Derby Shrimp and Grits with Tasso Gravy recipe

Derby shrimp and grits with Tasso gravy from Tim Laird

Serves 6. Courtesy of by David Danielson and Tim Laird.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined, tails removed
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1 cup stone-ground white grits, such as Louismill
  • 8 ounces grated white cheddar (2 cups)
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper

Tasso Gravy

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 pound Tasso ham (or bacon or pancetta), diced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup strongly brewed coffee
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 dashes Tabasco
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat oil until it shimmers. Add the shrimp and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, just until they are pink. Transfer the shrimp to a plate. Season with salt and black pepper and set aside.

To make the grits, in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the water, milk, and salt, and bring the mixture to a boil. Slowly add the grits, stirring to combine. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, stirring frequently to prevent the grits from sticking, for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese, stirring until smooth. Season with white pepper and more salt as needed.

To make the gravy, in a medium skillet over medium heat, melt the butter. Stir in the Tasso ham and sauté until the ham is just browned. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is lightly browned. Whisk in the coffee, broth, and Tabasco and let simmer. Keep whisking until the sauce thickens and becomes smooth about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt and black pepper as needed.

To serve, place the grits on a large platter. Place the shrimp on top of the grits and ladle on the Tasso gravy. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Benedictine Bacon Toast recipe

Benedictine bacon toasts, a favorite Kentucky Derby day appetzer made by Tim Laird

Serves 8-10. Courtesy of  

  • 1 English (seedless) cucumber, peeled
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 2-3 drops green food coloring
  • Dash of hot sauce
  • 1 pound bacon, cooked crisp, crumbled
  • 1 loaf whole-wheat bread, sliced

To make the Benedictine: grate the cucumber and onion (easiest with a food processor). Drain well by placing in a strainer and pressing down with a spoon to remove all of the liquid. In a small bowl or food processor, add the cucumber and onion, cream cheese, food coloring, and hot sauce. Mix well, until combined.

Lightly toast the bread slices then, using a cookie cutter or the top of a jar, stamp out 1-and-1/2-inch bread rounds. You can usually get three rounds per slice of bread. Spread a generous amount of the Benedictine on a bread round, then dip it in the bacon pieces. They will stick to the bread. Repeat the steps for each bread round. 

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