Grab your knife and fork! This Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich recipe is a meal-worthy dish that's over-the-top delicious! It's served open-faced with thick slices of roasted turkey, crispy bacon, and fresh tomatoes on top of a thick piece of toasted bread, all smothered in a rich, cheesy mornay sauce.
I first made this Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich as part of Kentucky Week in my American Eats series, but it’s become a recipe that I’ve made again and again. If you’ve never had hot brown before, you might be surprised by the flavors in this recipe, which are definitely different from a lot of other classic Southern dishes!
What Is a Hot Brown?
A hot brown is a Kentucky original, created in 1926 at the Brown Hotel in Louisville. It was invented to serve to hungry hotel guests who came for the dancing that occurred at the hotel every night. It's referred to as a "sandwich" but really, it's so much more.
The sandwich is served hot, with a thick piece of white bread as the base. Some people like to use Texas toast, although any thick, good quality white bread will do. This is followed by layers of thickly sliced roasted turkey. You can use turkey leftovers, if you happen to have them on hand, or do what I did and ask for the thickest slices of roast turkey you can get at the deli counter.
Then, top the turkey with thick-sliced tomatoes and smother the whole thing with a creamy, homemade mornay sauce.
What Is Mornay Sauce?
Don't be intimidated by the fancy name!
Mornay is a simple sauce that starts with a butter and flour roux. Then you add milk, salt, and pepper, before melting in some cheese. Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and Gruyere go into my favorite version of mornay sauce, but white cheddar can be used instead if you prefer. Finish off the sauce with a pinch of nutmeg and a dash of hot sauce.
Once you top the open-faced hot brown with the mornay sauce, the whole thing is sprinkled with a little more cheese, then broiled until toasty, warm, and delicious. The finishing touch is to top each sandwich with two slices of crispy bacon and a sprinkle of chopped parsley and paprika.
(We love substantial sandwiches for dinner and this is one of our favorites! Some other sandwich recipes that we love are Monte Cristo Sandwiches, Pulled Pork Sandwiches, Kneader's Copycat Turkey Bacon Avocado Sandwich, and Grilled Caprese Panini.)
What You’ll Need
Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.
For the Mornay Sauce:
- Whole milk – Whole milk will give you a much creamier sauce than reduced-fat or skim milk.
- All-purpose flour
- Shredded sharp white cheddar or Gruyere cheese – The shredded cheese that’s sold in bags at the grocery store has an anti-caking agent added to it to keep it from clumping together in the package. This affects its ability to melt smoothly, so I highly recommend buying a block of cheese and shredding it yourself with a box grater.
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese
- Freshly grated nutmeg – Fresh nutmeg adds a special touch to this sauce, but you can use bottled ground nutmeg if that’s what you have on hand.
- Hot sauce – Tabasco or whatever you like!
- Salt & pepper
For the Sandwiches:
- Texas toast
- Roasted turkey
- Roma tomatoes
- Sharp white cheddar or gruyere cheese
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese
- Thick-cut bacon – Cook this before assembling your sandwiches.
How to Make a Hot Brown Sandwich
Ready for a satisfying, meaty, supremely cheesy sandwich? Here’s what you’ll need to do!
Start the mornay sauce. Heat the milk in the microwave so it's warm when you are ready to add it to the roux.
Make the roux. Melt the butter in a large pan set over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
Finish the sauce. Gradually whisk in the hot milk and bring the mixture to a boil. Cook until the sauce is thickened, whisking almost constantly, about 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cheese, until it’s melted and the sauce is smooth. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Roast the tomatoes. Arrange the tomato slices on a baking sheet. Drizzle them with a little oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil for 1-2 minutes per side, or until they're lightly charred.
Toast the bread. Butter the bread slices and place them on foil-lined baking sheets. Toast under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, then flip and toast the other side.
Assemble the sandwiches and broil. Top the toasted bread with the turkey, tomato, and the mornay sauce, then sprinkle with additional cheese. Broil for 2-3 minutes. Transfer the hot brown sandwiches to plates and top them with bacon. Sprinkle with parsley and paprika before serving.
Tips for Success
Here’s how to make sure your Kentucky hot brown sandwiches turn out perfect every time!
- Don’t use frozen Texas toast! It’s basically garlic bread. You need fresh, thick cut white bread slices from the bakery section. If you can’t find them, you can ask the bakery to cut a white bread loaf into ¾-inch slices for you.
- Let the flour brown a bit. Before you add the milk for the mornay sauce, the flour should be golden brown. This prevents the sauce from having a raw flour taste.
- Don’t stir the sauce too much. It can make your mornay sauce stringy!
- Use a rimmed baking sheet. A sheet pan, or rimmed baking sheet, is essential here. You need those edges to catch the cheese sauce so it doesn’t go all over your oven!
If you’re not worried about authenticity, there are so many ways you can customize a hot brown sandwich. Here are some ideas:
- Switch up the cheeses. Use gouda, regular cheddar, or instead of using a combination of cheeses, just use one.
- Swap the bacon for ham. Use lunchmeat or leftover ham and you can skip the step of cooking the bacon!
- Use a different bread. If you can’t find Texas toast, try sourdough or French bread.
- Make sliders. Pile the toppings on the bottom halves of Hawaiian rolls, broil, then press the top halves of the rolls onto the sliders before serving.
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
A Kentucky hot brown is not a sandwich that stores or reheats well, so I recommend making only as much as you’ll eat right away, even if it means cutting the recipe in half.
If you do have some to spare, store the leftovers in an airtight container and reheat them in a 350ºF oven until warmed through.
More Reader Favorite Kentucky-Inspired Recipes
- Virgin Mint Julep
- Kentucky Chocolate Chip Walnut Pie
- Kentucky Butter Cake
- Southern Fried Chicken
- Fried Catfish
- Spoon Bread
Did you make this recipe?
Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.
Kentucky Hot Brown Sandwich
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 Tablespoon butter
- 2 Tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 cup shredded sharp white cheddar or gruyere cheese
- ¼-1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- Few dashes of hot sauce
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 4 slices thick bread like Texas toast
- 1 pound roasted turkey thickly sliced
- 2 roma tomatoes sliced
- ¾ cup sharp white cheddar or gruyere cheese
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino-Romano cheese
- 8 slices thick cut bacon cooked until crisp
- Freshly chopped parsley for sprinkling on top
- Paprika for sprinkling on top
- Heat milk in the microwave for 90 seconds.
- In a large pan over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute.
- Gradually whisk in the hot milk. Cook until the sauce starts to simmer and is thickened, whisking almost constantly, about 3-5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and whisk in cheese until melted. Season with nutmeg, salt, pepper, and hot sauce, to taste.
- Set oven to broil. Arrange tomato slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with a little oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 1-2 minutes per side until slightly charred.
- Butter bread slices and place on foil-lined baking sheets. Toast under the broiler for 1-2 minutes, then flip and toast the other side.
- Top toasted bread with the turkey, then tomato, then sauce, then sprinkle with additional cheese and broil for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to plates and top with bacon. Sprinkle with parsley or chives.
- The sauce can be made ahead and refrigerated overnight, then rewarmed.
- This is not a sandwich that stores or reheats well, but if you do have leftovers, store them in an airtight container and reheat them in a 350ºF oven until warmed through.
More States I Have Visited in my American Eats Series
Alabama • Alaska • Arizona • Arkansas • California • Colorado • Connecticut • Delaware • Florida • Georgia • Hawaii • Idaho • Illinois • Indiana • Iowa • Kansas • Kentucky • Louisiana • Maine • Maryland • Massachusetts • Michigan • Montana • New York • Oregon • Puerto Rico • South Carolina • South Dakota • Texas • Utah • Wisconsin
This post was originally published in August, 2020. It has been updated for content in June, 2022.