Kentucky Hot Browns are pure comfort food – an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with sliced juicy tomatoes, bubbly cheese sauce and crispy bacon. My mom added her own unique touches to the original hot brown recipe, making our family’s version unique – and we think it’s even more tasty than the original!
The Hot Brown sandwich has a long history, that begins at the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky. In the 1920s, the hotel hosted numerous dinner dances that went late into the night. The story goes that head Chef Fred Schmidt thought his patrons needed some good food to soak up all the alcohol they’d been drinking while dancing, and one night, using ingredients he had on hand, he created an open-faced turkey sandwich with Mornay sauce. It was a hit, and the hotel – as well as several other restaurants in Louisville – still serve a version of the Hot Brown sandwich today.
(Read about my visit to the Brown Hotel with my husband during one of our airstream road trips!)
While there are numerous Hot Brown recipes floating around, they basically are all some version of an open-faced turkey sandwich that’s topped with sliced fresh tomatoes, Mornay (cheese) sauce and cooked bacon. Rich, filling, comforting, and oh, so yummy!
My mom was born and raised in Louisville, and grew up eating various versions of this traditional Kentucky dish. While Mornay sauce customarily calls for a hard white cheese (usually Gruyère, but variations include Parmesan and/or Cheddar), mom preferred the brighter color of yellow Cheddar. She also added in sliced ham, amping up the smoky, salty flavor provided by the bacon.
Tips on making a Hot Brown
Here are my tips on making our Kentucky Hot Brown sandwich recipe that will ensure it comes out perfect, every time:
- Use good quality sliced, roast turkey.
It’s a key ingredient, so it needs to be good!
- Toast the bread.
This will keep it from getting soggy.
- Dry the turkey, ham and tomatoes on paper towel.
Getting rid of excess moisture also keeps the sandwich from getting soggy, and the sauce from being diluted.
- Use good quality cheese in the sauce.
It’s another key flavoring ingredient!
- Make sure the sauce is thick.
If it’s too thin, it’ll run off the sandwiches. (I provide directions on how to thicken the sauce if it’s runny.)
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Kentucky Hot Browns are pure comfort food – an open-faced turkey sandwich topped with sliced tomatoes, bubbly cheese sauce and crispy bacon. Mom added unique touches to the original hot brown recipe – yellow Cheddar cheese and sliced ham – making our family’s version unique, and we think even more tasty. Note that the recipe can easily be scaled up or down, depending on desired portion size as well as number of portions.
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 4 slices toasted bread (sourdough works well)
- 8 slices cooked turkey breast, placed on paper towel to dry, if needed
- 4 slices baked ham, placed on paper towel to dry if, needed
- 8 slices fresh, ripe tomato, slices placed on paper towel to soak up excess moisture
- 8 slices crispy cooked bacon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or parchment paper (a quarter-sheet pan works well).
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, for 3 minutes.
- Whisk in milk, raise the heat to medium, and continue cooking, stirring, until very thick.
- Stir in cheese and continue cooking, stirring, until the cheese melts.
- Stir in Worcestershire sauce and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Set aside and keep warm.
- Place toast slices in one layer on prepared baking sheet.
- Put 2 slices of turkey and 1 of ham on each piece of toast (fold slices in half if large).
- Place 2 slices of tomato on top of each sandwich, overlapping if needed.
- Spoon cheese sauce over top of all.
- Top with 2 slices of bacon on top of each sandwich, making an “X” shape.
- Bake until sauce bubbles, around 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.
Variation on baking pan: these sandwiches can also be prepared in a rimmed baking dish or in individual gratin dishes.
Tip on fixing runny cheese sauce: Hot Brown cheese sauce needs to be fairly thick, in our opinion. If yours is runny, here’s how to fix it – in a small bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon flour with 1 tablespoon of the sauce. It will form a paste. Slowly whisk in 1 tablespoon water, just until smooth (no lumps). Add another tablespoon of water if needed. Slowly whisk flour mixture into sauce and cook, over medium-low heat, until thickened.
Keywords: hot sandwich, turkey, Mornay sauce
Note: this is an update to an earlier post. I added in better photos, my tips for making the perfect Hot Brown, and more details in the recipe instructions.