1. Kentucky Hot Browns
A hot, cheesy, open-faced turkey and bacon sandwich that sounds normal enough but will blow your mind. Recipe here.
For party-purposes, maybe make them in miniature.
2. Mint Juleps
The quintessential Derby drink is a potent mix of bourbon, sugar, and mint. Recipe here.
(More importantly, pewter julep cups.)
Serving mint juleps in highball glasses is fine (heck, even a Solo cup can’t ruin something with so much bourbon), but really you should use your Derby party as an excuse to buy perfect, adorable julep cups (great selections here, but you can find them in any kitchen store).
If a classic mint julep is a little too potent for you, try adding fruit or juice.
This blueberry mint julep is sweeter, brighter, and not quite as strong. Recipe here.
3. Mint Julep-Themed Desserts
Grilled mint julep peaches with ice cream are just a little bit boozy, in case day drinking isn’t your thing. Recipe here.
Since 1905, roses have been the official flower of the Kentucky Derby, and the event was dubbed the “Run For The Roses” by sports columnist (and later Churchill Downs president) Bill Corum. Whether or not you’re fête-ing Derby Day, a bouquet may be in order.
You can even freeze them into ice cubes!
If want to have your roses and eat cake, too, try your hand at a rose cake.
Rose cookies are a little bit easier, but equally lovely.
6. Really, bourbon everything.
It’s not every day that you can get away with putting bourbon in Chex mix. Recipe here.
You know what makes buttermilk bundt cake even more amazing? Bourbon. Recipe here.
7. Benedictine Spread
This cucumber and tabasco-flavored cream cheese dip sometimes contains a few drops of green food coloring. If that seems unnecessary and messy to you, just skip it. Recipe here.
Making benedictine sandwiches is even more adorable.
8. Equestrian Décor
Learn how to DIY gold horses and jockeys here.
These centerpieces are definitely Best In Show. Instructions here.
If your food is cute enough, it counts as a decoration.
These “Hold Your Horses” cookies are beyond adorable. Recipe and instructions here.
9. Pimento Cheese
Pro-tip: pimento cheese is a great add-in for next-level deviled eggs.
It also makes for especially awesome jalapeño poppers.
And then, go ahead and wrap the already-especially-awesome poppers in BACON. Recipe here.
10. (Unofficial) Derby Pie
The original “Derby Pie” recipe is top-secret and fastidiously trademarked, but this recipe is a pretty close approximation of the real-deal, with lots of chocolate and bourbon, and walnuts instead of the traditional pecans. Recipe here.
This chocolate bourbon pecan pie is a pretty close approximation, too. Recipe here.
11. Really Amazing Hats
Any brimmed hat can be a Derby-ready one when adorned with some ribbon and a silk flower.
Feel free to sport something really ridiculous.
Rules are, there ain’t no rules.
Not a hat person? Sweeten the deal by making sugar cookies, instead.
Because These. Are. Amazing. Instructions here.
12. Bow Ties
At Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is held, bowties are de rigueur. Frankly, not wearing one on Derby Day is a missed opportunity.
You can buy a Derby-themed bow tie online.
Or, go for something classic, à la Alton Brown, food-nerd extraordinaire.
Alton’s own line of bow ties is no longer available, but hook+ALBERT, the company that sold it, still has some other great ones for sale.
And of course, you could always just make one yourself.
Full instructions here.
Also, feel free to take things a step further and just put bow ties everywhere.
These bow tie chalk stickers on mason jars are so twee I almost can’t look at them. But, these are things I am willing to overlook in the name of the perfect theme party. Available here.
Yes, that’s garland made out of dried bow tie pasta. Full instructions here.
Spiking it is encouraged.
Enhance sweet tea with bourbon, peaches, and ginger. Recipe here.
Here, sweet tea is spiked with rum and garnished with lemon and mint, for something between an Arnold Palmer and a mojito. Recipe here.