How to Throw an Epic Kentucky Derby Party, According to a Celebrity Chef
“One of my favorite parties to throw is for the Kentucky Derby. It’s easy to celebrate—the food and cocktail recipes bring this iconic tradition to life. This year, I’m celebrating the Derby at home with my family and friends, watching the greatest two minutes in sports and making classic Derby dishes to get everyone in the spirit of the day,” Burtka told us.
If you’re interested in taking a page out of his book and learning how to host your own unforgettable Kentucky Derby party, read on for all of Burtka’s expert entertaining advice.
Insist on Derby Attire
The Kentucky Derby is the perfect opportunity to break out your favorite sundress or a seersucker jacket and bowtie. It also wouldn’t be a Derby party without bold hats and festive fascinators, so feel free to encourage guests to come ready in their most dapper attire. For a family-friendly spin, Burtka recommends sitting up a DIY Derby Hat area for kids. “They can turn vintage fedoras and straw hats into fun Derby headpieces with feathers, silk flowers, and ribbon,” he says.
A Derby Day to Remember
Create a photo booth for your family and friends to take memorable photos using fun Derby-themed props – like festive hats, fascinators, bowties, roses, toy horses, and more.
Prep The Décor
Words to life by: the more you can plan and do ahead of time, the more you’ll be able to enjoy your own party. Set up your table the night before by laying a festive tablecloth and arranging iconic red roses in celebration of the 145th “Run for the Roses.”
Plan Party Games
“At my house, we love playing Derby games that are fun for the adults and kids alike while getting ready for the race. Family favorites include a classic game of horseshoes or Two Truths and a Lie with two real Derby horse names and one fake one – the more outlandish the better,” Burtka says. Derby Hat Draw is another great one for kids to enjoy: put the names of all the horses racing into a hat and have everyone draw, then wait to see which horse wins.
Bring a Taste of Louisville to Your Backyard
To make for the perfect Derby Day spread, Burtka recommends serving plenty of bite-sized classic Louisville dishes, like mini hot browns, pimento cheese dip, and mini derby pies. You can easily prep these southern staples ahead of time so that on race day, all you have to do is pop them into serving dishes for guests to enjoy. Other great recipe options are corn cakes (better with bacon jam) and pulled pork sliders.
Make a DIY Mint Julep Bar
The Mint Julep—the official drink of the Kentucky Derby—is one of the simplest drinks in the world to make. For a fun twist on serving them, design a Mint Julep buffet bar! Set up a picnic table and stock it up with all of the ingredients to create a delicious mint julep. Include an ice bucket, festive Derby glasses, mint leaves, soda water, brown sugar, and plenty of bourbon.
Adults Like Goodie Bags, Too
To go above and beyond, Burtka recommends sending guests home with something. It doesn’t have to be overly elaborate or complicated, just a token that conveys 'thank you for coming!' “For my Derby party, I will give my guests a goodie bag of bourbon ball candies to keep the party going, even after the race is over,” he says.