The Kentucky Derby Goes Through A Ridiculous Amount Of Brisket Every Year

Getting dressed up in the brightest, most extravagant fashion creates an appetite, and attendees of the historic Kentucky Derby arrive ready to eat. With over 150,000 hungry visitors, one can imagine how much food and drink is distributed for the annual Run for the Roses. For the 150th Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs expects to provide over 1,000 pounds of cheese and 9,000 pounds of shrimp at the event, but a staggering 10,000 pounds will take the crown for the ingredient most served on race day. And at a lavish traditional event like the Kentucky Derby, you won't find a simple plate of Bar-B-Que brisket with a side of baked beans — not that it would be unappealing.

The head chef executing the menu for the 2024 race, Chef Robert Lopez, is serving up this classic Southern meat in an upscale way. The brisket being presented this year at the Kentucky Derby is Bourbon Cherry Brisket Burnt Ends. This take on simple smoked brisket adds the wow factor with a tart sauce made with cherry juice and preserves, a veal demi-glace, BBQ sauce, and Woodford bourbon. The combination of savory smoked meat with a touch of sweetness will surely excite those attending this historic race day.

How the brisket at the Kentucky Derby is prepared

Some of the over 1,500 kitchen staff will participate in smoking the brisket whole at 225 degrees Fahrenheit for between 13 to 16 hours where it will rest for roughly an hour before it's further smoked with the bourbon cherry sauce until sticky.

You wouldn't ever want to grill a brisket because the high heat of the grill would char the outside before the inside has reached doneness. Though there is a trend gaining popularity calling for brisket to be cooked quickly at higher temperatures, the method used at the Kentucky Derby is the traditional low and slow. A brisket cut comes from the chest of the cow, which gets used quite a bit during its lifetime, making it a tough cut. Cooking a brisket so it melts in your mouth requires patient cooking, so the heat can properly break down the tough muscle and collagen, bringing out the cut's natural meaty flavor and tender texture.

Why brisket at the Kentucky Derby?

While many places in the U.S. have their own unique take, the South is known for its brisket-smoking traditions and recipes. From a spicy Texas version with a chili powder rub to the sweeter style of South Carolina BBQ beef, brisket is widely known as a staple of the South. The Kentucky Derby attempts to bring together food from various regions of the South, so smoked brisket fits right in with the theme. While chefs treat race fans to a taste of Southern hospitality, they'll also offer Derby goers a tasty drink to wash all that meat down.

The most recognizable beverage to accompany any cuisine at the Kentucky Derby would be the drink emblematic of the global entertainment event — the mint julep. But to truly compliment the heavy flavors of meat, there may be a better option. A hearty red wine will cut through the richness and celebrate the flavor of the beef. A Cabernet Sauvignon is a popular choice to accompany beef dishes, as is a Syrah with its full-bodied flavor and fruity notes. The Kentucky Derby's website recommends pairing their brisket dish with a 2019 Bootleg Red Blend from Napa County. Lighter fare, like the Spring Panzanella Salad, also featured on the menu, might be worth saving room for, but guests at the 150th Kentucky Derby will surely be raving about the brisket as they get set for "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports."