Looking for Kentucky Derby Party ideas? From mix your own mint julep bars to easy southern themed appetizer recipes, everything you need to host the best Kentucky Derby Party is right here.
Are you a Kentucky Derby fan? I have always been intrigued by all the traditions that surround this annual spring event--the amazing hats, the decorations, the parties, the mint juleps. A friend of mine that lives in Kentucky posted the most hysterical status on Facebook just a week ago about how you can't possibly claim to be a glue gun expert until you've lived in Louisville during Derby season.
From the sounds of it, she's been spending hours crafting unique hats for her and her adorable three girls to wear to countless entertaining events over the course of the Derby. I am more than a little bit jealous. How fun! I can imagine that by the time the actual party day arrives, a Kentucky Derby hostess is looking for all the shortcuts she can get.
I love to entertain but it can be just so much work. I thought it would be fun to share some party hacks for getting a full southern menu on the buffet for your friends with a minimal amount of effort. Perfect for hosting a last-minute Derby party no matter where you are or for any southern-themed festivities all year round!
1. Mint Julep Bar with Variations
The hero of the event! You can't have a Kentucky Derby party without a mint julep! Blasphemy! But mint and bourbon straight up may not be everyone's cup of tea. How much more fun would it be to set up a "Mix Your Own" bar with 4 flavor combos?!
Since moving to the south, Handyman Tim has taken to learning more about the local bourbons. For me, a traditional mint julep is just way too strong. I spent some time playing around on the awesome cocktail recipe resource over at Master of Mixes to find some ideas. Then I selected a handful of their fruity cocktail mixers to create blends that would be more appealing to the bourbon lovers like my husband but could be lightened up a bit for the ladies in the crowd.
4 Amazing Mint Julep Flavors
- Blood Orange Mint Julep: My absolute favorite one! I think I found my summer drink.
- Pineapple Twist Mint Julep: Tim's favorite.
- Sweet Strawberry Mint Julep: I enjoyed this one tremendously but it was far too sweet for Tim.
- Southern Peach Mint Julep: I couldn't host a southern party without trying a peach twist. Though it was tasty, I'd sip all day long on that Blood Orange one instead.
Master of Mixes has an amazing Mint Syrup that is the base of all 4 recipes. To that you add 2 ounces of your preferred fruit mixer and top with a pour of bourbon.
For a mint julep with a more authentic (strong!) ratio:
2 oz fruit mix + .5 oz mint syrup + 2 oz bourbon + ice
For a mint julep with a lighter more refreshing (girlie!) taste:
2 oz fruit mix + .5 oz mint syrup + .75 oz bourbon + ice
I set out bottles of Master of Mixes' Blood Orange Margarita Mixer, Mai Tai Mixer (for the pineapple version), Strawberry Margarita Mixer, and Peach Margarita Mixer alongside the mint syrup and a bottle of bourbon. You can find each of the tasty Master of Mixes mixers right here.
Letting your guests mix their own allows them to make them as light or strong as they want and everyone can have fun sampling the different flavors. It would be so fun to have a taste test vote at the end to see which one was most popular!
Though the Master of Mixes mint syrup gives the mint julep all the minty flavor it needs, I set out some fresh mint for garnish along with fresh strawberries and cut up pineapple.
The remaining 9 hostess hacks involve easy peasy southern "recipes" that you can pull together in a pinch with a simple visit to the grocery store. Serve everything up on your own pretty platters and dishes for a homemade touch.
2. Cheese Straws:
This classic spicy southern munchie can be bought right in the cracker aisle of most gourmet grocery stores. They are the perfect savory complement to a sweet cocktail.
3. Sweet and Spicy Nut Mix:
The south is known for peanuts and pecans. Look for a fancy nut mix like the sweet and spicy one I found at our grocery store. Otherwise, you could easily make up a batch of these spiced pecans long before the party starts. They keep well for weeks.
4. Pimiento Cheese with Crackers:
This was definitely an acquired taste for me when we moved to the south but now I love pimiento cheese, especially on a hamburger.
If you can't find a prepared carton of it at your grocery store, here is my super easy pimento cheese spread recipe to mix together on your own.
5. Skewer a Cheese Cube Plus Grape:
For the guests who may shy away from the Pimiento cheese option, pull together a simple but fancy finger food. Just grab a container of cheese cubes from the store and skewer them up with a red or green grape.
6. Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Dipping Sauces:
Grab a bag of fancy sweet potato fries from the freezer section and then go browsing in the condiments aisle for 2 or 3 dips to go with it. Maybe a Southern BBQ sauce and a bottle of spicy mayo? YUM.
7. Roast Beef & Horseradish Crostini:
This easy prep-ahead roast beef crostini appetizer recipe is always a huge hit.
Swing by the deli aisle and get some freshly carved roast beef sliced thick. Skewer it up with a dollop of prepared horseradish sauce and chopped fresh cherry tomatoes and serve on a simple crostini bread.
8. Peach Pizza
Make a gourmet pizza with the South's favorite fruit with one of the five delicious variations in this peach pizza recipe. Then cut the pizza into smaller squares as an appetizer. If you use a homemade pizza dough, you could roll it out to a square shaped pizza that would make it even easier to cut.
9. Pulled Pork on Hawaiian Roll:
Pulled pork is a southern staple. Grab a container of prepared bbq pork from the refrigerator section of your store and serve it up slider-style on a mini Hawaiian bun. Bonus points if you take the time to set out some fresh coleslaw to go with it.
10. Easy Strawberry Shortcakes:
Grab a container of whipped cream, fresh strawberries, and store bought biscuits. Set out the fixin's for your guests to make their own mini strawberry shortcakes. No one can resist this sweet ending.
11. Pecan Pie Bars:
I found amazing prepared pecan bars in our grocery store bakery department. Buy just a few of the big ones but then cut them up petit four style (bite-sized) and place on a pretty platter to help stretch them further.
If you have the time, making a batch of homemade pecan bars is super easy and lets you cut them to just the right size.