Curious how to use up leftover turkey? Try a historic 'hot brown' sandwich.

A "hot brown" sandwich just may be the best use for leftover turkey. Here's why. (Photo: The Brown Hotel)

Each family has its own Thanksgiving traditions, from the handed-down recipe for the creamiest mashed potatoes to tips and tricks for the juiciest turkey, for most, the menu stays fairly consistent from year-to-year. But when one of the most adored meals of the year is over, there's always the question of what to do with leftovers.

At tables across the country, friends and family will gather to eat a meal much like the one they enjoyed the year before. But when the meal is finished and the Thanksgiving leftovers fill plastic containers to the brim, it's a great chance to experiment and create something new.

While many have favorite ways to repurpose Thanksgiving leftovers, this year, I sought to find the best use for leftover turkey. As a food writer, I've eaten hundreds of new dishes across the country this year, but there's one that stands out as the perfect dish for using leftover turkey.

Trying a hot brown straight from The Brown Hotel was a must-do travel item for me this year. (Photo: Josie Maida)
Trying a hot brown straight from The Brown Hotel was a must-do travel item for me this year. (Photo: Josie Maida)

Earlier this year, in celebration of the Kentucky Derby, I wrote a story featuring the "hot brown," a sandwich I couldn't get off of my mind. In the historic Brown Hotel in Louisville, Ky., the kitchen has been cooking up this warm, cheesy, open-faced sandwich since the ’20s — filled with turkey and made out necessity and a desire to use up leftovers.

"The Hot Brown was invented at the Brown Hotel in 1926 by chef Fred Schmidt, the first chef of The Brown Hotel," shares Dustin Willett, the current executive chef at The Brown Hotel. "In the 1920s, The Brown Hotel hosted around 1200 guests for dinner dances. In the early hours of the morning, the kitchen team would cook for these guests. Chef Schmidt grew tired of the traditional fare of ham and eggs and created the Hot Brown. It was an instant classic, and the rest is history."

The historic Brown Hotel is the birthplace of this savory turkey sandwich. (Photo: The Brown Hotel)
The historic Brown Hotel is the birthplace of this savory turkey sandwich. (Photo: The Brown Hotel)

Almost 100 years later, this sandwich is still an icon. Rapper Jack Harlow, a Louisville native, mentioned the dish in his song "Route 66," and today people — myself included — still travel from hundreds of miles away to try the famous sandwich.

On a recent trip to Louisville, it was one of my must-have meals. Although restaurants around the city pay homage to the original with their own take on the sandwich, I was dedicated to trying it in its birthplace.

The meal came out in a small cast iron dish, just large enough to hold the sandwich and the river of Mornay sauce (a béchamel sauce with shredded or grated cheese added) smothering the top. The scent filled the room and made this simple dish absolutely irresistible.

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Cutting through the layers of tomatoes, bacon, sauce, turkey and bread, I prepared the perfect bite, with just a bit of everything. The thick, toasted bread serves as the perfect base, while the turkey, often thought of as a dryer cut of meat, stays perfectly moist under its blanket of rich, cheesy sauce. The fat and crunch from the bacon added flavor and texture, and the warm Roma tomatoes added the perfect bit of acidity to cut through it all. With a sprinkle of pecorino Romano cheese to finish, this sandwich truly takes simple ingredients and turns them into something decadent.

This recipe has withstood the test of time, and The Brown Hotel shares it proudly on their website, so fans and those who have yet to try this delightful sandwich can recreate it at home.

Simple and easy to follow, utilizing ingredients most already have on hand, this delicious dish is the perfect way to turn cold, leftover turkey into a new meal you and your family will enjoy. My only warning is to be prepared, as it might outshine the holiday meal.

Get the recipe for a hot brown below.

The Hot Brown

Courtesy of the Brown Hotel

(Photo: The Brown Hotel)
(Photo: The Brown Hotel)


  • 2 ounces butter

  • 2 ounces all-purpose flour

  • 8 ounces heavy cream

  • 8 ounces whole milk

  • ½ cup of pecorino Romano cheese, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish

  • Pinch of ground nutmeg

  • Salt and pepper

  • 14 ounces sliced roasted turkey breast, sliced thick

  • 4 slices of Texas toast, crust trimmed

  • 4 slices of crispy bacon

  • 2 Roma tomatoes, sliced in half

  • Parmesan cheese

  • Paprika

  • Parsley


  1. In a two‑quart saucepan, melt butter and slowly whisk in flour until combined and forms a thick paste (roux).

  2. Continue to cook roux for two minutes over medium‑low heat, stirring frequently.

  3. Whisk heavy cream and whole milk into the roux and cook over medium heat until the cream begins to simmer, about 2‑3 minutes.

  4. Remove sauce from heat and slowly whisk in pecorino Romano cheese until the Mornay sauce is smooth.

  5. Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

  6. For each hot brown, place two slices of toast with the crusts cut off in an oven-safe dish: one slice is cut in half corner to corner to make two triangles and the other slice is left in a square shape. Then cover with 7 ounces of turkey.

  7. Take the two halves of Roma tomato and two toast points and set them alongside the base of the turkey and toast.

  8. Next, pour one half of the Mornay sauce to completely cover the dish. Sprinkle with additional pecorino Romano cheese.

  9. Place the entire dish under a broiler until cheese begins to brown and bubble. Remove from broiler, cross two pieces of crispy bacon on top, sprinkle with paprika and parsley and serve immediately.

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