This Kentucky Derby Casserole Recipe Pairs Two Favorites: Bourbon and Spuds

You'll need some Woodford Reserve on hand to make Churchill Downs chef Kenneth Hardiman's bourbon sweet potato casserole

May 6, 2022 9:31 am
Bourbon sweet potato casserole will be on the menu at the Kentucky Derby
Bourbon sweet potato casserole will be on the menu at the Kentucky Derby.
Woodford Reserve

Fresh off his previous role serving as the senior executive chef at Fiserv Forum, the home of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kenneth Hardiman will take the reins at Churchill Downs this Saturday to make sure the 300,000 or so spectators who come to Kentucky to take in The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports won’t leave the Derby hungry.

Hardiman has filled his first menu as the official chef and culinary expert of the Kentucky Derby with carefully curated dishes such as pimento cheese creamed spinach, lemon green bean salad and braised short ribs that are meant to showcase traditional yet modern Kentucky flavors.

Also making an appearance on Hardiman’s menu for the 148th running of the Derby is a dish that event sponsors Woodford Reserve will likely raise one of their signature mint juleps to: bourbon sweet potato casserole.

“Historically, we’ve had some type of sweet potato dish. Kentucky being a Southern state, sweet potatoes are a tradition. For people in Southern regions, sweet potatoes are a staple in most households,” Hardiman tells InsideHook. “Sweet potato or potato casserole is usually on the tables at holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. They are times of celebration. The Derby is too, right? We’re basically welcoming people to our home and saying, ‘Hey. Come in. Sit down and break bread with us.’”

And break open a bottle of bourbon as well.

“The bourbon in the casserole adds a sweet component, and you’re going to have some oaky flavors in there too,” Hardiman says. “It’s topped with pecans and there’s brown sugar and vanilla. The bourbon’s just going to sit there and just make all that pop. It’s exciting. It’s a great dish and it’s simple to put together. At the end of the day, everybody can eat it. That bourbon generally burns off depending on how much you want to put in there. But as you’re cooking it, you can add a little bourbon for yourself.”

Off to the races…

A spread of Derby sides that will be available on Saturday in Kentucky
A look at the spread of Derby side dishes that will be available on Saturday in Kentucky.
Woodford Reserve

Bourbon Sweet Potato Casserole


  • 4 pounds of sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large cubes
  • 1 cup unsalted butter, cubed into medium dice
  • 2 Tsp vanilla extract  
  • ¼ cup Woodford Reserve bourbon
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ½ Tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ Tsp kosher salt
  • 1 ½ cups chopped pecans, divided (1/2 for casserole topping)
  • 2 cups mini marshmallows


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Place the sweet potatoes in a large pot of water, filling the water a couple of inches over the tops of the potatoes. Add 2 tablespoons of kosher salt to the water and bring to a boil. Boil the potatoes for 15 minutes or until they are fork tender and drain.
  3. Add the potatoes while still hot to a large bowl and mash with a potato masher until you get a smooth consistency.
  4. Add the butter, vanilla, bourbon, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and 1 cup of the chopped pecans to the bowl and stir to combine with the potatoes.
  5. Pour the sweet potatoes into a buttered, 9″ x 13″ (2 quart) casserole dish and top with the marshmallows and the remaining 1/2 cup of pecans.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes until the center is hot and the marshmallows have browned. If the marshmallows are getting to brown on top and the casserole isn’t warm yet, spray a piece of aluminum foil with cooking spray and cover the casserole dish until warmed through.


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