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The Most Popular Kentucky Derby Day Dishes in Each State
Published April 25, 2023, By: Ben Harris
Each May, Millions of people gather to watch the most exciting two minutes in sports: the Kentucky Derby. But what are they munching on in the hours before and after the race? We looked at publicly available search data to find out what the most popular Derby Day dish is in each state. We also asked people across about their horse racing rituals to get even more insights into Derby Day traditions.
- Surprisingly, the most popular dish overall for Derby Day: Pimento cheese
- More than half of viewers plan to bet on the race
- Roughly 1 in 4 Derby devotees dresses to impress for the big day
What’s the Most Popular Food Served on Derby Day?
First, we looked at YouTube recipe search data from the week before the Kentucky Derby in 2021 and 2022. We analyzed the data in each state to find out what people are serving and enjoying as they watch the Kentucky Derby.
For the culinary creatives and challenged alike, there’s no better one-stop shop for recipes and how-tos than YouTube. So to find out what folks across the country are nibbling on during the run for the roses, we took a deep dive into YouTube search data in the week leading up to the 2021 and 2022 derbies.
The most popular provision overall, which is the most commonly served food in 11 states—more than any other dish—is pimento cheese, often on finger sandwiches or as a dip.
It’s unclear why this is such a popular food in the South, but eating it while watching the Derby has become a tradition in and of itself. The states serving pimento cheese more often than any other food during the Derby include Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota.
The next most popular Derby Day dish, preferred by residents of nine states, is Benedictine spread, a concoction made from cucumbers and cream cheese and often made into finger sandwiches or dip as well. There’s something indescribable about the traditions surrounding the Kentucky Derby that calls onlookers to dine on elegant dishes while donning their fanciest of pants.
The Kentucky Hot Brown, a dish invented in the Derby’s hometown of Louisville, is surprisingly NOT the favorite Derby Day dish of Kentuckians. That crown is bestowed on Derby pie; a sweet treat comprised of chocolate, walnuts, and plenty of Southern charm.
Mint Julep: King of the Cocktails
And what will our partygoers use to wash down all these tasty treats? The classic mint julep, of course. This bourbon-based potable has been a staple of the Derby since it was first served trackside at Churchill Downs in 1937. And it remains a perennial favorite to this day.
As exciting as the race itself is, it only lasts around two minutes on average. So it should come as no surprise that over 50% of respondents note that they plan on betting on the races, likely to build some excitement leading up to post time. Betting on horse racing is an American tradition, with amounts wagered smashing race-day records numerous times throughout the race’s storied history. Last year, $179 million was bet in the parimutuel pool, setting an all-time record.
Interestingly, just 17% of respondents reported that they will attend or host a Derby Day party, but 23% will tell us they’ll dress to impress for the event.
Magnifying just how culturally iconic the Kentucky Derby is, we learned that for nearly 70% of people, it’s the only horse race they watch all year. A statistic that solidifies the derby’s place in the pantheon of American sporting events.
As we approach the 149th Kentucky Derby in history, it’s nice to see that the traditions surrounding the event that began in the late 1800s and early 1900s are still alive and well. As onlookers get dressed up, munch on pimento cheese, and sip on mint juleps, the cultural significance of the Kentucky Derby just continues to be solidified.
We pulled YouTube recipe search data by state leading up to the Kentucky Derby in 2021 and 2022 to see what recipes people were searching for most often to determine the most popular dishes. We also surveyed 1,000 Americans to ask about Derby Day traditions, preferred beverages, and betting habits.
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