I don’t care of if I have a fancy French culinary degree. I’ll stand on top of a mountain top if need be and shout it. I LOVE A GOOD CONEY DOG! Yes! That involves a hot dog. Possibly non-grass fed beef. White bread buns. I’ll say it loud and proud, for all the world to hear, as my heritage demands it.
Despite the name, by all rights credit for this dish must be directed to immigrants who arrived in Michigan in the early twentieth century who crossed hot dogs served at the iconic New York amusement park with variations of mild meat sauces from “the old country.” To be a true Flint-style Coney Island, it must employ a natural casing Koegel’s Vienna-style hot dog topped with a mild, dry meat sauce, onions, and yellow mustard. In Detroit, the meat topping has more liquid, resulting in a wetter sauce.
Below is an adaptation of the recipe credited as the progenitor of Flint-style sauce developed by a Macedonian immigrant, Simeon O. “Sam” Brayan, who opened Flint’s Original Coney Island restaurant in 1919. Brayan contracted with Koegel Meat Company to help engineer the hot dogs they still make today, and with Abbott’s Meat to develop the sauce.
My uncle Rich Fridline wheedled the sauce recipe from a Flint’s Original employee in the late 1950s, years before it was published in the Flint Journal after Brayan’s death. That recipe made enough for 36-plus franks, so I halved it, and then halved it again. This version makes about 1 1/2 cups (360ml) of sauce, enough for 8 to 12 hot dogs. Be advised that each prepared Coney Island packs 380 calories, with a high dose of saturated fat and sodium, so you’re warned to limit individual intake to one Coney, maybe two, no matter how alluring another might seem… Makes 8 to 12 Coney Islands
8 to 12 beef hot dogs, preferably kosher reduced-fat
1 1/2 teaspoons (7g) butter
6 ounces (170g) lean ground beef
1/2 medium yellow onion, minced (3/4 cup/95g)
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons (22.5ml) chili powder
2 teaspoons yellow mustard, plus more for garnish
5 tablespoons (85g) tomato paste (half a 6-oz. can)
6 tablespoons (90ml) water
2 hot dogs, minced (about 3 ounces/85g)
8 to 12 hot dog buns
Chopped raw onions, for garnish
Cook the hot dogs according to package directions.
Melt the butter in a 3-quart (3L) or larger skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef, yellow onion, garlic, salt, pepper, chili powder, mustard, tomato paste, and water. Stir to combine well and simmer until it starts to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the minced hot dogs. Drop the heat to medium-low and simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.
To serve: Traditionally, the buns are steamed: At home, try microwaving the buns four at time, with a cup of water in the oven, for about 20 seconds to soften and warm. Nestle each hot dog in its bun. Plop 2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45ml) of sauce on top of each dog, sprinkle with chopped onions, and squirt on a line or two of yellow mustard.