Q: Where did the Flint Coney sauce recipe that includes ground hot dogs originate?

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On the left is a coney topped with Angelo’s actual sauce, while the coney on the right is topped with sauce made with Joy Gallagher’s recipe containing ground hot dogs. The difference is quite visible, disproving the myths and folklore about this recipe.

Introduction

It’s important to note from the beginning that any Flint Coney sauce recipe which includes ground hot dogs is not accurate whatsoever. Flint Journal Food Editor Joy Gallagher was the source of this recipe, not any of the Flint Coney restaurants. This page outlines the majority of the history of that recipe.

The recipe has been published multiple times, adding to the folklore. In his book “Scoops: Ron Krueger’s inside dish on The Flint Journal’s favorite recipes” (Flint Journal, 2000), the long-time food writer and Ms. Gallagher’s successor included the ground hot dog recipe she had printed earlier, without a credit listed in Krueger’s book. I asked Mr. Krueger about this on November 6, 2014, and he replied, “That recipe appeared in The Journal several times over the years. Don’t think I ever saw it in the context of a story or ever saw any attribution. It always included the word ‘original’ in the title, but anybody who knows anything knows otherwise.”

Other publishings of the recipe range far and wide, particularly in “fund-raiser” cookbooks for various organizations. Two instances of this are “Bronner’s Flavorful Favorites”, published via the popular Morris Press Cookbooks for Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Appearing both times in the “This & That” section, in 2005’s Book 1 the recipe was titled “Coney Island Sauce”, submitted by Nola Thornton. This was followed on the same page by a “Coney Sauce” from a Betty Sears. The recipe consisted of ground bologna, onion, tomato sauce, and chili powder. The addition of celery seed and vinegar would make for more of a Detroit Coney sauce flavor. The version of Joy Gallagher’s ground hot dog recipe in “Bronner’s Flavorful Favorites Book 2”, published in 2008, was titled “Original Coney Island Sauce” and had been submitted by a Rhoda Williams. It was largely identical to Nola Thornton’s previous version.

Sections

The Recipe’s Possible Beginnings
The Recipe’s Second Printing
Angelo’s Specifically Refutes the Recipe
Ron Krueger’s Attempts at Debunking the Folklore
AAA Michigan Attempts to Debunk the Rumors
The 2011 and Subsequent Facebook Circulations
More Accurate Postings

 

The Recipe’s Possible Beginnings

The real origin of the Coney sauce recipe containing ground hot dogs is currently unknown. The recipe has, in many cases, been attributed to Angelo’s Coney Island, which is patently false. In March 2016 a few blogs with Flint Coney recipes heard from a gentleman by the name of Vaughn Marlowe. Marlowe was 18 when Angelo’s first opened in 1949, working as an Assistant Window Trimmer downtown at Smith-Bridgman’s. He was born-and-raised in Flint “with occasional summers in Canada”. What he has to say about what was there before Angelo’s began at the intersection of Davison and Franklin is quite interesting. His story indicates the source may very well have been a Coney shop that was located there until 1949, a shop where another Macedonian named Sam apparently did use ground hot dogs in his sauce. Here’s Mr. Marlowe’s story:

I grew up two blocks away from Angelo’s on Arlington, and ate there the day it opened in a new building under that name. The prior name was the Davison Road Coney Island and it was housed in a red wooden diner-style edifice of dubious construction. We spent many an hour playing the pinball machine and the nickel jukebox at that place. My pals and I were not a part of the Lloyd’s Drugstore culture across the street because that was for teen couples mostly. We were 13-15 year-olds without girlfriends at that point, although that changed soon enough on schedule with our hormones.

A Coney with a cup of coffee was 20 cents. Malts and shakes were the same, a piece of pie a dime. It was possible in 1948 to eat on a dollar a day. My $40 a week salary went a long way back then.

Sam [last name unknown], aka “Silent Sam”, used to scrape the grill at night and add bits of hamburger, sausage, bacon, hot dogs, and ham to the big pot of constantly simmering hot dog sauce that he would ”taste to test” throughout the day. I know; I used to watch him. He was an old school Macedonian cook and wasted nothing. He even added bits of goat meat leftovers from meals his wife cooked at home. I also remember his liberal use of cumin and paprika. Sam kept an unusually savory kitchen. That was 75 years ago, kids.

When we asked if he thought the Flint Coney sauce recipe might have come from “Silent Sam”, Mr. Marlowe replied in this manner:

I know nothing about the recipes. Years later I made a dry sauce based on some item sent me from the Journal. All I know about Sam’s was the scrapings and the aroma rich with cumin, onion, and paprika. His using meats from the grill, however, was understandable: it’s something my frugal grandmothers would have done. (During the 1930’s depression my mother would boast that she could get “two meals for three” out of a pound of hamburger; in fact she boasted about that up until she died a few years ago at 97.)

My late sainted mother (aren’t they all?) had the last word on the Coney Island hot dog. She came to Flint with her folks from Canada in 1925 and spent the first five days downtown in a hotel near the tracks. She and her brothers and sister lived on burgers and hot dogs from a nearby Coney Island — the “Original”, I’m betting — and she remarked before she died that she never lost her taste for them…that’s 85 years!

Incidentally, the dogs from my youth were densely packed and juicy:

grilled hot dog
dry sauce
mustard
finely chopped onions

in that unvarying sequence.

And they popped! when you took the first bite.

If we have been lucky, a great thing about old age is our memories.

 

The Recipe’s Second Printing

(scan of the Flint Journal page by Martha Parish)

There’s a recipe for Flint Coney sauce, one containing ground beef and ground hot dogs, that’s made the rounds of folklore since the 1970s that is probably one of the most duplicated and modified recipes for the sauce. Posters constantly claim “This is the original!”, and the even more ridiculous “My [insert relative here] got this from the owners!!!” One of the more common rumors is “This was published in the Flint Journal some time after the death of the man who created it. His wife allowed it to be published.” However, Brayan’s wife Velicia passed away in 1976, while Simion himself lived until the age of 100, not passing until 1990, so that particular rumor is patently false. The simple fact is, this recipe is actually nowhere near Simion P. Brayan’s all-beef-heart/no tomato original sauce from 1924, a version of which is made by Abbott’s Meats.

In the 1970s Flint Journal Food Editor Joy Gallagher wrote a column titled “Kitchen Clinic”. In her column published on May 23, 1978, shown in a scan of the page to the left, Ms. Gallagher provided two recipes for Flint-Style Coney sauce. Both of these recipes came with supposed claims of being the “original” recipe for Flint-style Coney sauce.

It’s important to note that in this partcular column Ms. Gallagher used phrases such as “calls and letters telling me I don’t have the REAL one”, “the one that is supposed to be the ‘original’ coney island sauce”, and more importantly, “I’m not making any claims”.

In considering these particular phrases it is easy to conclude that Ms. Gallagher herself really didn’t believe a word of any of it.

First of all, it’s interesting to note that the Angelo’s statement by Ms. Gallagher was for the beef heart recipe. In the myth this has always been attributed to the ground hot dog recipe printed above the beef heart recipe in this column.

There’s also an important sentence in the second paragraph of Ms. Gallagher’s column of May 23, 1978, regarding the ground hot dog recipe, i.e. “… the one that is supposed to be the ‘original’ Coney Island sauce, which I ran some time ago and everyone raves about …” Obviously this particular column still isn’t the original source of that recipe, an earlier column would be the real public source, but at least it’s a starting point for further investigation into when that earlier column was published.

Finally, Ms. Gallagher’s column of May 23, 1978, is apparently the direct source of the two Flint-style Coney Sauce recipes included on the last page of ʺTwo to Go: A Short History of Flintʹs Coney Island Restaurantsʺ by Florine, Davison & Jaeger (2007, Genesee County Historical Society). While the authors of “Two to Go” didn’t quote Ms. Gallagher’s column directly and only included the two recipes themselves, they are indeed identical to the recipes in that column.

Below is the complete text of Joy Gallagher’s column of May 23, 1978. We make no claim to this content whatsoever.

Kitchen Clinic
By Joy Gallagher, Journal Food EditorI hesitate to bring up the subject of Coney Island hot dog sauce, because I know I will get calls and letters telling me I don’t have the REAL one.

Maybe so, in fact, I have two – the one that is supposed to be the “original” Coney Island sauce, which I ran some time ago and everyone raves about, and another that came to me recently from a reader who swears it is the sauce served at Angelo’s.

I’m not making any claims, I’m only saying that if either of these is not the real thing, they will do dern [sic] well until something better comes along.

It is reasonable to assume that there are differences in the sauces served at the various hot dog establishments around town town. Every chef adds his own touch, and recipes can change over the years as new chefs come and go.

The “original” sauce recipe came to me from a woman who said she was the wife of a chef at the original Coney Island, and that she copied the recipe from his personal recipe book. I believe her. This is the recipe she sent.

“Original” Coney Island Sauce

1 T. Butter
1 T. Margarine
1 1/2 Lbs. lean ground beef
2 med. onions chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
Salt, pepper to taste.
2 T. Chili powder
1 T. Prepared mustard
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 6-oz. can water
4 or 5 weiners

Combine everything but wieners and simmer over low heat until thick. Grind the wieners and add to sauce. Cook 15 minutes longer. Do not brown ground beef before using.

It seems that some chefs, if the sauce was a little thin, added a few crumbled soda crackers to sauce, but apparently it was not part of the original recipe.

The second recipe uses beef heart, which is an admitted part of the recipe if you talk to some chefs. As I said, it is supposed to be Angelo’s recipe, and it came from a trusted source, but you will have to decide for yourself if it tastes just the same.

Coney Island Sauce

1 beef heart
1 lb. hamburger
2 1/2 t. cumino (Mexican spice]
1 t. sugar
2 small onions, chopped fine
2 t. chili powder
1 t. pepper
1 small bottle catsup
4 t. vinegar
2 t. salt

Simmer beef heart in water to cover until tender. Cool, then grind fine. Cook hamburger and onion in heavy skillet or saucepan until hamburger loses its red color and starts’to brown. Add remain ingredients, cover and simmer for one hour, stirring occasionally. If needed, add a small amount of water.

Angelo’s Specifically Refutes the Recipe

(scan of the Flint Journal page by Jeanne Johnson Wright)

On April 18, 1995, Flint Journal Food Editor Ron Krueger published a column describing how he had taken the recipe containing ground hot dogs to Tom V. Branoff, one of the owners of Angelo’s at the time. In this column, Branoff specifically refutes the claims surrounding the folklore of the ground hot dog recipe

Krueger taking this particular recipe to Branoff belies the fact that Joy Gallagher’s claim was that the recipe containing beef heart was supposedly the Angelo’s recipe. However, this action does indicate that the rumors that Angelo’s recipe contained ground hot dogs had already made the rounds, and was building into the current folklore that it is today.

It’s interesting to note that at the end of this column Krueger specifically takes back any of Joy Gallagher’s claims about the recipe.

Without revealing Angelo’s recipe, Branoff looked at this one and reviewed the ingredients one by one:

“No butter or margarine in ours.”

“No ground beef; we use beef heart.”

“Yes, some salt, but no pepper.”

“Yes, some chili powder, but no tomato paste.”

“We use some cumin and paprika, but that’s about it.”

The final ingredient in The Journal’s recipe is hot dogs, which are to be ground up and added to the sauce. Anybody who has eaten more than one or two Flint coneys knows there are no ground up wieners in the sauce – or onions, mustard or tomato paste.

The mustard and onions go on top of the sauce.

We don’t apologize for our recipe, only for the claims surrounding it. We take them all back.

Ron Krueger’s Attempts at Debunking the Folklore

(scan of the Flint Journal page by Jeanne Johnson Wright)

It appears Mr. Krueger made many attempts over the years to get a handle on and refute the claims of his predecessor about this recipe, and the resulting rumors and folklore. Later columns indicate readers were still asking him to print the “original” Flint Coney sauce recipe that they’d seen in the Flint Journal. He would do so, but not without including his real knowledge that the rumors and folklore were patently untrue. Even though he tried valiantly to get control of the situation, his efforts apparently fell on deaf ears. Readers still seemed to insist Joy Gallagher had been right all along.

One of Mr. Krueger’s attempts at correcting the situation was published in The Journal on January 6, 1998. We do need to look at one sentence in this column, that being “First, no former or current coney island restaurant has ever revealed its sauce recipe.” It turns out this wasn’t the case. David Gillie of Gillie’s Coney Island in Mt. Morris had published his Gillie’s Coney Island Cili Dogs recipe in “A Taste of Michigan” from the Michigan Restaurant Association in 1991, with the only change being his replacing the ground beef heart with hamburger.

In his column of January 6, 1998 Mr. Krueger wrote the following:

Edith Bigger of Flint was the last reader to request the “original” coney island sauce printed many times here over the years.

So, in our first Cook’s Exchange in a while, we thought it fitting to again publish not just one, but two coney sauce recipes that we have offered before.

Every time we run either, or both, of these recipes, a clarification is important.

First, no former or current coney island restaurant has ever revealed its sauce recipe.

Former Journal food editor Joy Gallagher claimed back in the 70’s that a recipe had come into her possession from the wife of a former cook at one particular coney joint.

Neither the name of the “snitch” nor of the restaurant ever was revealed. Real cloak and dagger.

This recipe was immediately suspect because it contained no beef organ meet, which was part of the “original” sauce recipe and is still used today.

However, this formula has been widely circulated and used.

The other recipe contains beef heart but also ground beef, which isn’t in the sauce served at local coney outlets.

AAA Michigan Attempts to Debunk the Rumors

(scan of the Flint Journal page by Jeanne Johnson Wright)

Among Michigan food writers, Len Barnes was considered one of the best. As one of the founding members of the Society of American Travel Writers Barnes was always well-respected by his colleagues. In her own tribute to him after his passing on May 12, 2014, Ellie Creager, current Food Editor of the Detroit Free Press, had this to say about him: “As dean of travel journalism in Michigan, Leonard (Len) Rudolph Barnes traveled the globe as editor of AAA Michigan Living magazine for 26 years and wrote the column ‘Dining Out in Michigan’ for 35 years. Throughout his life he never lost his traveler’s curiosity. ‘He had lots of stories to tell about every city, every port and every country he visited, and he remembered them all with great clarity,’ said Nancy Cain, a former AAA colleague. ‘He really was the traveler with whom many armchair travelers went around the world vicariously.'”

At some point later in his career Barnes reviewed Angelo’s Coney Island’s Davison Rd. location in an issue of AAA Michigan’s Living Michigan magazine (which is sometimes incorrectly referenced as “Michigan Living Magazine”). Apparently within that review (we haven’t seen it ourselves yet) he described a lot of the information about the Flint Coney sauce recipe. A reporter from the Flint Journal, suspected by us to be Ron Krueger of course, took that review to one of the other owners of Angelo’s, Tom W. Branoff. Branoff refuted some of the description, but not all of it, adding “He’s got some of it right.”

What’s interesting about Barnes’ description of the recipe is that a) no ground hot dogs are included but he does mention the absence of “ketchup, tomato, or chili”, apparently a reference to the Joy Gallagher recipe, and b) it matches a description in “Two to Go” from the Genesee County Historical Society, a description attributed there to Flint Coney sauce developer Simion P. Brayan but which may have actually been Barnes in his review of Angelo’s.

Barnes, who reviews two or three restaurants in each issue, wrote that Angelo’s coney dog “doesn’t look any different from the conventional variety, but the ‘sauce’ seemed not to have ketchup, tomato, or chili.”

He added that the sauce’s base is beef heart and kidney ground with regular hamburger. “The sauce is made by boiling commercially prepared beef suet several hours, browning sweet Spanish onions, adding subtle spices – pepper, salt, paprika, cumin seed, chili powder.”

The 2011 and Subsequent Facebook Circulations

On May 28, 2011, a Robert Morgan posted this image of the ground hot dog recipe to Facebook, where it has been shared more than 5,000 times. In July of 2015 a Carol Jones posted the same image to her Facebook account, and by the end of the year the image had been shared almost 6,000 times. Other Facebook users who shared or commented on this image continued the previous folklore, indicating a relative had also received this same recipe from an owner, the originator’s wife, a former employee, etc. By this point the folklore has overshadowed the reality of the recipe having originated solely with Joy Gallagher of the Flint Journal as described above, especially since the distribution of the recipe through social media continues the fallacy of “If it’s on the internet, it must be true.”

More Accurate Postings

Beginning in mid-2016, bloggers and other posters of the recipes began to not make unfounded claims about the recipe. One of the more creative postings occurred on August 17, 2016, when Diane at This Scattered Life posted her variation, “Recipe for Flint-Style Coney: What Every Koegel’s Hot Dog Yearns to Be“. Her variation used a minced fresh garlic clove instead of garlic powder, and all butter instead of the butter/lard combination. But she also specifically stated “To be clear, I did not find this recipe in a sealed vault with an authenticity affidavit from the coney sauce creator’s wife’s second cousin 3 times removed. So don’t round me up with the rest of the ‘swear on my mama’s grave this is the original recipe’ claimants being poked with sharp sticks.”

7 comments on “Q: Where did the Flint Coney sauce recipe that includes ground hot dogs originate?
  1. A few months ago, you had a similar news article about Flint style Coney Islands. A reader in the Phoenix AZ. area commented about a Resturant in this area that servered Flint style Coney Islands. I have sense that time trying to find the location of that resturant.

    • admin says:

      Charles, I’m sorry to say that restaurant closed a couple years back so I’ve removed it from the directories.

    • Mark Mansfield says:

      The restaurant was in South Scottsdale and it was SUBLIME! The owners were actually from Clio but they shipped in Koegels for their coneys and even offered packaged hot dogs and ring balogna, etc. I’ve been in Phoenix for almost 20 years and this was a piece of home. Unfortunately they closed but while they were open they had lines out the door.

  2. Mark Mansfield says:

    [minor edit here, no biggie– Dave] I don’t blame you for not printing my other comment, I wouldn’t have either. I didn’t mean anything by it beyond being a smart ass. History is interesting and hometown history even more so. I actually appreciate what you have done. However, my point remains nearly the same, the ground hot dog recipe that you decry is the one that I grew up with within my family (that and Angelo’s…mmm..Angelo’s.) Graduated HS in 1990, not sure where you are age wise. Brought some college friends at one point from Ann Arbor and one of them (a female actually) said “I get it, you have to have breasts growing on your back to be able to be a waitress here.” Cracked me up! Granted, the waitresses were never the most attractive, but the food! Oh the food!!

  3. admin says:

    Mark, you misunderstand … I’m not decrying the ground hot dog recipe whatsoever. In fact, if you look a little more closely at the About page, not only did I operate a hot dog stand in the summer of 2008, making 72 large batches of that recipe in three months, but it’s also the recipe my wife and daughter prefer. All I’m doing here is attempting to correct the folklore, nothing more.

    If you’ll look in other locations in this site, particularly “A Word About Food Favorites”, you’ll find my 53-year-old self completely understands why people have differences of opinion when it comes to foods, and strongly encourages those differences because of where they come from. The Flint Coney is one of those dishes, as each restaurant buys the beef heart from Abbott’s but seasons it differently from any of the other coney joints in town. My own fave is the Palace in Genesee Valley. But at home? I’d best be getting to grinding those hot dogs, ya’ know? 🙂

  4. Ed says:

    Not sure why I’m posting to an ancient article but it is too good to not comment. I truly appreciate the food history detective work done here. There probably was some “original” recipe way back when but consider this for a minute. What started out as the original recipe almost certainly morphed along the way. Back then nothing went to waste so most likely any left over hot dogs and whatever left over meats got added to the pot. If you did a lot of coney business its almost guaranteed that the sauce pot never started from scratch every day, or even every week. It was yesterdays batch with a bunch of stuff added to it. On and on again. As long as the seasoning and flavor was correct to the cook, it was good to go. That being said, you could find the “holy grail” original recipe and and it still wont taste the same as you remember.

  5. admin says:

    Hi Ed … This article is only “ancient” in the realm of the internet, but the facts and material remain current as long as there are people who believe this folklore to be true. The real point of this is that this recipe, without using beef heart whatsoever, is what most people believe to be true, which is not the case. How that happened is important in setting the real record straight. As to reusing sauce from the day before, that certainly makes complete sense, and is most likely as true today as it was almost 100 years ago.

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