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Michigan’s Coney Sauces: Beef Heart? Kidneys?? The Realities Await …

Yes, I’m back on the subject of coney sauce again. It’s an obsession. Having made 72 batches of my own recipe for a Flint-style coney sauce over the summer of 2008, you’d think I was tired of it. But Monday as dad’s funeral procession headed north through Flint along Dort Hwy at Davison Rd., I found myself looking west. Yeah, Angelo’s is down that way … dad really liked it … I wonder if they’re finally making the right Flint sauce once again … The funeral director seemed to think the family had bought back the restaurant which they had sold without selling the recipe, and may actually be making the original sauce in the original location once again. I guess at some point I’m going to have to find out what’s going on up there.

For a long time the realities of Michigan’s coney sauces, including the beloved Flint coney sauce from Angelo’s, have been a bit elusive to some extent. The recipe for the sauce I served this past summer is based on the popular rumor of, “I always heard there were ground Koegel Viennas in the Flint sauce”. That’s what we did, and the sauce was something our customers really liked.

But there is something else as well. There are a couple rumors I’d heard that have made me wonder about the real recipe.

And then there is this white bag with a plastic tray of schtuph in it: Check it out:

One of the rumors I’d heard was that there weren’t hot dogs in the original Flint coney sauce. Rather, it was organ meat. I’d also heard rumors that if you use tomato sauce in the coney sauce (which I always have), that’s not authentic either. If you click on this image to open a larger version of the image, and have a look at the ingredients, you’ll see something interesting: Beef hearts. Suet. Cracker meal for thickening. Some spices including paprika. A little bit of coloring. 

But not a single drop of tomato anything in there whatsoever.

Somewhere along the line someone had also passed me what they believed to be an authentic recipe for the Jackson coney sauce, served at Todoroff’s in Jackson, Michigan:

Jackson Coney Island Sauce
1-1/2 pounds ground beef heart
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp paprika

Brown the meat in the vegetable oil but do not drain it. Once it’s browned, add the spices. Also add just enough water to moisten the sauce, maybe a few tablespoons. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it’s somewhat dryer, while being careful not to let it dry completely. Served over grilled hot dogs having natural casings (Koegel Viennas). Mustard and finely chopped onion are the preferred toppings.

It becomes quite obvious that if you add a few more items to the above recipe, such as the suet, a little ground beef to replace the vegetable protein, some cracker meal and a bit of water, you’ll end up with what’s apparently an authentic Detroit Coney Island Sauce:

Detroit Coney Island Sauce
1 pound beef heart, finely ground
1/2 pound chuck, finely ground
1/4 cup rendered beef suet
1/4 cup water
2 tsp garlic salt
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp paprika
1/4 cup cracker meal

Brown the beef heart and ground chuck in the suet but do not drain it. Once it’s browned, add the water and the spices. Simmer the sauce for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep it wet. Once the sauce is simmered, add the cracker meal to tighten it up but not too much. Served over grilled hot dogs having natural casings (Dearborn Brand). Mustard and finely chopped onon are the preferred toppings.

So what about the Flint sauce? Does it contain organ meats or not? The fact is there is no regulation on what goes into a hot dog and some do contain organ meats. If the Flint coney sauce does contain ground Koegel Viennas as mine did this past summer, there’s just good beef and pork in there. If they’re using cheaper hot dogs, there just might be some organs.

But at the same time, neither the Jackson nor the Detroit sauces contain ground hot dogs. And while the Flint sauce is dryer than these other two, what Angelo’s created in 1949 may have contained organ meats which were in popular use at the time.

I found an obscure little recipe and adapted it using what I knew to be readily available in 1949. I have yet to try this … I’m just throwing it out there:

Flint Coney Island Sauce
1/2 lb Beef kidney, finely ground
1/2 lb Beef heart, finely ground
1/4 cup rendered beef suet or lard
3 tbsp of paprika
2 tbsp of chili powder
Kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper

In a small pot melt the rendered beef suet or lard. In a large mixing bowl mix all but the salt and pepper by hand. Gently crumble the meat mixture into a medium pot, add the melted fat and stir well. Set for low heat and allow the pot to heat up. Simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes, adding suet or lard as necessary to prevent the meat from drying out. When the simmer is done, add salt and pepper to taste and finish stirring. Served over grilled hot dogs having natural casings (Koegel Viennas). Mustard and finely chopped onion are the preferred toppings.

I do know where I can likely get the beef kidney, beef heart and real suet. Once we try this, I’ll give a full review.

Maybe I can get some of Angelo’s sauce and see what’s up with that, comparing it to the results of the above recipe. Yeah, maybe …

36 comments to Michigan’s Coney Sauces: Beef Heart? Kidneys?? The Realities Await …

  • John Mitchell

    Thanks for the recipes. I live in Texas and the only things I miss is the coney dogs and big John sandwiches.

  • Blair Harrington

    Together we can get there.

    Living in Arizona for the past 29 years, the thing we missed most were Angelo’s Coney Island hot dogs. My mother had tried making the sauce several times, but she used a recipe published in the Flint Journal from I think was the U.S.Coney Island restaurant on Saginaw St.

    Here’s my recipe that I made a few years ago. At that time we had a shipment of the Angelo’s original sauce and Mom did a blind taste test on Dad with theirs and mine and Dad said he liked mine better. That was before Angelo’s changed theirs.

    THE SECRET
    I always remembered being in lunch line one day at Bentley high school right behind Eileen Paul (parents and relatives owned Angelo’s) on Coney day and one of the cooks asked her how the school’s sauce compared to Angelo’s. Eileen said graciously that the school’s was ok but the restaurant used hot dogs in theirs.

    Mom made several attempts using the published (Journal) recipe which called for ground beef. It came close but just wasn’t there yet. So taking the hot dog ingredient from Eileen, I went to Phoenix and bought 100 Vienna Beef skinless hot dogs and 100 natural casing (for the snap). I ground up the skinless to make the sauce. Ground beef vs ground all beef hot dogs. That did it. I had also heard of the hearts and other meat byproducts in the sauce, but that’s what is in hot dogs anyway. The ingredients printed on the package would have to list all those instead of just saying hot dogs. Thank you FDA.

    Bearing in mind that mine was made 100% with hot dogs. My brother has recently sent an 80/20 recipe with 80% ground beef and 20% hot dogs and says it satisfies his Angelo’s craving. I’m anxious to go back into the lab and give his a try.
    ___________________________________________________________________________
    My recipe

    ORIGINAL MICHIGAN CONEY ISLAND HOT DOG CHILI (my title)

    2 lbs. Ground Hot Dogs (Vienna Beef or Koegel’s skinless Vienna’s)
    1 Tsp. Chili Powder
    1 Tsp. Black Pepper
    1/2 Tsp. Cumin Powder
    1/2 Tsp. Oregano
    1 12 Oz. Can Tomato Juice
    3/4 Tsp. Sugar
    1/2 Tsp Paprika
    1/4 Tsp. Italian Seasoning

    Cook meat about 10 minutes at medium high and drain.
    Add tomato juice and spices and simmer slowly for 1 hr.

    2 lbs. of hot dogs equals 16 regular size hot dogs or 20 thin size.

    ______________________________________________________________________
    My Brothers Recipe

    The 1st batch of this recipe I followed to a “T”- or so I thought. I ground the Vienna’s using a cast iron hand crank grinder. I used Hunt’s tomato sauce and Tone’s chili powder that I use to make regular chili. I made sure the 80/20 beef was 1 1/4 lb. No salt or pepper was added. I was hoping this was going to be THE RECIPE.

    The verdict on the 1st batch was it was salty, a little more garlic than I think I wanted and the Vienna’s I had on hand to grind up were the natural casings which left some chewy chunks in the sauce. The flavor seemed to have too much of a bite to it from the chili powder. But it was still close to the real thing.

    So in batch #2 I used Hunt’s “no salt added” tomato sauce. I cut the garlic down from 1 large clove to 1 medium. I ground up 5 Koegel’s all beef hot dogs (no casings). His recipe calls for mild chili powder. I thought chili powder was chili powder but upon searching the net I found there is mild, medium, and hot. The regular powder at the grocery store must be medium. I found mild chili powder at our local Gordon’s Food Service. I still didn’t add any salt or pepper at the end like he suggests. Now I think it is pretty close to being right on.

    Moving on for the quest!!

  • Blair, I think the recipe I have that’s posted in the linked PDF may actually be that Flint Journal version. I don’t get up to Flint enough to get to Angelo’s to taste-test mine against theirs. I know Koegel’s makes an authentic 3 lb tube of the Flint sauce that they might be using at the Mega Coney Island in Fenton at Owen Rd. and 23. I might have to see if I can get one or two of those tubes.

  • Blair Harrington

    I have mis-spoke on the 80/20. that’s 80 beef and 20 fat. My bad.

  • No problem. That’s what I use, and I kinda figured it’s what you meant. Click here and you’ll find my recipe and your brother’s are probably identical.

  • Blair Harrington

    You’re right Dave. After further communication with my brother, he did say he is using your recipe. I’m going to give it a try too.

  • Robyn

    You can get beef heart and other organs from your local butcher. My husband used to own a restaurant and had the Original Andy’s Pizza Coney Recipe. During moves it got lost so we are going to try the Jackson Coney Recipe. He did get the beef heart from the local butcher. Thanks for the recipe.

  • Jon

    When I was in college I worked in a restaurant that made the coney sauce for the Pixie in Mt. Pleasant. We used also beef heart as the main ingredient. I recently told my girlfriend that this is how coney sauce is made after she told me how much she loved coney dogs growing up in Detroit (Utica/Sterling Heights). She wasn’t happy with my revelation. Is coney sauce with beef heart the norm in most Detroit area coney islands or do most use ground beef?

  • Jon, heart is definitely part of the Detroit version of the sauce. In fact, if you look at the list of ingredients in the pic of the white bag (just click it to enlarge it) you’ll see Beef Heart as the first ingredient. Flint coney sauce adds a bit of kidney as well as the heart for a rougher flavor. Of course you can wing a recipe without those organs for the faint-of-heart

  • David

    In the early 70’s I worked for an outfit in Flint known as “Flint Provision” and Angelos was a customer. I drove a delivery truck and took ground beef heart there on a regular basis. I never asked them what it was for so I can’t be of much help, just thought you’d like to know.

  • JR

    What kind of flavor does the ground beef heart give? Is it a deep beef flavor? There is a hot dog place in my town that opened in the 1940’s. The original family owned it until sometime in the 1980’s. After that, the quality of the chili went down. I have been trying to replicate the recipe for about 25 years.

    The chili doesn’t seem to have any tomatoe in it. There may be a mild chili powder flavor but there is a rich beef flavor. There is some finish flavor that gets you just as you swallow that I can’t identify. Would the beef heart do that?

    Thanks

  • JR

    Oh, yeah, I have looked over the chili closely looking for clues. I removed some of the meat and rinsed off the sauce and it doesn’t look like ground beef so I’m thinking it is some kind of ground organ like heart or kidney. What would kidney do to the flavor? How about beef suet? Does impart any flavor?

    Thanks

  • JR

    Sorry for all the posts, but, I know it’s thickened with cornstarch. The way the new owners make the sauce leaves those slimey cornstarch “clogs” in it. I would love to offer to advise them on how to properly use the cornstarch in the recipe but I doubt they care.

  • Tom

    Anyone know of any Coney sauce recipe with Heinz 57 in it? Jon mentioned he worked at a place that made the coney sauce for the Pixie (I’m guessing the Green Onion), and I used to work at the pixie and I of course worked the coney station, we didn’t have the recipe because the owners had the sauce made at their other eatery, “The Green Onion” and then driven over by the managers. I got my hand on a secret Pixie coney recipe, and it included Heinz 57, I know it also had cumin, chili powder, butter, ground round, salt and pepper but I lost the recipe. The Heinz 57 was supposedly the secret ingredient, but after reading what the Jon wrote, sounds like the secret ingredient was beef heart :) Very glad you have posted all of these recipes, thank you for doing so.

  • Try going to http://WWW.SunriseSideBulkPacks.com for Detroit and Flint style coney spice mixtures. You can prepare them at home.

  • WannaConeyNow

    Thanks Coney Lover. I tried Sunrise Side Bulk Packs as you suggested. The Flint style is perfect. The Detroit style was better, though. You can make a gallon of the stuff and freeze it.

  • I bought a bag of the Detroit Coney Sauce from Gordons Food Service. It is not the same as what most coney islands use in the area.

    I would dearly love to just be able to order up either Layfayette or Senate Coney Island sauce and keep it in my freezer. Certainly there must be an authentic Greek Coney Sauce out there on the market. Anyone?

  • LookingForConeys

    Buck Peters: What area are you talking about? Flint and Detroit have totally different sauces. I took ConeyLover’s advice. Sunrise Side Packs have as close as you can get to both areas’ sauces. But I agree with WannaConeyNow – I thought the Flint style was better.

  • LookingForConeys: I am in the Livonia Area, so it would be the Detroit Sauce I refer to. My favorite Coney Sauce here comes from Senate Coney Island. It is simalar to Laffayette or American. I hate to make the drive downtown for a coney. There are several other Coney places here in the suburbs of Detroit that have the same sauce. I have always assumed they buy it wholesale and would like to find out where from.

  • LookingForConeys

    The closest to Lafayette or American is National Coney Island in Detroit. You can buy a 4 or 5 lb. block for about $10. With the gas prices what they are, it’s better to buy the spices through the mail. I am from Detroit, but have you tried the Flint style? I still recommend getting both spice mixtures from Sunrise Side Bulk Packs, then comparing them side-by-side. Their Flint-style is spot on, but their Detroit style is very good, also.

  • Victor Salerno

    I miss this sauce!! Atlanta No Coney Sauce!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Coney Boy

    National Coney Island is great, but will they ship out of Michigan? I think I’ll try making mine at home and get the spices at Sunrise Packs. I never had a Flint-style because Detroit is the greatest.

  • Cheryl

    I am eating some Tommy’s coney sauce from Jackson MI my nephew over nighted it to me to Florida. Dang is it goooood, it’s the dry type

  • dave

    I travel throughout Michigan and all are good. I think the Jackson style is my favorite, you get to taste them on the way down and for the next few hours as they brew and come back up on ya. We get ours at either Jackson Pizza Factory or Andy’s Pizza who is owned by one of the Todoroff’s who’s grandad invented them.

  • Andrew Vieau

    I have lived in the Flint area all my life. I had got a hold of the recipe from a cook at Angelo’s. Yes there is Heart and Kidney and the day before s old hot dogs ground into it. Getting the Orignal Grind blend can be difficult. After several attempts my family has agreed that the blend I use is sufficient to say I got it nailed. What I use makes 4 pounds and is as follows;

    1 1/2 lb Fresh ground pork
    1/2 lb hamburger
    2 pounds of cheap hot dogs (the cheap ones you would never buy,,,really)

    Ask your favorite mom and pop butcher counter to run this through their normal grind for Hamberger 3 times and the texture is perfect.

    1 TBSP Fresh Garlic pressed
    1 TBSP Chili Powder
    2 TBSP Red Paprika
    1/2 tsp white pepper
    1TBSP Onion Powder
    2 TBSP Cumin
    1 Cup Lard

    Be very careful with this one. 1/2 tsp salt. Its goes a very long way because of all the other spices. You can over do it very easily but it is needed.

  • Jane

    Any Detroit coney sauce sold in Northern California? I grew up eating coney dogs in Port Huron at a local restaurant and at A&W. When I worked in Detroit I was at Lafayette ans American 2-3 times week.

    Does anyone know of a coney sauce that is in a jar, can, plastic container? I had Detroit Chili Co. send me a frozen brick. It didn’t taste like a I remember. I’m still looking. Thanks…..

  • Mark G

    Whatever you do, stay away from detroit coney dog in L.A., they serve flat out pure NASTY food. The casings on the dogs do not disolve even after chewing!! BARF, how gross is that??

  • Hi Mark … One thing to know is that most Coney dogs will be slow-cooked so the casing has a “snap” to them. Looking at Detroit Coney L.A.’s web site it says they’re using Winter’s Sausage dogs, which is made here in Michigan. I’ve tested these dogs and the sheep’s casing on them gives one of the best “snaps” yet, with one of the better “coney” experiences. If you’re not from Michigan or a similar area and didn’t grow up on it, it’s more likely that this is just something you don’t prefer. Different people have different tastes, and that’s fine, too.

  • Darryl Rochon

    Most every Detroit area Coney Island restaurants get there base chili from the Detroit Chili Company. They come in frozen blocks and each Coney Island place adds a little something to call it their own. Most though just add water, heat and serve. This is why you can go to 200 different restaurants and they all taste the same. Add some beans and you can get more out of the frozen block. This is why they have bean or no bean chili.

  • Darryl, there are a couple other suppliers: Dearborn Sausage makes the National coney sauce, which is somewhat odd since what you say is Detroit Chili is actually National Chili Co. Yup, there are two with the same name! Koegel’s in Flint also manufactures a Detroit sauce specifically for shipment to Coney restaurants. The’re all good quality sauces though, and carry some great flavors and textures.

  • Jon

    Is the Koegel’s chilli sauce sold in stores the same Detroit recipe?

  • Jon, the chili topping isn’t really much of anything, and any Detroit sauce is better. I reviewed it here … Wasn’t all that impressed.

  • swag

    we just got done eating coney dogs from “jackson coney island” my wife grew up in jackson and i never had a real coney island dog until 1978. i agree they need to be served with natural casing hot dogs, and it has beef heart as the main meat. my father in law told me 30 years ago about the heart. we live in grand haven, and every time we/she go down there some gets brought back. as soon as i saw some recipes with tomato i thought,no way. anyway, i am gonna try the jackson recipe and see how it tastes. by the way, my father in law said the heart is supposed to be ground twice.

  • dave

    the meat is a fine grind, so double grind is best for the right texture. I am originally from Jackson and in my opinion, nothing beats a coney sauce from there. FYI, A&A meat market sells it frozen on Page Ave and they supply it to many of the coney places in town. The other key is the natural casing browned on a flat top for the crunchy snap.

  • shawn

    Flint Coney sauce is beef heart and veggie meal paprika garlic onion powder and salt there is no chili powder or pepper in flint style coney sauce only in detroit style and it is fine grind

  • Wanda Agle

    Really want yheconey sauce recipe from the Pixie in Mt Pleasant, MI

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