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

Update, September 2, 2018:This post still gets a lot of page views but is quite old. The majority of recipes developed from this earlier information are now available on my Flint Coney Resource Site.

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 … which is coney sauce from American Coney Island in Detroit. 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 …


Add a Comment
  1. I’m in Eau Claire WI. Whenever I travel east, and/or the return, I make sure to purchase two or three dogs, as well as frozen sauce, which lasts until I return to Eau Claire). I’ve been eating these dogs since the 1950s, in intermediate school. I get them at Virginia Lunch, although I’m told the original sauce is still closest to tthat of Jackson Coney Island, just down the street. Recently, I had the sauce shipped ro me in WI. Everything is as it was–absolutely delicious!! Shipping the sauce is best done in the colder months, and I paid more for the shipping than the sauce, but it was worth 8t.

  2. Does anyone know which recipe is the closest to the one used at the Bay City location? I grew up eating there and my kids loved those dogs too. We all live in Seattle now and would love to have true coney dogs again.

  3. jacksons seems like the closes, i tried some and its pretty close like the caris red lion in bay city, i had them all the time, till they burnt down

  4. The Jackson Todoroff’s is the correct recipe and it was also the very first one in the country by 3 year since it was first served in 1914. Detroit did not start serving their until 1917. I have had coneys from both Lafeyette and American in Detroit and they are not as good as the Jackson coney. Also, the Jackson coney has been served at Virginia Coney Island, Jackson Coney Island and Andy’s Pizza for years. Todoroff’s sauce is sold at Meijer and Krogers in Jackson if not in other stores in Michigan. Check the frozen section.

  5. Gary, the fact is people like what they grew up with, what their personal preference might be, or even what their culture is. Jackson coneys will always be “best” to those who grew up with them, while Flint and Detroit will always be “best” to those who grew up on those. It’s solely a personal choice: There can never logically be a “best” coney over all of the various styles. Also, Jackson fans continually make claim to being “first”, while Ft. Wayne Famous Coney Island in Indiana also opened in 1914. Which month either store opened isn’t known, so Ft. Wayne may have been first. We simply don’t know. What we do know is that there may have been others at that time which are simply not around or represented anymore. Because of this, Jackson claiming to be first honestly cannot be proven.

  6. Yall’s making me home sick for Coney’s! Flint, Angelo’s, Genesee Valley, & more recently Gilly’s! Either you know or you don’t! We moved to KY, but order from Kogel’s occasionally & that’s always a treat!

  7. My Coney interest was renewed at Coney-I-Lander while at the Tulsa 2020 Chili Bowl. Currently adjusting my own recipe using different tomato free recipes, getting close to our local Coney Island established in the 1920’s. I agree with Dave, your favorite is whatever you grew up with.

  8. My heart is warmed by these posts. Growing up between the Toledo area and Gaylord, I understand the obsession with coney dogs that only “my people” can have! I have lived in South Africa for 5 years, and have been trying to replicate the “wetter” sauce here. I know the pain of coney dog separation!

  9. Hi Todd, I hope one of these recipes works for you. Let me know how it goes.

  10. Last month, I used the old “Flint Recipe”- the one we have all seen typed on an old type writer- that uses ground viennas or chicken dogs. It was good, the closest I have come yet- but still dryer, grainy, not a smooth sauce . I am fascinated to learn that several have no tomato base. I am looking for that creamier American Coney Island style background sauce. Happily, I have not met a chili dog I didn’t like!

  11. My cousin worked @ Angelo’s for years in the 80s and 90s. He told me the meat came from Abbots and was in fact beef hearts and other meat. NO hot dogs whatsoever. He said it was a simple recipe and stressed the “no hot dog” added. Ground up hot dpgs is a myth perpetuated by the Flint Journal from way back.

  12. Ron Wood, that’s quite true. I have a breakdown of the history of that recipe at:


  13. Can anyo.ne suggest where in Detroit area I might find ground cow hearts

  14. Doug Henningsen, any smaller butcher shop should be able to have whole hearts available, or should be able to get them. They can generally grind them for you, too.

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