In Southeastern Michigan, “Coney Island” refers to 24-hour diners, and, the specific kind of chili-topped, grilled hot-dogs those diners serve. Invented in 1914 at a Jackson, Michigan joint called Todoroff’s Original Coney Island, the dogs–with their beanless, meaty chili (or “sauce” as it’s called in Michigan), were so popular, many other operators soon spun their own versions.
Dave Liske, the food historian behind the Flint Coney Resource site ( part of the Michigan Cuisine dot com), says Flint-style sauce–originally made with ground beef heart, was first developed by Macedonian restaurateur Simion (Sam) Petcieff Brayan in 1924 for his Flint’s Original Coney Island restaurant. Says Liske, “Brayan was the one who contracted with Koegel Meat Company to make the coney [hotdog] they still make today, also contracting with Abbott’s Meat company to make the sauce.” Abbott’s still makes Brayan’s 1919 sauce available to restaurants through Koegel.
Gillie’s Coney Island, a 1985-opened restaurant in Mt. Morris, MI, is a keeper of the Flint-style Coney flame. The restaurant shared a large-volume recipe for Flint-style Coney Island chili in a Michigan Restaurant Association cookbook more than 20 years ago. I’m publishing that recipe with their permission here, plus my own smaller-quantity, flavor-focused adaptation made with grapeseed oil instead of melted vegetable shortening, smoked Spanish paprika and granulated garlic. According to Liske, Gillie’s chili originally used beef heart, but switched to ground beef for the cookbook version, to make it easier for home cooks. The recipe comes very close to Brayan’s original.
- Small-batch Flint-style Coney Sauce (Monica's Version)
- 1 lb 85/15 ground beef
- 2 1/2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
- 1 medium onion, peeled, diced very fine
- 2 Tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 Tbsp granulated garlic
- 2 Tbsp cumin powder
- 2 Tbsp chili powder
- salt (to taste–about 1/2 tsp)
- Gillie's Large Batch Flint-Style Chili Ingredients
- 1 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 cup fine-diced onion
- 3 Tbsp each paprika, cumin powder, chile powder
- 10 lb extra-finely ground hamburger
- salt (to taste)
- Hot Dog Assembly Ingredients
- hot dog buns
- Koegel Coney hot dogs
- yellow mustard
- diced sweet white onion
- Flint-style Coney Island Chili
- For Small Batch Recipe (Monica’s adaptation of Gillie’s recipe): Using an old fashioned meat grinder with the finest blade, regrind ground beef until very finely ground. You can also use a meat grinder attachment for your standing mixer to do this. Set meat aside. In heavy saute pan over medium heat, add oil. Heat until shimmering. Saute onion in oil until soft and transparent. Add spices and stir, toasting the spices until quite fragrant; about 2 minutes. Add hamburger and saute over low heat, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through. Drain off fat. Serve over hot dogs, in buns, with mustard and finely-diced raw sweet onion.
- For Gillie’s Large Batch Recipe: In a heavy, over-sized cast iron skillet, over medium heat, melt shortening. Heat until quite hot. Add onion and saute until transparent. Add spices and stir, toasting the spices for two minutes. Stir in hamburger and break up; reduce heat to lowest temperature possible and saute for one hour. Assemble hot dogs: Grill Koegel Coney dogs until cooked how you like them. Place dogs in buns and top with hot Gillie’s chili, mustard and raw finely-diced sweet onion.
- Brioche buns are not just for lobster rolls! They are DELICIOUS with these dogs. Well worth getting.