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There are chili dogs, and then there are Flint-MI-style Coney chili dogs, grilled and topped with a very specific spiced-meat and onion sauce. Go anywhere near Southeastern Michigan, and you’ll be sure to find one. To set the record straight on all of the lore and legend that grew up around these saucy dogs in the last century, food historian Dave Liske spent about 12 years researching, culminating in his just published, “The Flint Coney, a Savory History,” (American Palate, a division of The History Press.)
Liske, longtime host of the Flint Coney Resource site, says Flint-style sauce–originally made with ground beef heart, was first developed by Macedonian restaurateur Simion (Sam) Petcieff Brayan in 1924 for his Flint’s Original Coney Island restaurant.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 permission here, plus my own smaller-quantity, flavor-focused adaptation made with oil (or lard) instead of melted vegetable shortening, smoked Spanish paprika and granulated garlic. According to Liske, Gillie’s originally used beef heart for its chili, 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.
Flint-style Coney Chili Dog
- SMALL-BATCH FLINT-STYLE CONEY SAUCE (Monica's Version)
- 1 lb 85/15 ground beef
- 2 1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil OR beef tallow OR lard
- 1 medium onion, peeled, diced very fine
- 2 Tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
- 1 Tbsp granulated garlic
- 2 Tbsp cumin powder OR 1 ½ Tbsp freshly ground cumin seed
- 2 Tbsp chili powder
- Salt (to taste–about 1/2 tsp)
- GILLIE’S LARGE-BATCH FLINT-STYLE CHILI (MAKES 10 lbs.)
- Gillie's Large Batch Flint-Style Chili
- 1 1/2 cup shortening
- 1 cup fine-diced onion
- 3 Tbsp each paprika, cumin powder, chili 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 (recipe above)
- FOR SMALL-BATCH: (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 sauté pan over medium heat, add oil. Heat until shimmering. Sauté onion in oil until soft and transparent. Add spices and stir, toasting the spices until quite fragrant; about 2 minutes. Add hamburger and sauté 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.
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