Detroit-Style Coney Island Hot Dogs

Detroit Style Coney Island Hot Dog

If you’re in Detroit and you’re searching for a hot dog, you’re looking for a “Coney Island,” a term that describes both this chili-soaked dog as well as the establishment that serves them. The Detroit delicacy has almost no direct connection to New York’s fabled Coney Island; both “American Coney Island” and “Lafayette Coney Island,” next door neighbors who both claim to have invented the regional specialty in the early 1900s, were opened by Greek immigrants. Regardless of which restaurant they’re loyal to, Detroiters seem to agree on what defines a classic Coney: A beef and pork hot dog with a natural casing for plenty of snap, ladled with copious amounts of beanless beef chili, a squeeze of yellow mustard, and sprinkled with raw, white chopped onions.

The chili is the star of any self respecting Coney; a slow-simmered, finely ground beef sauce with just a touch of sweetness. The recipes for authentic Coney sauce are as wide and varied as the restaurants that serve them, with some techniques calling for such exotic additions as chopped beef heart, bacon grease, lard, or even ground Greek olives. Our version is a little simpler, but doesn’t sacrifice flavor; the combination of beefy chili, tangy yellow mustard, and pungent raw onions elevates the humble chili dog to a full knife-and-fork meal.

Detroit Style Coney Island Hot Dog

Detroit-Style Coney Island Hot Dog

Ingredients:

For the Coney Sauce:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon Worcesteshire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

For each hot dog:

  • 1 hot dog bun, warmed
  • 1 natural-casing beef and pork hot dog, grilled or boiled
  • Squeeze of yellow mustard
  • 2 tablespoons white onion, diced

Method:

  1. In a large skillet over medium heat, brown ground beef. Use a potato masher to break beef up into the smallest chunks possible. Halfway through cooking, add onions, and cook until onions begin to turn translucent. Add garlic, stir to combine, and cook for an additional minute.
  2. Add remaining ingredients, and stir well. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, or until sauce thickens. If sauce seems too “chunky,” transfer to a food processor and pulse in short one second bursts until chili reaches desired consistency.
  3. To serve, place a cooked hot dog on top of a steamed or heated bun. Ladle with a big coop of chili, and finish with yellow mustard and chopped onions.

Variation: Now that you’ve made your Coney Sauce, try a “Coney Loose Burger.” Top a hot dog bun with seasoned cooked ground beef instead of a hot dog, and finish as above with Coney Sauce, yellow mustard, and chopped onions.

Malcolm Bedell

Malcolm is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," with writing and photography credits including Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and more. His seasonal food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater, and he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

11 Comments
  1. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve lived in Metro Detroit all my life and never realized that Coney Dogs were something specific to us. Thanks for sharing this – my husband is a huge fan of them, and I’ve never been such a fan that I felt comfortable trying to reconstruct them.

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  2. Oh my goodness! My husband and I always went to Lafayette Coney Island. We don’t live there any longer and miss them. My husband of 42 years will be so excited when I re-create these. Thank you so much!

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  3. It’s about time that someone gives Detroit some props for this amazing dish! I just saw a commercial for the fast food chain Sonic that depicts a Detroit Coney Dog being described by a Russian Immigrant that lives near Coney Island in NYC, they obviously did not do their research!

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  4. This was wonderful. I was skeptical at first of the two cups of water, but it was perfect. I did skip the onions, because they taste like ass, but everything was great. A keeper – thanks for sharing!

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  5. i think this is closest to the greek sauce ive known, the tomato paste is the key, noy tomato sauce. some use cumin, some don’t. they are what i remember most from my childhood in canton, ohio

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