Basic Flint Style Coney Sauce

There’s no one single recipe for Flint Coney sauce, as each restaurant prepares the ground beef heart from Abbott’s their own way. This is our own version of the sauce, in a single recipe, for the stalwarts who want to try to do it all themselves.

Finished raw versions of Abbott’s Original Coney Island Topping are available in 4lb and 10lb bags at the Abbott’s Meat plant on Blackington northwest of Corunna and Ballenger in Flint. The plant has no retail shop … But you’re welcome to walk in the door, go to the receptionist’s window, and ask for what you’d like. It’ll be brought out to you.

The topping is also available for home purchase from Lynch Shipping, in partnership with Koegel Meats, in a 4 lb bag at buykoegels.com. A 10 lb bag is also available on their site by clicking here.

Forget what you think you know about Flint Coney sauce. There are no ground hot dogs in it. There’s certainly no tomato sauce or processed yellow mustard in it either. There might be kidney or other meats some restaurants may add to their own sauce, which is part of what makes each restaurant’s sauce unique.

But to put it bluntly, many people have been overthinking it for too long. Someone created a “public” version of it that’s more complicated than is necessary (the real history of which is here). And more expensive as well.

This is a more accurate version. Simple, inexpensive … and adjustable for personal taste.

As the sauce for a Flint Coney is traditionally a fine grind, we’ll accomplished the finer grind by freezing and grinding the beef heart twice. See the notes below the recipe for more details.

Dave Gillie of Gillie’s Coney Island in Mt. Morris has described the ingredient list from the 25 lb bag of Flint Coney base from Abbott’s Meat as “beef heart, beef, and soy texture”. Other sources describe the cooking process as sautéing chopped onion in rendered beef suet aka beef tallow, adding Abbott’s meat mixture, then adding the spices in a certain way to get a given restaurant’s flavor for the sauce. While Dave Gillie told us he uses vegetable shortening, he also mentioned his cooking experience at Starlite where cooks mentioned using the beef suet in earlier times.

Textured vegetable protein (which is, by definition, a “soy texture” and shows up in the ingredient list on Abbott’s 4lb and 10lb bags of finished “topping”) wasn’t developed until 1965 … Abbott’s may have included some sort of cracker meal in the ground beef heart prior to that. But textured vegetable protein is an inexpensive and quick solution for the same result. Beef suet also takes a long time to render over low heat, and can burn easily if the heat is too high or if the suet contains too much debris. We’ll take Dave Gillie’s suggestion and use vegetable shortening instead.

With the beef heart frozen and ground twice to a fine grind and the textured vegetable protein added, we’ll also follow the other sources by sautéing minced white onion in the shortening, then adding the meat mixture and simmering before spicing the sauce to match the known flavor.

In various sources, the spices for Flint Coney sauce simply specify “paprika”. Most people don’t realize there are numerous kinds of paprika available. If a cook happens to have the Hungarian style in their pantry and use it, the sauce will end up far too sweet. We specify the more savory Spanish paprika. Smoked Spanish paprika would also be an excellent choice, and may also be preferable to some.

Basic Flint Style Coney Sauce

There’s no one single recipe for Flint Coney sauce, as each restaurant prepares the ground beef heart from Abbott’s their own way. This is our own version of the sauce, in a single recipe, for the stalwarts who want to try to do it all themselves.
Prep Time 1 hr
Freezing Time 2 hrs 30 mins
Total Time 3 hrs 30 mins

Ingredients
  

  • 1/2 each Beef heart generally 2 - 3 lbs
  • 1 pkg Textured vegetable protein 10 oz
  • 1 cup Shortening rendered suet or tallow can also be used
  • 1 White onion, medium
  • 4 Tbsp Spanish or smoked Spanish paprika
  • 4 Tbsp Cumin, ground
  • 2 Tbsp Chili powder, mild
  • 8 - 16 oz Beef kidney or ground beef (optional)

Instructions
 

  • Freeze the beef heart (or thaw, if it's already frozen) to about 32°F, but to no cooler than that. Note: If adding the optional beef kidney or ground beef, freeze them them the same way.
  • Refrigerate the onion.
  • Trim the harder fat from the frozen beef heart.
  • Cut the frozen heart into 1” slices.
  • Grind the beef heart it before it thaws too much. Note: If adding the optional beef kidney or ground beef, grind them in with the beef heart.
  • Put the ground beef heart into a freezer bag and distribute in the bag to an even thickness.
  • Refreeze the ground beef heart.
  • Follow the directions on the package for the textured vegetable protein to reconstitute enough to measure out one cup. Set the measured cup aside, and refrigerate any that’s left for later use.
  • After making sure the heart is down to about 32°F again, remove the frozen ground beef heart from the freezer.
  • Grind the refrozen heart a second time.
  • Add one cup of the prepared textured vegetable protein to the meat and mix well.
  • Remove the onion from the fridge, mince it fine, and set it aside.
  • In a sauce pan, melt the cup of shortening over medium-high heat.
  • Sauté the minced onion in the melted shortening for about one minute, until the onion is translucent.
  • Reduce the heat to low, add the meat mixture to the sauce pan and blend well.
  • Simmer the sauce over low heat for 30 – 45 minutes, until the meat is tender but is also still slightly juicy.
  • Add the paprika, chili powder, and ground cumin into the meat mixture and stir well for even distribution.
  • Adjust the spices for personal taste as desired and simmer a bit longer before serving.

Notes

  • If you want to have some sauce ready for a quick preparation at a later date, stop the procedure right after adding the reconsitituted textured vegetable protein to the twice-frozen-and-ground beef heart, while it’s still raw. Pack this mixture in reclosable quart freezer bags and freeze them. When you need some sauce, thaw a bag or two out, then melt your shortening, add the chopped onion, and make a batch.
  • Meat grinds best when it’s been refrigerated below 35°F, with the fat grinding better when it’s even partly frozen. This is one step in making meat dishes that most home cooks either miss or are unaware of. In fact, commercial meat grinders are regularly located within walk-in coolers to accomplish this, with the meat not leaving the cooler until the grind is complete. And since most home refrigerators are set between 34° and 38°F (or should be set there anyway), freezing the meat to the lower temperature in the freezer instead of the fridge gives a better grind, faster.
Keyword Abbotts, beef heart, coney, coneys, Flint, sauce

10 thoughts on “Basic Flint Style Coney Sauce”

  1. I have researched this recipe and this is the first to describe the missing meat source. There should also be ground up hot dogs.

  2. In the 80’s, I used to work at a Flint area A&W that made Flint style coney sauce. This recipe is the real deal. The only difference in our recipe is that we also added a bit of crushed red pepper and some garlic powder. Back then, the “coney topping mix” we got from Abbott’s was beef heart, kidney and TVP. Now days, it is just beef heart and TVP. Ground hot dogs were never an ingredient– that old Flint Journal recipe (while it does make a decent hot dog sauce) is not an authentic Flint style coney sauce recipe.

  3. Jeremy, when I was talking with Dave Gillie about the recipe from his restaurant he mentioned the kidney being in-use at Starlite when he was there. I was unaware it may have been part of the base product from Abbott’s, but that would make sense. I’m wondering now if they have any idea when that change was made, and why. Thanks for the info!

    1. Hi Lance …You are correct, but I think you missed a paragraph. Here’s what I’d written: “Textured vegetable protein (which is, by definition, a ‘soy texture’ and shows up in the ingredient list on Abbott’s 4lb and 10lb bags of finished ‘topping’) wasn’t developed until 1965 … Abbott’s may have included some sort of cracker meal in the ground beef heart prior to that. But textured vegetable protein is an inexpensive and quick solution for the same result.”

  4. When I was little, my dad used to take us to Elias Bro. Big Boy in the mall for coney dogs. That was going out to eat for us. Now that I have been stuck in the intermountain west with no real time access to Kogel’s viennas, I have made do with Nathan’s hot dogs and a recipe for Greek mince used in moussaka. I knew there could not be ground up hot dogs in this! When we bought a half beef we had the heart ground into some of the burger to use for coney dogs. I guess you can take me out of Flint, but the Flint is still in me.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Just wanted to post to thank you for posting this. I live in Atlanta, and have lately been nostalgic for home (just finished reading Teardown). The meat grinder attachment to my Kitchen Aid arrived recently, TVP arrives tomorrow. Planning to try the recipe next weekend (there’s a store down here that I KNOW carries beef heart). May have to hold off until my latest Koegel’s order arrives, because I’m not putting real coney sauce on anything other than Koegel’s. I will report back on results!

    1. Okay, so I made this today and put it on Koegel’s Viennas. This sauce is SPOT ON.

      I went to four Atlanta grocery stores before I was able to find beef heart, and so that may be the limiting ingredient if you make this. I plan to buy, vacuum seal, and freeze them every time I see them now for that reason. I ended up getting the heart at a Publix, of all places, not a specialty meat market.

      Bob’s Red Mill sells TVP on Amazon. That’s where I bought it.

      A few notes on my prep: my beef heart was 2 pounds before trimming fat. I froze it for about 50 minutes, then trimmed the hard fat. I did the double grind as suggested in the recipe, and ground it on the finest setting my Kitchen Aid grinder attachment had, as we all know it’s supposed to be essentially a paste. I did NOT add ground beef or kidney, and it worked out perfectly. I used the same amount of spices recommended in the recipe despite my heart being 2 pounds, and they were great. I thought they would be way too much at first so I only added half, but I quickly added the rest. I also added the spices midway through cooking the heart.

      A few tips:

      1. This recipe needs a lot of salt added to the meat while cooking. That’s a lot of meat and the recipe doesn’t call for salt; it needs it. I used about 2 tablespoons of kosher salt in total.

      2. My meat didn’t take nearly 30 mins to cook. It was done after about 15 mins, but that may be because I have an electric stove and the residual heat from the medium-high onion cook carries over.

      Other than the two tips above, I made this recipe as spelled out. The flavor and texture were SPOT ON. I have made the ground up hot dogs recipe before, and that was a complete failure: weird texture and flavor. This recipe is the bomb, and I will be making it again. There are so many family friend Flintoids in Atlanta that we have already decided to order Koegel’s and do this recipe for our next euchre night.

      Finally, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for posting this recipe. It gave me a fun Saturday of cooking experimentation with a legit taste of home at the end. What a fun recipe and a fun day!

  6. I have been wanting a good coney forever and went recently to a local restaurant and had a Koegel hot dog with great coney sauce. But I am over the moon knowing that I can make it myself and freeze it for future use. Oh I am one happy girl and I didn’t even have to waste any efforts on the hot dog recipe. What really sucks is I have a friend whose dad was part owner of Angelos and I still didn’t have the recipe until now! 🤪

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