Recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs”

The results of this recipe, Oct. 7, 2014.

Background

Most online recipes and recipes in-print are about as far from Abbott’s original sauce as they can possibly get. They involve ground hot dogs, or maybe haven’t been tested and should never be made.

Still, in scouring the web for variations and specific versions of recipes for Flint-style coney sauce, I’ve stumbled across what appears to be a “diamond in the rough”. This one is seriously as close to the original as I’ve seen so far.

Over on her Lost Recipes Found site, greater-Chicago-area food writer Monica Kass Rogers has posted what she wrote up as the recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs“. Her notes on the recipe included the following statement:

“Gillie’s Coney Island [circa 1985 in Mt. Morris, Michigan] … shared this large-volume recipe for Flint-style Coney Island chili in a Michigan Restaurant Association cookbook more than 20 years ago.”
A pair of coneys at Gillie’s Coney Island on July 26, 2021. I used this same image for the cover of "The Flint Coney: A Savory History."
It turns out that the Michigan Restaurant Association published a spiral-bound cookbook titled “A Taste of Michigan“ in 1991. There are a couple things uniquely interesting about this particular recipe that illustrate its authenticity. For example, there is the process for this recipe as described by Ms. Rogers, i.e.:
  • Over medium heat, melt shortening. Heat until quite hot.
  • Add onion and saute for 1 minute
  • Add spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes
  • Add 10 lbs of hamburger; reduce heat to very low and cook for one hour
This is extremely interesting because it matches the description regarding the making of the Abbott’s sauce given by none other than Edward Abbott himself to an interviewer from the Flint Journal:
“According to Edward Abbott, who eighty plus years later is still making the ground meat base for Flint’s coney island sauce, the only meat ingredient is beef heart, regardless of the stories and rumors of other meat parts being used. Abbott’s added some seasoning … The sauce is made by boiling commercially prepared beef suet for several hours, then browning finely chopped onions in it and adding the spices and the meat. Taste varied according to the size of the chef’s hand … ‘They still sell the traditional sauce; the meat base … The Abbott product has always been sold uncooked …’” [“Two to Go: A Short History of Flint’s Coney Island Restaurants”, 2007 by Florine, Davison & Jaeger (Genesee County Historical Society)]

Here is Dave Gillie’s recipe as it appeared in “A Taste of Michigan”:

In an email on January 25, 2015, Dave Gillie verified that this is a minor variation what he makes at Gillie’s Coney Island. “The book recipe was slightly modified for publication [from what we make] just to accommodate being done at home. I made one change in that published recipe: I changed the normal extra fine raw ground ‘beef, beef heart, soy texture’ that I buy from Abbott’s Meat in 25# bags with suggesting they use lean hamburg and grind it extra fine. (I might have suggested trying to find beef heart?)” While he may have suggested this modification, it did not show up in the final publication.

To be honest, this is a lot of Gillie’s coney sauce. If you eat coneys as much as we do this might be a worthwhile venture. But the amount this makes simply isn’t at all “family friendly”. We’ll adjust these amounts to something that makes more sense for a home kitchen.

Ground beef is specified in ratios of lean meat to fat. In most foods, especially burgers, we’ll use an 80/20 ground chuck. But for this sauce we’ll use more of a utility beef, a 73/27. Since it’s readily available in 3 lb. chubbs, that’s the amount we’ll adjust the recipe for and divide the other measurements by about a third.

Also, the spices 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’ll make sure to specify the more savory Spanish paprika.
But there’s also one other adjustment we want to make. This recipe calls for 1 1/2 cup shortening. When this recipe was apparently printed, shortening had different characteristics than it does now, back in the pre-trans fat ban era of the 1980s. Still, shortening is vegetable oil, not an animal fat, and we can certainly do better in the interest of flavor.

We can replace the shortening with lard to get better richness. But remember, lard is made from pig fat. Mr. Abbott specifically mention boiling beef suet for several hours, the result of which is beef tallow. This would certainly give the sauce a more accurate flavor profile. Beef tallow is readily available in jars from FatWorks. What we can do is specify both the lard and the tallow as options, forgoing the shortening completely.

The end result of these adjustments, along with modifying the list of ingredients to match currently-available products (and obviously ditching the ketchup), is below:

Gillie’s Coney Island Sauce (Home Version)

Prep Time 1 hr 10 mins
Course FlintConeys

Ingredients
  

  • 3 lb 73/27 ground beef
  • 1/3 cup White onion, minced
  • 1/2 cup Beef tallow or lard
  • 2 Tbsp Chili powder, hot
  • 1 Tbsp Spanish paprika
  • 1 Tbsp Cumin, ground

Instructions
 

  • Over medium heat, melt the tallow or lard. Heat until very hot.
  • Add the onion and sauté for 1 minute.
  • Add the spices and stir, heating for 2 minutes.
  • Add the hamburger; reduce heat to very low and simmer for at least one hour to let the flavors develop. Stir regularly to ensure the meat is broken up to be as small as possible.
  • Place grilled Koegel Viennas or Koegel Coney Franks dogs in steamed buns and top with Gillie’s chili, mustard, and raw diced onion.
Keyword coney, coneys, Flint, Gillie’s, sauce

9 thoughts on “Recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs”, a Flint Style Coney Sauce”

  1. I worked at Hank & Don’s Bar in Swartz Creek, Michigan, right outside of Flint, for 26 years and made many batches of coney sauce. The owners bought the original recipe in downtown Flint. There are two differences to the recipe posted; 1. Use beef suet, not shortening, 2. always use Spanish paprika. Additionally, the more of the three spices you use, the richer the taste.

  2. Thanks Tom. A lot of people don’t realize how many different kinds of paprika there are. Specifying a particular type is key to the right flavor.

  3. I’ve made numerous attempts to re-create “The Original”, and you know what? It can’t be done because there AINT no original. Back in the day (the 20’s probably) the Coney joints just used what they had on hand. Sometimes they had more beef heart, sometimes they had a little ground beef that they wanted to get rid of. They’d toss in a handful of this, and a pinch of that and be done with it. According to what I heard from a guy who actually worked in those joints in the 30’s, they winged it for the most part.

    If you’ve ever tasted the stuff by itself it’s terrible! Way too mild. It absolutely requires the beef/pork Vienna, mustard and (for me) onions to taste good. Any Chili recipe without beans would probably taste pretty good. I’m a former competitive chili cook, and believe me, this stuff is pretty basic.

    1. PS:

      I just made this recipe and it’s GREAT! When I think of all the time I wasted trying this recipe, adding this or that ingredient. The above recipe does the job just fine, and it’s a breeze to make. Go figure!

  4. Yup, that’s basically what I’ve said on the “What Is It?” page. Those are certainly concepts most Flintoids don’t understand, which is what this site is really about. Glad to see someone who understands already!

  5. For the first time I see someone has finally has “Gotten it right!!!” I often look up Flint Style Coney Sauce and in the end say, “This person has no idea with they are talking about.”
    However you are…you did your homework, and did it WELL.
    I worked for Angelo’s Coney Island during 1998 right after Tommy and Neil bought it and “tried” to expand it. Which was a total fail. But in the end I did learn how to make the Coney meat. They only thing that was left out that we used with a salt (we used Lawyer’s seasoning salt) Other than that….you’ve captured the correct way to make Flint Style Coney Sauce.

  6. Flint coneys are from Flint, chilly dogs are from Detroit. I’ve been eating Flint coneys for over 50 years. I have a recipe for original Flint Coneys from a 1959 Flint Journal article.

    1. Hi Kevin … Historically, Coney Dogs began in both Jackson, Michigan, and Ft. Wayne, Indiana in 1914. Detroit followed with theirs in 1917, with ohers around the country opening about the same time, while the Flint Original Coney Island didn’t first open until the early 1920s. As a latecomer to the field, those of us from Flint can’t claim others aren’t coneys.

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