Where did the Flint Coney sauce recipe that includes ground hot dogs originate?

On the left is a coney topped with Angelo’s sauce from the former Davison Rd. location, which was open from 1949 until 2018. Tthe coney on the right is topped with sauce made with Joy Gallagher’s recipe containing ground hot dogs. The difference is quite visible, disproving the myths and folklore about this recipe.
Click here to learn how restaurants have made Flint Coney sauce since 1925, including why you may have seen chopped hot dogs being added to it.

Any Flint Coney sauce recipe which includes ground hot dogs is not accurate whatsoever. Flint Journal Food Editor Joy Gallagher was the source of this recipe, not any of the Flint Coney restaurants. This page outlines the history of that recipe.

The recipe has been published multiple times, adding to the folklore. In his book “Scoops: Ron Krueger’s inside dish on The Flint Journal’s favorite recipes” (Flint Journal, 2000), the long-time food writer and Ms. Gallagher’s successor included the ground hot dog recipe she had printed earlier, without a credit listed in Krueger’s book. I asked Mr. Krueger about this on November 6, 2014, and he replied, “That recipe appeared in The Journal several times over the years. Don’t think I ever saw it in the context of a story or ever saw any attribution. It always included the word ‘original’ in the title [which has turned out not to be true], but anybody who knows anything knows otherwise.”
Other publishings of the recipe range far and wide, particularly in “fund-raiser” cookbooks for various organizations. Two instances of this are “Bronner’s Flavorful Favorites”, published via the popular Morris Press Cookbooks for Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan. Appearing both times in the “This & That” section, in 2005’s Book 1 the recipe was titled “Coney Island Sauce”, submitted by Nola Thornton. This was followed on the same page by a “Coney Sauce” from a Betty Sears. The recipe consisted of ground bologna, onion, tomato sauce, and chili powder. The addition of celery seed and vinegar would make for more of a Detroit Coney sauce flavor. The version of Joy Gallagher’s ground hot dog recipe in “Bronner’s Flavorful Favorites Book 2”, published in 2008, was titled “Original Coney Island Sauce” and had been submitted by a Rhoda Williams. It was largely identical to Nola Thornton’s previous version.

Before the Flint Journal's Publication ...

There’s evidence the recipe for Coney Island Sauce containing ground hot dogs and ground beef was neither secret, nor was it from one of the coney shops in the Flint area.
Carolyn Althaus's contribution to the 1974 Frankenmuth Historical Association Cook Book.
There was, in fact, at least one publication prior to the printings much of the folklore refers to. Joy Gallagher initially published the ground hot dog recipe for Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce in the Flint Journal on November 25, 1975. However, the recipe had been published previously in 1974 in the Frankenmuth Historical Association Cook Book. Submitted by a Mrs. Fred (Carolyn) Althaus, the recipe has minor modifications (i.e. garlic powder instead of 1 crushed clove, and the addition of “1/4 tsp. Comins [sic] seed” (cumin)), but it’s otherwise the same recipe.
The cover and copyright page for the 1974 Frankenmuth Historical Association Cook Book containing the Coney Island Sauce recipe contributed by Carolyn Althaus. Below the illustrations of pancakes and coffee it reads "Copyright 1968 – 1976 CIRCULATION SERVICES, P.O. Box 7147, Kansas City, Mo, 64113." This "1968 – 1976" copyright is misleading, as this was a "boilerplate" title page intended for use during those years, and does not reflect the actual date of the publication.
When Joy Gallagher first published the recipe in the Flint Journal the following year on November 25, 1975, she included the sentence “My sincere thanks to all the others who sent in recipes similar to this one.” Those readers would have gotten the recipe from this copy of the Frankenmuth Historical Association Cook Book and, as these types of recipes tend to gravitate between these publications, possibly other fund raising cookbooks like it.

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A 25lb unfrozen bag of the ground beef heart and beef sauce base Abbott’s Meats has provided to all of the Flint Coney restaurants since the 1920s, and a 4lb bag of their frozen raw finished sauce for retail sale. Neither of these products contain ground hot dogs, ketchup, tomato sauce or paste, or prepared mustard.

Historical Variations and Development

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Mrs. Ora Runyon’s prize-winning recipe for Coney Island Dressing in the Indianapolis Star on December 28, 1928.
In 1928 readers of the Indianapolis Star were awarded $1 if their submitted recipe was printed. On December 28th a recipe was published from a Mrs. Ora Runyon. This rather simple recipe’s combination of a commercially-prepared chili sauce with a few ground hot dogs would have been rather thick and spicy meat topping. But both the concept of the recipe and its result would be reminiscent in future similar recipes.
A few years later across the country in Portland, Oregon, Mary Cullen’s Department debuted in the Oregon Journal on August 4, 1933. A fictional food writer and home and living expert, Cullen was ghost-written by more than a few journalists between 1933 and 1981. Mary Cullen’s Cottage was also a storefront location, test kitchen, and the source of mailings in the Journal’s building in Portland from 1934 until the Cottage’s closure in 1961, although articles and mailings continued until December 8, 1981. (“Mary Cullen Has Been Many Persons”, Elizabeth Gillenwater, March 15, 1978, Oregon Journal)
On August 26, 1938, Cullen writer Mary Goodall Ramsay published a particularly interesting recipe for Cony [sic] Island Hot Dog Sauce:
"Mary Cullen’s" recipe for "Cony Island Hot Dog Sauce" in the Oregon Journal on August 26, 1938.
This appears to be the earliest version of what would become the recipe that was published in the Flint Journal almost four decades later. While not containing ground hot dogs of any kind, the combination of undrained hamburger, shortening, onion, garlic, and chili powder echo the later recipe as published in the Flint Journal, while the addition of cumin would have given a familiar flavor. The “strained but thick tomato puree” would have also given a consistency similar to the tomato paste and water of the Flint Journal recipe.
A couple of years later on June 16, 1941, the same recipe was printed via Mary Cullen’s Cottage as part of a clippable file card:
The clippable file card containing ‘Mary Cullen’s’ recipe for Coney Island Sauce in the Oregon Journal on June 16, 1941.
The only differences between the 1938 and the 1941 printings was that, in the latter, the chopped garlic was no longer “(optional)” and the “strained thick tomato puree” was optionally “1 or 2 cups.”
Mary Cullen’s Cottage continued to send out a bulletin for many years. The recipe for “Coney Island Sauce” was included in many of those bulletins, even as recently as one announced in the paper on February 3, 1970. The recipe was published one last time in the Oregon Journal on June 11, 1980.
An interesting recipe for Frankfurter Chili appeared in the Seattle Daily Times on November 26, 1951. The same recipe was printed in syndicated columns nationwide in the months of October and November that year.
While this chili isn’t intended as a sauce for frankfurters, its ingredients include slices of what we know today as canned Vienna sausages. Chopping or grinding the sausages, removing the green peppers, and replacing the “2 No. 2 cans red kidney beans” with browned ground beef would turn this chili into a hot dog topping. Using the canned Vienna sausages in the later recipe instead of ground hot dogs would give the sauce an savory flavor and texture.
On August 9, 1956, a recipe printed by an unnamed Food Editor in the Columbus Dispatch was specifically titled “Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce”, the same title as in the Joy Gallagher version twenty years later. The ingredient list appears to be an evolution of the 1941 Oregon Journal recipe.
The 6 ounce can of tomato paste makes its first appearance here, along with two can measures of water, as well as the tablespoon of prepared mustard. The small amount of ground beef combined with the amount of liquids would seem to create a rather juicy sauce. Increasing the amount of ground beef and adding 4 or 5 ground hot dogs seems a rather straightforward evolution toward the popular Flint recipe.
Another unique recipe appeared in the San Angelo Standard-Times in Texas on February 4, 1960. In this version, from another unnamed Food Editor, a tomato-based chili sauce having chopped frankfurters as its only included meat is served over sauerkraut.
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San Angelo Standard-Times, February 4, 1960
A few of the ingredients of the later recipe are used here, including the 6 ounce can of tomato paste. This would again be a rather juicy sauce, especially since the tomatoes are undrained. But the spirit of the recipe Joy Gallagher printed is intact.

Jean Crain's Request for the Flint Coney Sauce Recipe

Note: There’s one technique that’s generally missing from this recipe. If any restaurant ever did add leftover ground hot dogs into their beef heart-based sauce, those hot dogs would have been grilled Koegel natural casing Coney Franks. Grilling them before grinding changes their flavor and consistency, which also changes how the finished sauce presents. Using grilled Koegel Viennas in this recipe makes the most sense for the home cook.

Joy Gallagher (whose full name was Peggy Joyce Hawley Gallagher) was appointed Editor of the Family Section of the Flint Journal on January 1, 1973, after coming from the Newport News Times Tribune where she’d been the Women’s Editor for the previous six years. (“Joy Gallagher Appointed Editor of Family Section”, Flint Journal) She had been added to the Family Section of the Journal as a writer, as announced in a piece titled “A Bit of Joy from Virginia” on December 30, 1971. This was while she was still living in Newport News because “I recently bought a lovely mobile home and parked it so close to the Chesapeake Bay that I can be out my door and throwing out crab nets in two minutes flat.” The 1973 article then indicated she had become a member of the Journal staff on September 5, 1972, meaning she had relocated to Flint by then.

In a “Kitchen Clinic” column responding to readers’ letters, published on November 4, 1975, Gallagher included a couple of requests from a Jean Crain:

Jean Crain’s initial request for the Flint Coney Island sauce recipe. (Flint Journal, November 4, 1975)

The Recipe's First Printing

Over the following few weeks there was apparently more than one response to Jean Craig’s request. The response Gallagher chose to publish, though, contained quite a few holes in its backstory.

Joy Gallagher’s reply to Jean Crain. This is the first public printing of the recipe. (Flint Journal, November 25, 1975)

There is an interesting fact about this first publication of the recipe. Gallagher wrote that the responder was “the wife of a former chef at the original Coney Island.” The folklore has always stated the recipe was from Angelo’s. But Angelo’s didn’t open until 1949, 24 years after Flint Original Coney Island opened at 202 S. Saginaw (later 208 S. Saginaw after a renumbering.) That part of the folklore, about which restaurant the recipe came from, then becomes incorrect from the very beginning.

Another issue is the recipe’s quantity. If this was indeed the recipe for the original sauce, the resulting quantity would be at least twenty times the quantity given in this recipe, enough for an average day of service. The Chef would not have already broken it down into a quantity succinct enough to be able to specify “1 six-ounce can tomato sauce” as available at grocery stores of the time.

The real issue though is that anonymous sources can rarely be trusted. So, the Chef’s wife dug through his personal recipe book to see if she could find the sauce recipe from Flint Original Coney Island because “I don’t see any reason why it should be such a secret.” The problem with that is, even if the sequence of events were true, she wouldn’t have known whether or not the recipe she was looking at was indeed the restaurant’s coney sauce recipe without checking with the Chef.

One other point is Gallagher’s last sentence: “My sincere thanks to all the others who sent in recipes similar to this one.” This hearkens back to the earlier recipes dating back to Carolyn Althaus’s contribution of the recipe to the 1974 Frankenmuth Historical Association Cook Book, and the first one in the Indianapolis Star in 1928.

Readers Refute the Recipe

It took less than a couple of weeks, though, for the first letters refuting the recipe to show up on Gallagher’s desk. In another column of readers’ responses to other requests, published on December 9, 1975, a Sylvia DeFrain of Flint provided a requested recipe for “Past Perfect Fruitcake.” Besides that recipe, she also included comments on the recipe for coney sauce:

The first refuting of the recipe, from a Mrs. Sylvia DeFrain of Flint. (Flint Journal, December 9, 1975)

Note Gallagher’s comment of “You are probably right, Mrs. DeFrain” … but in the end she still did not back down regarding the recipe’s possible authenticity.

Restaurant Operators Refute the Recipe

It would appear that, over the next year, Gallagher heard from more than one of the Coney Island restaurant operators in Flint:

The second printing of the recipe, which included restaurant operators refuting its accuracy to no avail. (Flint Journal, April 12, 1977)

In this second printing of the recipe, Gallagher puts more trust in her anonymous source than she does the restaurant operators themselves, and would continue to do so “until something better comes along.” It was as though she was taunting those operators to give her their own recipes for their version of the sauce. But at this point, the source is identified as the former Chef’s widow. Apparently he had passed away since the recipe’s first printing. Why not then identify herself since she’ll no longer be in “hot water”? This causes the source to be even more suspicious and unreliable than before.

The Recipe's Third Printing, It's Now "Original"

It would seem Gallagher had gotten her wish for “something better” over the following year. In her column published on May 23, 1978, she published two recipes for “Flint-Style Coney Sauce.” At this point though, her backing of the ground hot dog recipe’s authenticity began to wane.

The recipe’s third printing. This includes a second version which begins with beef heart while also including “catsup” and vinegar. (Flint Journal, May 23, 1978)

Both of the recipes in this column have claims of being the “original” recipe for a Flint-style coney sauce. The first comes with the same supposed Flint Original Coney Island history from its previous two printings, but for some reason was renamed the “’Original’ Coney Island Sauce” here. The second recipe is for a recent submission supposedly for the sauce at Angelo’s.

It’s interesting to note that the Angelo’s statement by Gallagher was for the beef heart recipe in this column. However, in the myth the Angelo’s origin has always been attributed to the former “original Coney Island” ground hot dog recipe, which Gallagher had never said herself.

Unlike in previous columns, in this particular column Gallagher used phrases such as “calls and letters telling me I don’t have the REAL one,” “the one that is supposed to be the ‘original’ coney island sauce” and more importantly, “I’m not making any claims.” In considering these particular phrases, it is easy to conclude that Gallagher herself ended up not believing a word of any of the rumors regarding the ground hot dog recipe.

Finally, Gallagher’s column of May 23, 1978, is apparently the direct source of the two “Flint-style Coney Sauce” recipes included on the last page of “Two to Go: A Short History of Flint’s Coney Island Restaurants published by the Genesee County Historical Society” in 2007. While the authors of Two to Go didn’t quote Gallagher’s column directly and included the two recipes themselves without a reference, they are indeed identical to the recipes in that column.

Gallagher herself never printed any coney sauce recipes in the Journal again. On April 24, 1979, she published a Goodbye Note, stating she had resigned effective April 27. Her final column was published May 1, with Gallagher being the speaker at the Goodwill Industries Annual Meeting at Sarvis Center that evening. In her Goodbye Note, she invited her readers to attend the public meeting.

The 2011 Facebook Posting, and Subsequent Circulations

On May 28, 2011, Robert Morgan, a retired General Motors tool & die maker living in Swartz Creek, posted this image of the ground hot dog recipe to Facebook, where it has been shared more than 13,000 times. In July of 2015 a Carol Jones posted the same image to her Facebook account, and by the end of the year the image had been shared almost 6,000 times. Other Facebook users who shared or commented on this image continued the previous folklore, indicating a relative had also received this same recipe from an owner, the originator’s wife, a former employee, etc. By this point the folklore has overshadowed the reality of the recipe having originated solely with Joy Gallagher of the Flint Journal as described above, especially since the distribution of the recipe through social media continues the fallacy of “If it’s on the internet, it must be true.”

1 thought on “Where did the Flint Coney sauce recipe that includes ground hot dogs originate?”

  1. I love reading the Coney history and the myths of the Coney recipe! Some folks could care less about the origins of the sauce but then there are many more, like me, that thoroughly enjoy everything Coney! I’m thrilled to have my unique history with Angelo, Tom Z and Tom Branoff, arguably the best to do it!

    Thank you again, Dave!! You rock!

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