USA Today: Michigan’s Best Coney Dogs!

Before I was asked by USA’s 10Best team to suggest the 20 best places for Coney Dogs in the state of Michigan, I had thought Coney dog toppings were made with a mixture of ground beef, some type of tomato base and a bunch of spices and herbs.

Virginia Coney Island
Jackson, MI

I also knew, despite the name Coney, they didn’t originate at Coney Island Amusement Park in Brooklyn, New York but instead in Detroit having first shown up on Michigan menus in the early 1900s. Indeed, many of the most famous Coney dog places including Virginia Coney Island in Jackson which opened in 1914, Muskegon’s G&L Chili Dogs (1926), Coney Island Kalamazoo (1915) and Detroit’s American Coney Island (1917) and Lafayette Coney Island (1917) date back a century ago.  I also had a vague knowledge that the originators of the Coney Island-style hot dog were Greek immigrants.

What I didn’t know is that the sauce (that’s what they call the Coney Island topping) often contains ground beef hearts and indeed, a large portion of beef hearts sold for human consumption in Michigan go for Coneys. I guess with all the other ingredients, the beef hearts aren’t that noticeable.

My friend Susan Pollock, who like me is a food and travel writer, was also asked to make suggestions. It wasn’t the first time we’d been asked by USA10Best. In 2017 they asked us, along with a few other writers, to make suggestions for Michigan’s Best Destinations. Once we make suggestions, then they’re put up for an online vote reader who get to vote for their favorites.

The 10Best from number one to ten are as follows:

  1. Virginia Coney Island – Jackson
  2. Bobaloon’s Cafe – Escanaba
  3. Mussell Beach Drive In – Bay City
  4. Old Town Drive In – Saginaw
  5. One Stop Coney Shop – Grand Rapids
  6. Dog n’ Suds – Muskegon & Montague
  7. G&L Chili Dogs – Muskegon
  8. Lafayette Coney Island – Detroit
  9. Johnny Dogs – Munising
  10. Grand Coney Diner – Grand Rapids

        I thought it would be fun to include a few recipes of the winning types of Coney dogs. Surprisingly, for a dish this simple, there are a myriad of recipes some with ground beef heart. Even in the ones that call for beef heart, ground beef can be substituted

Coney Dogs for Thanksgiving

Dog N’ Suds Coney Dog

 I pound ground beef

2 tablespoons ground mustard

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

⁄1/4 teaspoon Tabasco sauce

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 tablespoon water

¼ teaspoon celery seed

ketchup, as needed

In a salted skillet, brown ground beef with onion over medium heat, breaking up meat with a fork to crumble it fine.

Drain off fat. Add remaining ingredients, except catsup.

Mix well, then add enough catsup to keep mixture loose.

Simmer, partially covered, 1 hour, adding catsup as needed.

Detroit-Style Coney Island Hot Dog

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 Worcestershire 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

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.

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.

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.

Makes:12 Coney Dogs. The chili sauce freezes well, so make extra.

Detroit Coney Dog

The hot dog

6 pork and beef blended frankfurters with natural casings

6 hot dog buns

1 white onion, chopped ne

Yellow ballpark mustard

The Coney sauce

1 pound ground chuck

1/2 pound ground beef heart

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 large onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 teaspoons American chili powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1.5 cups chicken or beef broth

4 ounces tomato paste

2 teaspoons cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce

In a small bowl, mix the American chili powder, paprika, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.

Cook. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the ground beef and beef heart for 5 minutes or until brown. Crumble it as it cooks so it is brown all over.

Pour the meat into a strainer and drain the fat into a small saucepan. Discard all but 3 tablespoons of fat. Whisk the fat and flour together over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until it turns amber, about 15 minutes. Then whisk in the chicken stock, tomato paste, and vinegar. Let it sit on low a few minutes on low while you handle the next few steps.

Add the onion, garlic, and red bell pepper to the ground meat in the skillet and cook for another 5 minutes.

Push everything aside and add the spices and cook in contact with the bottom of the pan for 2 minutes, stirring so the spices don’t stick to the bottom. Then mix them in with the meat.

Add the roux mix ingredients and stir it in. Simmer for at least 15 minutes, an hour is better.

Pour 1/3 the mix into your blender and puree it until it is pasty, and mix it back in. If you prefer you can use a stick blender to get the mix thick.

Split the frank down the middle but don’t cut it in half. Brown the meat.

Steam the bun. Put the frank on the bun, split side up. Squirt a line of mu

Jackson Coney Sauce

1 ½ pounds ground beef heart

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 teaspoons garlic salt

2 t4easpoons chili powder

2 t4easpoons cumin powder

2 teaspoons paprika

Brown meat in oil, add spices and enough water to moister mixture. Simmer, stirring occasionally until mixture is somewhat dry, bring careful not to allow it to dry completely and it burns. Spoon on top of hot dog and top with chopped onions and mustard.

Jane Ammeson can be contacted via email at