Authentic Coney Dog Sauce

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Did you know that Coney Dogs didn’t originate in Coney Island Amusement Park in Brooklyn, New York? The recipes were brought to the U.S. by Greek and Macedonian immigrants who settled in the Midwest. The first Coney Island Hotdog shop appears to have been in Ft. Wayne, Indiana or Jackson, Michigan – they both opened in 1914, but no one knows the actual date for either. Apparently, there are lots of debates about the actual “authentic” recipe, but I don’t care. I’m dropping the “island” and calling mine authentic because it tastes just like I remember from my Indiana youth. It appears the original Michigan recipe contains ground beef hearts – something I’d have a very hard time bringing myself to eat. You can read more of the historical debate here if you feel so inclined. 🤔authentic-coney-dog-sauce-culinary-craftiness

I knew there had to be a secret ingredient in the coney sauce, but I couldn’t figure out what it was for the longest time. When I considered what a restaurant might do with their leftovers, it occurred to me they might want to use up cooked, but unsold, hotdogs. What a perfect place to “discard” them. 😀 If you’ve never had real coney dog sauce, then you’re in for a treat. This sauce is so good, you’ll want to just eat it with a spoon!

Absolutely best with fried mushrooms or the french fries from The Bear’s Den in Shelbyville, Indiana. So sad we can’t get either one of those down here in Florida. Not that we can’t get fried mushrooms or big fat crinkle fries here. They just don’t taste like those served at The Bear’s Den. But at least we now have the coney dog sauce!

Authentic Coney Dog Sauce | Culinary Craftiness

Authentic Coney Dog Sauce | Culinary CraftinessThis recipe makes a large batch. Cut the recipe in half or freeze leftovers in pint or 1/2 pint containers. It makes a perfect topping for wiener roasts. 😃

Authentic Coney Dog Sauce

2 lbs. ground chuck or round
1 large onion, finely diced or grated
9 oz. tomato paste (1-1/2 cans)
9 oz. water (1-1/2 cans)
5 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. cumin
1/2 to 1 tsp. allspice, to taste
1 tbsp. jarred minced garlic
2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
1 tbsp. cider vinegar
2 packages cheap pork with chicken hotdogs, ground in food processor

Put everything except for hotdogs in a large skillet. Do NOT brown and drain ground beef first. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring to break up meat into fine crumbles. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally.

Add ground up hotdogs and cook for another 15 minutes. This sauce shouldn’t be runny.

Serve on your favorite hotdogs and buns.

Best as is, but optionally, you can add a sprinkle of chopped onion, shredded cheddar cheese, and/or a squirt of mustard.Authentic Coney Dog Sauce | Culinary Craftiness

Authentic Coney Dog Sauce

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Authentic Coney Dog Sauce

Created by Melissa Woolard | Culinary Craftiness

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs. ground chuck or round
  • 1 large onion, finely diced or grated
  • 9 oz. tomato paste (1-1/2 cans)
  • 9 oz. water (1-1/2 cans)
  • 5 tbsp. chili powder
  • 1 tbsp. cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. allspice, to taste
  • 1 tbsp. jarred minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
  • 1 tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 2 packages cheap pork with chicken hotdogs, ground in food processor

Instructions

  1. Put everything except for hotdogs in a large skillet. Do NOT brown and drain ground beef first. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring to break up meat into fine crumbles. Lower heat to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, or until thickened, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add ground up hotdogs and cook for another 15 minutes. This sauce shouldn't be runny.
  3. Serve on your favorite hotdogs and buns.
  4. Best as is, but optionally, you can add a sprinkle of chopped onion, shredded cheddar cheese, and/or a squirt of mustard.

Notes

This is a large batch. Cut recipe in half or freeze leftovers in pint or 1/2-pint containers. Perfect topping for wiener roasts.

https://culinarycraftiness.com/authentic-coney-dog-sauce/

Authentic Coney Dog Sauce | Culinary Craftiness

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About Melissa

Melissa is a wife, mother, family cook, and romance novelist. The very first thing she learned in the kitchen was how to scramble eggs in an old cast iron skillet at the age of five. Her great-grandmother put her on a step-stool at the stove and thus began her passion for whipping up great tasting foods.

41 Replies to “Authentic Coney Dog Sauce”

  1. Thank you for the recipe. I live in Franklin Indiana and have been wanting a bears den coney dog really bad because they are closed for the season.

  2. Actually that is Flint style Coney Sauce.
    The Original Coney Sauce came from the Detroit area, and had beef heart in it. Instead of leftover jot dogs.

    • There seems to be a lot of debate about where the “original” coney sauce originated. I included a link to the Wikipedia article. I also mentioned the Michigan recipe contains beef heart which I can’t bring myself to even consider eating. LOL Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment! 🙂

      • Melissa the Contacos family moved to Johnstown and Altoona Pa. in 1911 and sold Coney Island hot dogs out of a pushcart for several years and then opened a restaurant at the end of 1915! It closed 2 years ago but reopened with a new owner who got the original recipe from the original owners. BTW I have problems with taking you seriously when you won’t use or EAT beef hearts…. what the heck do you think is in hot dogs!!!!!

        • Gaaaaah! Don’t tell me beef hearts are in hotdogs, Leonard! 😱 Just the thought of it makes me squeamish. I don’t really want to know what’s in some of my favorite foods – like Braunschweiger or Spam. 😂 Just let me eat them without having to think of such things. LOL I’m such a dang animal lover, it’s hard to remain a carnivore if I think about it too much.

          I love the history! I wish I could’ve been there in 1911 and eaten a coney dog from their cart. If I ever get a chance to visit Altoona, PA, I want to dine at the restaurant and sample the original coney sauce! Thank you so much for sharing this great piece of history and letting us know the original recipe lives on!

    • Hi, Parker!

      Authentic coney sauce or what is served up by a particular restaurant? Whatevs. Mine tastes fantastic! Give it a try and see if you like it. You might not, and that’s okay. We all have different tastes. 🙂

    • The Kalamazoo coney Island location did use ground hot dogs in their sauce. ..i’m making this today to see if it’s the same. I have a feeling it is. Can’t wait to try it. I’ve been searching for it.

      • In Saginaw Mi the A&W made there’s with grounded up hot dogs onions green peppers and chili sauce and chili powder 😋

        • Hi William,

          Thanks for the confirmation of the ground up hot dogs! I’m sure restaurants wouldn’t want to waste any dogs leftover at the end of the day so found a brilliant way to use them. I think it makes the sauce taste amazing. My coneys really do bring back all my great memories of home in Indiana.

          Thank you so much for taking the time to comment! 🙂

      • You look real familiar I want to thank for the recipes your help in recreating what I love as a teen and as a child . My father had a chance to by bears den when it was a&w if he had we would still own it today. We would have passed it down to relatives to keep the tradition of the drive in a live for generations to come. You seen to have that spirit and Paul and Bev would be proud of you. The husband and wife who own it now have made a joke of it and will prise them selves out of business . This was a land Mark and they will never get their money out of it that they have put in it . I won’t even eat there for some reason they think the coney sauce is gold because they cheap out on putting it on the hot dog,they must have at least 35 cents in each one and what 2.50 or more a piece they not making their own root beer. Thank again the good memories I had when I was younger

        • You’re welcome, Mark! Thank you for sharing your memories and thoughts. I love my home county and all the great people who share a love for the great food the county’s historic landmark restaurants put out back in the good old days. I want my recipes to live on forever for everyone to enjoy. 🙂

    • Hi Kathy, I’d add another pound of ground beef so the seasonings aren’t overwhelming. Or back off of the seasonings by 1/3. Ground hotdogs are what makes it taste like the old-fashioned coney dogs. No matter what, I believe it’ll taste great with just the ground beef though. 🙂

  3. I’m definitely trying your sauce after I finish a batch of North Jersey Wiener Sauce from Cook’s Country I made a couple of days ago. I can see you’ve given your recipe a good deal of thought and I appreciate the time and effort you’ve put into this.
    I’ve got my own sauce based on what’s served in the Detroit and NW Ohio area by Greek immigrants. I love it but now I’m chagrined that my wife now prefers the NJ wiener sauce.
    I tell everyone about the technique of mixing up all the ingredients and then heating up the pot. Do people think the old Greek guys used a giant blender or immersion blender to break up the meat? They made 100 gallons at a time. Even the people at Cook’s Country got that detail wrong.
    Did you know that the old time hot dog joints mixed white bread and water to use as a thickener?
    Here’s a link to a Library of Congress mp3 that contains a short interview with a couple of old timers.
    http://www.loc.gov/item/afcwip004291/
    Hope you find it interesting.
    I think I’ve spent too much time thinking about hot dog sauce, too.

    • Thanks for visiting and commenting, Jimmy! Now I’m going to have to look up the North Jersey Wiener Sauce recipe! lol I’m definitely going to try the bread and water as a thickener. I can imagine a good potato bread making a great pot of sauce, even Sloppy Joes. Thanks for sharing the link – I’ll head over and give it a listen. I love the history of food! If you try my recipe, let me know what you think. 🙂

  4. Finally! I grew up in Mt Clemens Mi, I’ve tried to recreate this recipe multiple times. This is the best one by far. THANK YOU!

    • Yay! Thanks for validating my recipe, Kurt! We love it and even make a coney dog casserole with it by layering the sauce, cut up hotdogs, low carb tortilla shells, and shredded cheddar. 🙂

  5. I left a comment above and more I talk the hungrier I get. Remember how you get each hotdog rapped up in it own piece of white paper like it was just made for you. Once in July I worked at Skyine drive in ticket taker, you could get 6 coney dogs for a dollar I eat 12 in one nite plus a large hot fudge Sunday in same nite. I never did that again it was always a treat to go there.

    • I loved the Skyline Drive-in and really miss it! What a great memory you’ve shared, but that many coneys in one night would’ve made me sick! LOL I just made a batch of my sauce last week. I sent 1/3 of it home with one of my sons and put another 1/3 in the freezer for my bestie to take home with her the next time she’s over. She’s never tasted authentic coney dog sauce!

  6. Made this tonight to take camping with us this weekend. The kids LOVED it and my husband, who was born and raised in Detroit and misses his Coney sauce all the way out here in Idaho, even said it was good. He says nothing’s like the real thing, but this was as close as we’ve gotten.

    My big question is this- The hot dogs have 3 carbs per dog in them, so if I’m adding 16 dogs to the recipe and the tomato paste as well the carb count starts to rise. Is there a sub for the dogs at all? Can I use 1 package instead and add like lard and salt or broth or something?

    • Hi Jes,

      I’m so happy to hear my recipe for coney sauce seems to be on the right track! I haven’t tried to sub anything for the cheap hot dogs, but you might try turkey franks – the Oscar Mayer brand is only 1g carb per dog. We could go with all beef franks with 0 carbs, but they don’t taste as much like pork/chicken hot dogs as do turkey franks. I’ll put this on my grocery list to make next week and measure out how many servings one batch makes and get a good nutrition count on it with the turkey franks.

      Thank you so much for posing this question! I, too, am looking for the lowest carbs I can get. 🙂

  7. Excellent article. For once I feel fully elucidated regarding this. Subject. So the sauce is basically a slurry of leftovers and cheap cuts disguised in sugar and spices with a tease of ground beef and onions. A great way to get more profit from the inventory. Those frugal men were creative and through thier unabashed craftiness they created a culinary legacy of deceptive delectability. So basically you need old hot dogs, stale bread, to really be authentic. Your article ( along with the prescient comments of thoughtful readers) really fired my imagination. Thanks, P.D. Dobson, Peoria, Illinois.

    • I do love your way with words, Trthmastr! LOL I grew up with the attitude “waste not, want not.” Nothing was disposable and if you threw away good food, shame on you. There are people starving to death in this world. Some of the best tasting food in the comes from stale bread – Thanksgiving dressing, French toast, German Bread Dumplings (https://culinarycraftiness.com/german-bread-dumplings-known-as-semmelknoedel/).

      There’s a restaurant in my little home town that uses their leftover dinner rolls to make the best croutons I’ve ever tasted. I can’t go home without stopping in to pile them onto the best salad I’ve ever had. 🙂

      P.S. Ground chuck or round isn’t cheap where I live, no stale bread in this recipe, and the hotdogs are cheap but fresh out of the store-bought package. 😉

  8. We had two Coney Island restaurants in our town for yrs. Both good tho most people had a favorite. Both owned & run by Greek men immigrated from Greece. They always added cinnamon to theirs,not a lot of course but maybe 1/4 to 1/2 tsp depending on the batch. But it makes all the difference. I think the recipe above was close to theirs ,just needs cinnamon. Also blended after it’s cooked. A stick blender works well.

    • Hi Brooke,

      Thanks for sharing your great hometown memories of coney dogs and the men who made them! I add allspice, but next time I’ll switch it out for cinnamon and see how it compares. And I have a stick blender so I’ll use that too. 🙂

  9. Melissa, I cannot tell you how happy I am to find this and see your smiling face. I wanted to make coney sauce and Bears Den was the absolute best so that is what i googled and you pop up with the recipe – Thanks for sharing!

    • Wow! You’ve made my day, Myleiah! I shared this recipe for that very reason – so all of us fans of the old Bear’s Den can enjoy those delicious coneys and Hurriburgers (another of their recipes I’ve recreated) for the rest of our lives. 🙂 Jimmie saw a picture on fb of the Bear’s Den roof collapsed. So sad. Anyway, find me on facebook, girl!

  10. Although your Coney sauce has the basic ingredients, there are some noticeably absent elements in a true sauce like this, and the cider vinegar is a no-no, and definitely NO ground hot dogs (that was done later in the 60’s). First, the origin of this delight started in Paterson NJ by a Greek immigrant, this has been 100% confirmed in spite of the fault ridden Wikipedia. Hard provable evidence for NJ origin points to around 1906 or 1907, with further anecdotal evidence going back before 1900 which is still being investigated. It has been found out that somebody loosely copied the sauce about 1909 and shortly thereafter relocated to Michigan, where attempts were made to copycat the copycat sauce. This being the case, there is no way to know how many of those “copied” recipes are way off. If you ever visit NJ, look for restaurants in either Bergen or Passaic counties that serve “Texas Weiners” – this is a hot dog covered with the Texas Weiner Sauce, sprinkled with chopped onion, and then finished with either a yellow or spicy brown mustard. These are known locally as “All the Way” Dogs, a phrase that goes back to the 1920’s – which everybody not from the area usually incorrectly uses for their signature dog, whatever it may be, but not the original. Paterson, New Jersey is the undisputed birthplace of this sauce until absolute proof stating otherwise can be brought forth that pre-dates 1906.
    Anyway, back to the recipe. I have what may be deemed as close to the 1907 original as possibly can be determined by some of the oldest people around who remember from the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s how the original tasted and they say I’m absolutely the closest – if not exactly spot on. The original recipe contained 18 ingredients, not including the ground beef (not beef hearts), or salt & pepper.
    Don’t get me wrong, yours has the Michigan Coney taste, but not the genuine original flavor from Paterson NJ. If you do some more research in it’s origins, I’m sure you will be surprised in what the other ingredients are. I also came up with an absolutely wicked hot dog onion sauce that cannot be rivaled, but that’s for another thread.

    • Hi Bill, I love your awesome historical detail about the original sauce! Now I need to know exactly what those 18 ingredients are and see what it’s supposed to taste like.

      I do love my coney sauce recipe, and it tastes just like the coney sauce we all love and remember from Indiana so I’ll not alter it. However, there’s no law that says I can’t post another recipe with the earliest known history and link it to this recipe. 😊 Will you share yours with us? I would have no way of knowing if my experiments would even come close to the taste or yours.

      • I share just about every recipe I have spent a lot of research, time and effort, through trial and error which sometimes takes years to complete. This one however is not one of them since I was advised by an Attorney friend of mine that it really qualifies as intellectual property that has a high potential of being licensed. Now as to what form that would take, I have not decided yet. I could make an agreement with a local company to produce and can it, I could just sell a prepackaged spice mix, or maybe I could license it to a hot dog company. I’m really not that sure which venue to take because the cooking sequence and process is just as important as the ingredients, and if I sold just the spice mix then the essential cooking technique is subject to a wide variation which will change the end product – but it certainly is the easiest for me to mix, bag, and ship. I have been toying with the idea of selling just the spice mix with a very detailed set of instructions.
        What would be your thoughts on which venue I should initially pursue?

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