Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs

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In Southeastern Michigan, “Coney Island” refers to both a 24-hour diner, and, the specific kind of dry-chili-topped, grilled hot-dogs those diners serve. Invented in 1914 at a Jackson, Michigan joint called Todoroff’s Original Coney Island, the dogs–with their beanless, meaty chili (or “sauce” as it’s called in Michigan), were so popular, many other operators soon spun their own versions. Dave Liske, the food historian behind the Flint Coney Resource site ( part of the Michigan Cuisine dot com), says Flint-style sauce–originally made with ground beef heart (!) was first developed by Macedonian restaurateur Simeon O. (Sam) Brayan in 1919 for his Flint’s Original Coney Island restaurant.  Says Liske, “Brayan was the one who contracted with Koegel Meat Company to make the coney [hotdog] they still make today, also contracting with Abbott’s Meat company to make the sauce.” Abbott’s still makes Brayan’s 1919 sauce available to restaurants through Koegel.  Gillie’s Coney Island, a 1985-opened restaurant in Mt. Morris, MI, is a keeper of the Flint-style Coney flame. The restaurant shared this large-volume recipe for Flint-style Coney Island chili in a Michigan Restaurant Association cookbook more than 20 years ago. I’ve also adapted it to a smaller quantity, also published below.  Please note: While I love the history behind recipes, anything I publish here has to taste good, so, my small quantity recipe is a flavor-focused adaptation, made with grapeseed oil instead of melted vegetable shortening, smoked Spanish paprika, and granulated garlic for best flavor. According to Liske, Gillie’s chili–although it uses finely ground beef instead of beef heart–comes very close to Brayan’s original.

Makes 10 lbs of chili

Flint-Style Chili Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup shortening
  • 1 cup fine-diced onion
  • 3 Tbsp each paprika, cumin powder, chile powder
  • 10 lb extra-finely ground hamburger
  • salt (to taste)

Hot Dog Assembly Ingredients

  • hot dog buns
  • Koegel Coney hot dogs
  • mustard
  • ketchup (optional, frowned upon by some)
  • diced sweet white onion
  • Gillie’s Coney Island Chili

Small-batch Flint-style Coney Sauce (Monica's Version) Ingredients

  • 1 lb 85/15 ground beef
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 1 medium onion, peeled, diced very fine
  • 2 Tbsp smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1 Tbsp granulated garlic
  • 2 Tbsp cumin powder
  • 2 Tbsp chili powder
  • salt (to taste–about 1/2 tsp)

Instructions

  1. For Gillie’s Large Batch Recipe: In a heavy, over-sized cast iron skillet, over medium heat, melt shortening. Heat until quite hot. Add onion and saute until transparent. Add spices and stir, toasting the spices for two minutes. Stir in hamburger and break up; reduce heat to lowest temperature possible and saute for one hour. Assemble hot dogs: Grill Koegel Coney dogs until cooked how you like them. Place dogs in buns and top with hot Gillie’s chili, mustard and raw finely-diced sweet onion.
  2. For Small Batch Recipe (Monica’s adaptation of Gillie’s recipe): Using an old fashioned meat grinder with the finest blade, regrind ground beef until very finely ground. You can also use a meat grinder attachment for your standing mixer to do this. Set meat aside. In heavy saute pan over medium heat, add oil. Heat until shimmering. Saute onion in oil until soft and transparent. Add spices and stir, toasting the spices until quite fragrant; about 2 minutes. Add hamburger and saute over low heat, breaking up with a spoon, until cooked through. Drain off fat. Serve over hot dogs, in buns, with mustard and finely-diced raw sweet onion.

3 thoughts on “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs

  1. I’mfrom Byron, Jeff from Liinden-Traverse City. Been in Monrovia, Ca since 1977. THESE CALIFORNIANS have a definite wrong spin on “chili dogs” Hot dogs (generically speaking), chili topping out of a can complete with beans. Needless to say when we hit the ground in Michigan, were planning a true Coney.

  2. Pingback: Recipe for “Gillie’s Coney Island Chili Dogs”, a Flint Style Coney Sauce « Luna Pier Cook

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