The Coney Dog is a type of chili dog, and its origin is hotly contested between at least two U.S. cities. The most determined of the lot to claim it as their own are Detroit and Cincinnati.
Detroit’s Coney Dog
Detroit’s argument goes something like this: back in the early 1900s, two “Coney Island” restaurants opened in downtown Detroit: Gust Keros opened the American Coney Island in 1917 (a year after Nathan’s of Coney Island), and his brother opened Lafayette Coney Island right next door a few years later. The restaurants featured the Coney Dog, a type of chili dog named after the first hot dog stands of Coney Island, New York. After World War II, the Coney Island concept (and name) was imitated in Greek diners across the Metro-Detroit area, spreading the Detroit Coney Dog far and wide.
While many a chili dog might hold the “Coney Dog” moniker in other cities and states, the Michigan variety uses a special kind of beef-and-pork hot dog. It has a natural casing that causes the dog to snap or pop when bit into. Of course the actual hot dog is just one ingredient in the dish. The Coney Dog also comes awash in a soupy, processed chili that contains beef hearts, cinnamon, nutmeg, bacon grease and olives, but no beans. This uniquely Detroit chili sauce is available through Koegel Meats. Additional ingredients of the Coney Dog include chopped onions and two rows of mustard.
According to the Serious Seats website, the Detroit-style chili dog spread throughout the Midwest via traveling salesman and transplants. In fact, in some parts of upper New York,, the chili dog is simply known as a Michigan dog. In spite of the name, however, each locale prepares a slightly different version of the drowned-in-chili dog.
These days, restaurants as far west as Nevada and Los Angeles pay homage to the Detroit-style chili dog. For instance, Nevada is home to the Motor City Coney Island, a restaurant opened by a Detroit native. Likewise, according to the Detroit Coney website, a restaurant in Los Angeles that advertises “Detroit Coney Island Chili Dogs” was featured in an episode of NBC’s The Office as a Scranton, Pennsylvania diner.
Make Your Own
A true Coney Dog uses made-in-Michigan products. Here are a few places to get the frankfurters and ready-made chili sauce. Alternatively, you can make your own sauce:
- Dearborn Brand Hot Dogs used by American Coney Island in downtown Detroit
- Hot Dog Chili Sauce by Koegel Meats of Detroit
- Coney Chili Recipes / Michigan Cuisine website