Oh Coney Dogs, My Coney Dogs

Anthony Bourdain regularly observed that virtually all cultures have their own spin on “meat in tube form” — hot dogs, all kinds of sausages, bratwurst, and so on — all cherished for their deliciousness. Today, let’s celebrate one particular variation: the beloved hot dog. It’s now officially summertime, after all — peak hot dog season.

I firmly believe that there’s no wrong way to enjoy a hot dog. Across the U.S., countless regional variations add their own twist to toppings, styles, and even buns, from the famous Chicago-style dogs to the lesser-known Washington D.C. half-smoke, and everything in between. Each style has its fans, and rightfully so. After all, if they weren’t delightful, they wouldn’t be so popular. Rather than joining in on the cacophonous online bickering over the “correct” way to enjoy a hot dog, let’s just appreciate each variation for its own awesomeness, shall we?

Where I grew up, the Coney Dog was a local favorite. While the name “Coney Dog” might conjure images of New York’s Coney Island, the truth is that there are many regional variations on a theme. Outside of New York, the main hub for Coney Dogs seems to be Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan, with many variations on Michigan-style Coney Dogs existing. Interestingly, it seems that all variations across all regions seem to have emerged independently around the same time, lacking a clear single origin. In the Midwest, debates over which Coney Dog style reigns supreme can escalate to legendary proportions — friendships ended, families estranged, and endless cookouts ruined by orgies of violence over which Coney Dog is the top dog.

My local Coney joint was the “Famous” Coney Island — a keystone of the city, bringing people together with incredibly cheap, fast, and delicious blue collar food. It was a modern day Greek agora or Roman forum, where people of all classes, creeds, and walks of life could intermingle and enjoy a great dog for a small piece of pocket change. As far as I’m aware, even today, you can still walk out with a couple of serious dogs and a drink for something like $5.

It took me a long, long time before I realized that I, too, could probably whip up my own recipe, inspired by Ft. Wayne’s Famous. Coney Dogs anywhere, anytime. I read a number of recipes online, and none of them sounded quite right — they all seemed like they reached about 70% of what I was looking for in a Coney Dog, but none of them were absolute home runs. I went so far as to dig back into the archives to see what I could learn from Ft. Wayne’s Famous themselves. After all, they set my baseline expectations for what a Coney Dog should be and, as it turns out, they actually used to sell their “secret” spice mix online. They must have anticipated my efforts, however since the ingredients listed start off with “come on, it’s a secret“. Those scoundrels.

In response to my failed searches and inconclusive results, I did what I often do: I synthesized ideas from multiple recipes into my own spin on things. I decided to focus on the combination of sweet and savory elements that characterized the best Coney sauces I’d remembered. I made some mistakes along the way — vastly too much salt, missteps with the spices, etc. But, after one or two attempts, it landed exactly where I wanted it to be. And so, now, I share with all of you my own creation, which is something of a Frankenstein’s monster, cobbled together from other recipes and ideas. But — and I cannot stress this enough — this recipe is killer.

Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the traditional style or an adventurous eater looking to explore the nuances of regional variations, let’s hope that this Coney Dog inspires you to create, share, and enjoy food that brings people together as often as it drives them apart.

Coney Sauce:
Ryan Boyd’s Recipe



  • 2 tablespoons butter (or extra virgin olive oil)
  • 1 large white onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Spice Mix

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt (substitute regular salt if necessary)
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Sauce Mix

  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar (apple cider or distilled white, doesn’t really matter)
  • 1 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce (note: regular Worchestershire sauce is not vegan)


  • 1 pound ground beef (see footnote 1 )
  • 1 cup water — or 1 cup beef stock (no salt added; see footnote 2)
  • 8 ounces tomato sauce (not tomato paste)

Cooking Instructions

  1. Prepare all ingredients. Dice the onion, set aside. You may want to set aside a small portion of the onion for use as a topping (but most of the onion should be used for the Coney Sauce). Chop the garlic, set aside. Combine spices in a small bowl and set aside. Combine sauces in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, add the butter/oil, then add the onions and cook until soft and translucent, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add seasoning mix, sauce mix, and beef all at the same time. Cook until beef is browned and no trace of pink remains.
  5. Reduce heat to low and add water/beef stock and tomato sauce. Stir until evenly combined. Simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  6. Serve immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Serving Notes/Suggestions

I recommend that you briefly steam your buns. You can do this by covering them with a lightly dampened paper towel and microwaving on full power for a short time (e.g., 20-30 seconds).

For an “authentic” Coney Dog, take your steamed bun, put your hotdog in it. Then top with yellow mustard, Coney Sauce, and some raw onion, in that order. No cheese, no other toppings, etc.

Most critically, however — make the dog how you want and enjoy!


  1. If making vegan, the flavor of Impossible brand tastes less burger-like and generally seems like a better taste for Coney Dogs than Beyond Beef. But, hey, use whatever you like the most. ↩︎
  2. If your beef stock has salt, just use water instead. Otherwise, it’ll be WAY too salty. Even if you omit the celery salt, the stock will likely make the Coney Sauce too salty. These days, I pretty much only use the 1 cup of water and don’t even worry about finding a good stock to use. I’d recommend trying it this way first, to be honest. ↩︎

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