Coney Dogs – An Obsession Begins

Before we start, it’s worth pointing out that this particular item has nothing at all to do with cooking barbeque. Hell, if taken to its traditional extremes, it isn’t even involving grilling. But, well, this is my cooking blog and if I want to go completely off the beaten path then I am entirely free to do so. Deal with it.

If you are jonesing for some more barbeque goodness, come back after the weekend – there will be some smoke and fire going on over the next couple of days. And if all goes according to plan, there will be sliders.

Mmm … sliders.

Until then, however, it’s time to talk about Coney Dogs. The real coney dog (aka a Coney Island Dog, aka a Coney Island) is one of the great treats of my kid-hood, and something that you just don’t seem to find in its pure form if you get more than a few minutes drive from Michigan. It is also a badly misunderstood item, and there are a lot of people who don’t seem to know what a real coney dog is.

The most important fact is this: A coney dog is not a chili dog. A hot dog with chili is a chili dog. A hot dog with coney sauce is a coney dog. There is nothing wrong with a chili dog, it can be a very good thing, but coney sauce – despite sharing a pretty obvious genetic bond with chili – is not chili. Normally you could just ignore the sad souls who think that putting chili on a hot dog makes it a coney, but these people also tend to be the same misguided heathens who think that chili has beans and ground meat in it. You end up with a double abomination, and I am sure that there are legions of deceased Greek restauranteurs who spin madly in their graves ever time it happens.

So let’s not go there.

Now – people new to the coney dog game might not know this but there are two different kinds of coney sauce: Detroit-style, and Flint-style. Detroit-style traditionally uses ground beef heart (or at the very least, a mix of ground beef heart and ground chuck) and it is “wetter”, with a pasty liquid component to the sauce that soaks into the bun. Flint-style coney sauce is drier, and uses a mix of ground chuck and ground wieners, and also has a bit of tomato in the sauce. The meat in both sauces is ground ultra-fine (usually a triple grind) and the only solid components you should see are the ground meat and the onion.

In the interests of sanity, I am only going to pursue a perfect version of one of these sauces. The big question is … which one? Growing up on the Michigan border in Sarnia, Ontario – almost equidistant to both Flint and Detroit – I was generally exposed to both types. Did I have a favourite? Hard to say. The best coneys in my hometown were at the Rendezvous snack bar, which served it Detroit-style. The second best coneys in town were at Tab’s drive-in, where they did them Flint-style. And if you went across the river to Port Huron and stopped in at the Krystal Bar, they had a Flint-style dog that blew both of the Sarnia offerings away. Complicating matters is the little fact that I haven’t had a real coney in years and years. I have been gone from Sarnia for a long time, and the Rendezvous and Tab’s are both long, long gone.

This project might have to start with a style-off. Or a road trip. Or both. Stay tuned.

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