How Restaurants Make Flint Coney Sauce

Going old-school with the more-expensive beef tallow, as well as bulk spices from Gordon Food Service (GFS). As many restaurants in the Flint area receive truck shipments from GFS, these particular spice bottles would be common.


Flint Coney Spice Blend

Creating the spice blend using more commonly-available spices. However, this is mild chili powder instead of hot. I discuss the differences between the hot and mild chili powders in this blog entry.

The basic spice blend for Flint Coneys is said to be equal parts chili powder, paprika, and ground cumin. However, there are differences to be had though for common variations of those spices, as well as the flavor of the completed sauce varying from one restaurant to the next. Here are a couple of blend sizes to start with. Adjust the ingredient amounts to your own taste, as the restaurants do.

For 1 lb of meat:

  • 1-1/2 Tbsp chili powder, hot
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp paprika or smoked paprika
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp cumin, ground
  • 1/4 tsp salt (optional)

For 25 lb of meat:

  • 1-1/2 cup chili powder, hot
  • 1-1/2 cup paprika or smoked paprika
  • 1-1/2 cup cumin, ground
  • 2 Tbsp salt (optional)

The Basic Restaurant Procedure

A 25 lb bag of Abbott’s Coney Topping Mix, with a 10 lb box of Koegel’s Coney Franks. The Ingredients on the bag are listed as “Beef Hearts, Beef, Water Hydrated Textured Soy Flour, Salt, Sodium Nitrate, Sodium Erythorbate, Dextrose, Sugar and Sodium Nitrite.”
Since 1925, Flint Coney shops in Genesee County have always used the Koegel Coney Frank, a variation of the Koegel Vienna with less fat so it lasts on the grill longer, and the 25 lb bag of Coney Topping Mix from Abbott’s Meat. This base of mostly beef heart is then prepared as follows:

25 lb Abbott’s Coney Topping Mix, raw and unseasoned
1 lb beef tallow, lard, or shortening
1-1/2 lb finely-chopped onion
1-1/2 cup chili powder, hot
1-1/2 cup paprika or smoked paprika
1-1/2 cup cumin, ground
2 Tbsp salt (optional)

Melt the fat over medium-high heat. Saute the chopped onion until translucent. Add the Coney Topping Mix and the spices and stir well. Lower the heat and simmer 30 – 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.

The flattop at the former Palace Coney Island in Genesee Valley Mall (which closed in June of 2020). The Coney Franks can be seen in three stages of cooking, while the sauce simmers in its own zone in a 400 pan (i.e. a hotel pan having a 4″ depth).
You can also purchase the unfrozen 25 lb bag of Coney Topping Mix from Abbott’s (only at their plant though, or from an Abbott’s or Koegel’s truck if you’re a restaurant customer), divide it into 1 lb Ziploc bags, and freeze them for later use. Once thawed, they can be prepared with the following amounts:

1 lb Abbott’s Coney Topping Mix, raw and unseasoned
2 Tbsp beef tallow, lard, or shortening
1/4 cup chopped onion
1-1/2 Tbsp chili powder, hot
1-1/2 Tbsp paprika or smoked paprika
1-1/2 Tbsp cumin, ground
1/4 tsp salt (optional)

For convenience, some chains in Genesee County may be using Abbott’s 4 lb and 10 lb bags of raw, pre-seasoned, and frozen Flint Coney Sauce. This would certainly save on labor costs, preparation area, etc. But those are quite recent products, which are also derived from what’s described here.

Using Beef Tallow

A jar of beef tallow can be seen on the far left of the first image on this page. Opening that jar gives a strong waft of the wonderful smell of cooked brisket, which the tallow then adds to the finished sauce. Stories are told of beef suet or tallow being used in the original sauce beginning in 1925. Today those products are difficult to find, and can be rather expensive, with restaurants now using lard, shortening, or vegetable oil. But the tallow is a great throw-back to flavors of earlier times though, and in my opinion should be experienced at least once.

Beef tallow can be obtained at:

Tallow is made by rendering beef suet for hours. If you’d prefer to go that route, both suet and tallow are available at:

Using Yesterday’s Leftover Coney Franks

Flint Coneys made using this process, prior to topping with mustard and onion. The ground grilled Coney Franks are visible in the sauce, made from Abbott’s Coney Topping Mix.

In examining the conjecture surrounding the folklore-ridden recipe containing ground hot dogs, and in considering that some earlier restaurants may have added chopped hot dogs to be frugal and not wasteful according to their Macedonian culture, a few facts emerge:

  • The restaurants wouldn’t have ground fresh Koegel Coney Franks into their sauce, but instead would have used grilled Coneys leftover from the previous day.
  • Grilling changes both the flavor and the texture, creating a more savory dish.
  • As Abbott’s provided their Coney Topping Base to individual restaurants beginning in 1925, and as their menus were quite small, those restaurants likely wouldn’t have had a meat grinder among their equipment. They may have done the chopping with a couple of bench scrapers on a cutting board or the flattop.
    The additional unseasoned meat would be cause to increase the amount of spices used in the sauce.

I then devised a simple recipe experiment:

  • Grill 4 Koegel Coney Franks, the same number that appears in the recipe containing ground hot dogs. Refrigerate them as though for an overnight.
  • Follow the basic procedure for making Flint Coney sauce, as above.
  • Chop the grilled Coney Franks to the same consistency as the Flint Coney sauce.
  • Add the chopped Coney Franks to the sauce.
  • As the 4 Coney Franks are a total of about a 1/2 lb, add half-again the amount of spice as before, along with an additional 2 Tbsp of the fat to prevent the sauce from drying out.
  • Simmer an additional 30 minutes.

The result ended up being quite good, as it was both familiar and something I would eat again.

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