The Search for the Perfect Coney Island Hot Dog by Larry Andersen

The Search

For The Perfect

Coney Island Hot Dog

This fascination with the Coney Island hot dog is new. Thanks to my wife's father, Sonny, I had the opportunity to eat Coneys at the same little shop where he ate them as a school kid in the twenties and still, right up to the present day. These were not like the hot dogs I was used to.

Previous to the Coney Island encounter, my feelings about hot dogs were thus: as long as it didn't taste like a hot dog, that was okay; in fact,that was good! That is why my hot dog of choice was one with lots of mustard, a good helping of diced onion and lots and lots of good ol' sweet pickle relish. You can't taste the hot dog that way. An alternative was a chili dog but that was one smothered in chili with lots of diced onions and cheese - enough that it had to be eaten from a plate with utinsels. Can't taste the hot dog that way either.

With the combination of flavors from the chili sauce, the onions and the mustard, the Coney Island hot dog is again a tasty and handy finger food.


  • Hot dogs - the thinner, bun-length dogs are best but I guess just about any hot dog you like will do. However, if your local supermarket features Nathan’s Hot Dogs, you owe it to yourself to try them if only once - they are definitely worth it. You can boil them but they are so much better when they have been grilled either on a griddle or BBQ grate.
  • Hot dog buns - small buns but fresh. They have to be soft, soft enough to let you push the onions and chili into the side of the bun without the bun splitting.
  • Chopped onions - white or Spanish onions are best. They need to be sharp in taste so the sweeter Vidalia type onions are usually not the best choice.
  • Yellow mustard. Plain old yellow mustard is best for Coney Island hot dogs. They sort of evolved together. You could use a designer mustard but it wont be as good as if you had used good ol' French's Mustard.
  • Chili sauce - serveral recipes for "authentic" Coney Island chili sauce, as well as some others, are included below.
    • There is only one "acceptable" extra for the Coney Island hot dog. (I know, this is all very regional. In some places its sauerkraut, but here, in St. Petersburg, Florida, it's hot sauce.)
    • Hot pepper sauce - Suggest Pat's Special Blend Hot Sauce but Tabasco will do nicely.

    Basic Directions for Traditional Coney Island Hot Dog

    1. Grill hot dogs, warm buns.
    2. Place hot dog in bun. Place stripe of mustard along side hot dog.
    3. Place spoonful of onions along side of hot dog on same side as mustard.
    4. Place spoonful of chili sauce along opposite side of hot dog. Use finger to push onions and chili down along side of hot dog and into the side of the bun until you can close-up the bun. Add hot sauce if desired. It is ready to eat.

    The secret here is proportions. It will take a bit of experimentation to get it right but that's okay. You get to eat the test results. It is a balance of the mustard, onions, chili sauce and the hot dog. No single ingredient should predominate - it is the blend that makes the distinctive flavor of the Coney Island hot dog.

    I talked for a bit with the owner of the Coney Island stand. He didn't give much to help me figure out the recipe for his chili sauce - and that is the one ingredient that makes the Coney Island hot dog unique. Did a few taste tests and then a few more several days later. Started to get a feel for what was in it. Also did some research on the internet and found several recipes, all "authentic," and all different. Some very different. Pick one you like and give it a try. Enjoy a real, "authentic" Coney Island hot dog.

Sauce 1 Ingredients : (Joyce S. - Recipes Online)
  • 1 tablespoon butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon prepared regular mustard
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 6 ounces water
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 or 5 wieners
  1. Combine everything except wieners and simmer until thick. Do not brown ground beef first.
  2. Grind the wieners and add to sauce. Cook 15 minutes longer.
  3. Now, some chefs, if the sauce is too thin, added a few crumbled soda crackers to the sauce. Put over hot dogs in a bun.
Sauce 2 Ingredients 2: (Charlotte Lewis - Recipes Online)
  • 1/4 pound lean ground beef
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup pickle relish
  • 1 tablespoon instant minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 3 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  1. In a medium saucepan, cook meat, crumbling with a fork, until it loses its red color.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about 30 minutes.
  3. Serve over hot dogs in buns.
Preparation: 30 minutes Life Experience Recipe
About a dozen Coney Island Dogs

I have experimented with several chili sauce recipes. Some of them similar to the above recipes. I keep the cooked sauce in a jar in the fridge so that I can grab a quickie Coney Island dog whenever the urge strikes.

A lot of the recipes I found seem to treat the Coney Island as a mundane chili dog. The sauce is a major ingredient and not a condiment to add flavor. They also seem to neglect the other traditional garnishes - the raw chopped onions and the mustard. After looking at the recipes that I found on the internet and remembering the taste tests of the real Coney Island hot dogs, I came up with the following recipe that does a nice job of mimicing the "secret" Coney Island sauce. I hope that you like it.

Sauce 3Ingredients: (Larry Andersen)
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 large white onion diced fine
  • 1/4 cup barbecue sauce (I use Bull's Eye Original Western)
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced fine
  1. In frying pan, brown meat until no longer red. Break up into very small pieces. Skim off most of the fat.
  2. Add onions and garlic, cook until onions are transparent. Add other ingredients and simmer while stirring.
  3. May add a little water if sauce too thick when cooking but the finished sauce should be almost dry.
  4. Taste sauce. Chili pungemncy should be present but not too hot. The finished sauce need to have a bit of a bite but mostly flavor to meld with the mustard, onions and grilled hot dog.
  5. Assemble you Coney Island following the directions for the Traditional Coney Island at the top of this page.
  6. Sauce will keep for a week in a covered container in the refrigerator. Good eating!

The following newspaper items are no longer available on the St Pete Times website. We apologize for the inconvenience.

We were saddened to learn recently of the passing of George Barlas, co-owner of the Coney Island Grill. See St. Petersburg Times obituary for more information.

We extend our condolences and best wishes to the family.

In a follow-up story celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Coney Island Grill, the St. Petersburg Times ran the following article.

Congratulations for a wonderful eighty years.

Return to Cookbook Contents Page
Page created March 2000. Latest revision done September 2014
Counter courtesy of WebCounter

Hosted by