This is a Haley family classic. Coney Islands, which are basically just chili dogs, were featured on my childhood table on weeknights and weekends, for Sunday lunch after church in front of the TV or for a neighborhood get together. Good hot dogs and good hot dog buns, topped with meaty chili sauce, chopped raw onion, and of course, cheese were casual and easy enough to feed a hungry family quickly, but could also easily please a large crowd of people.
They’re not pretty–no one would accuse them of being that. However, they’re humble in a way that most good, nostalgic, things are. I’m sure you could gussy up a Coney Island with brats instead of hot dogs and homemade buns, caramelized onions, and fancy cheese. But why would you? A good all-beef hot dog with simple, homemade chili is all you need. And Fritos. Always Fritos. Coney Islands aren’t going to win any culinary prizes, but then again, I guess that all depends on who you ask–it would win best-in-show every single time for my Dad.
By the way, it’s against my very nature to talk, eat, or make hot dogs without acting out this scene from
Some big shot over at the wiener company, talked to some big shot over at the bun company, and decided to rip off the American public!
Alright, that’s done.
Coney Islands, let’s go!
Start with your chili. First, assemble the spices.
Chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, oregano, cayenne pepper and a little crushed red pepper, which I didn’t actually end up using.
Brown some ground beef in a skillet and add half an onion, chopped.
Break that up with your spatula until all the meat is browned. Then, add a can of crushed tomatoes and your spices.
Stir that together and let it simmer away until the liquid has mostly reduced, about 20-30 minutes on medium-low heat.
Meanwhile, cook your hot dogs the way you like to cook your hot dogs. I like mine to get a little browned and blistered on the outside, so I added them to a hot skillet and let them cook for about 5 minutes total, moving them around often. You could boil them, put them in the oven, grill them–it’s a hot dog. You don’t need me to tell you what to do.
These were all beef hot dogs that we bought at a local farm because we were there and hot dogs sounded good for dinner. They were pretty darn good, but again, I’m not going to tell you how to buy hot dogs. Use a brand you trust. My dad swears by Hebrew National all-beef franks. Seriously, he’ll talk about them for days if you ask.
Once the chili has thickened and the hot dogs are cooked, arrange your hot dog buns in a baking dish.
Place the hot dogs in the buns.
Top each dog generously with chili. This is where it might get messy, and that’s OK.
Add chopped onion if you so desire. I did desire, but K wasn’t so sure, so I topped half of them with onion and left the other half without.
Top that all with shredded cheese. You can use a little or a lot; I went somewhere in the middle.
Into the oven they go, for about 15-20 at 350 degrees, until the cheese is melted and the buns are slightly toasted.
Using a spatula or tongs, carefully try to get the hot dogs out in one piece. This might be like the first piece of cake or pie; you might need to mess up the first one in order to get the rest of them out. Serve them immediately with Fritos and a little mustard if you so choose. Sometimes I add mustard, sometimes I don’t, it depends which way the wind is blowing that day.
These are definitely eat-with-a-fork hotdogs and not eat-while-you’re-walking-around hotdogs. There’s a place for both, for sure, but these are a meal, whereas the other is a snack at a ballgame or a day at the park. Who knew I had so many thoughts about hot dogs?
These are hearty, comforting, and remind me of childhood. They’re also very filling, although that did not deter me from finishing both of them. The best part about these, other than that they are a family stand-by, is that they’re easily customizable based on the number of people you need to feed. Because they are finished in the oven, you can double the chili recipe and load up as many baking dishes as you have with hot dogs and buns and feed an army.
This is a good, hearty, simple meal. It’s honest, it’s not trying to impress, it’s just trying to please. Can a meal be all those things? I think it can.
Here’s the recipe.
Oven-Baked Coney Islands with Homemade Chili
For the chili:
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons chili powder
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you like it spicy!)
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- salt and pepper, to taste
For the Coney Islands
- 6-8 hot dogs, cooked however you like
- 6-8 hot dog buns (some big shot….I can’t help it).
- 1/2 onion, chopped
- shredded cheese
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking dish with foil and set hot dog buns inside. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the ground beef with the chopped onion. Once the beef is completely cooked, add the crushed tomatoes and the seasonings. Stir together then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 20-30 minutes, until very thick.
- Once the chili has reduced, place your cooked hot dogs in the hot dog buns. Top with chili, chopped onion, and shredded cheese. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until the cheese is very melted and the tops of the buns are a little toasted.
- Serve immediately with chips. FRITOS!