How the sauce came to be
Origins of the mysterious “secret sauce”
While the birth of the Coney Island hot dog has been well documented, it is more difficult to pinpoint the exact origin of the famous “Coney Island sauce.” There is no solid evidence that the unique chili sauce featuring finely ground hamburger and bearing the Coney Island name originated in Brooklyn, New York. All that is clear is that by 1920 dogs topped with this distinctive “Coney Island sauce” had gained widespread popularity in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
Some have suggested that the sauce was developed by Nathan Handwerker’s wife, Ida, as a means of distinguishing Nathan’s hot dog above all the rest. As one story goes, Nathan’s competitors claimed that he could sell his dogs for a nickel because he used dog meat in his sausages. The sauce, made with ground beef, was meant to prove that there was nothing inferior about Nathan’s product. But there is nothing to suggest that Ida Handwerker produced such a sauce. It appears, rather, that in 1916 she and her husband, Nathan, produced the unique and delicious wiener, which is sold today under Nathan’s label (and is an ideal dog to use with Nick’s Original Coney Island Hot Dog Sauce®).
First-generation sauce makers used a common recipe
Even though it is impossible to locate the first instance of the rich and tasty Coney Island sauce, first-generation sauce makers had standardized their recipe by 1920, which was used in a signature combination: the frank in a steamed bun with yellow mustard, a liberal helping of sauce, and chopped sweet onions—the identifying mark of the first-generation Coney Island hot dog.
The recipe has been protected ever since
The common recipe that first-generation sauce makers used to craft their product has been safeguarded by their successors. Many latecomers have attempted to copy the sauce. But the only versions of “Coney Island sauce” that capture the full flavor of the original are those that trace their point of origin to the first-generation. Though often imitated, the original Coney Island sauce has never been duplicated.