Don’t want to hear the backstory? Jump straight to the recipe.
My wife’s family on her father’s side is from a small town in the very Northern tip of New York state. This is far beyond upstate New York (which a lot of New Yorkers that I know joke is anything North of The Bronx). All that I knew about this town was a regional specialty of Hot Dogs called “Michigans” when I visited for the first time in April of 2019. I went on a mission to taste every Michigan in Plattsburgh that I could get my hands on and ended up eating thirteen Michigans during my trip. The article that I wrote went semi-viral and now has more views than the population of the city itself! People posted and shared on Facebook, via email, reddit, twitter, and word of mouth. Sometimes family members would report that the article was sent to them and they would proudly tell the sender that they knew the author, and that he has a terrific beard.
What I didn’t expect was an outpouring of support from these online communities. I heard stories about their favorite Michigan stands that went out of business years ago and some people even sent me their family recipes. Some of the people that read the article told me about their summer jobs slinging Red Hots many years ago.
The origins of Michigans are debated and unknown. Some claim that a couple who moved to the North Country opened a hot dog stand and named their product Michigans after the place where they fell in love. Other stories mention a cook who relocated from Detroit who adapted a coney sauce to New York tastes.
A classic Michigan should be served with a natural casing hot dog, preferably a Glazier’s Hot Dog. These are steamed and served on a locally produced bun that surrounds the hot dog on all sides. Typical condiments are yellow mustard and raw onions that you can get “buried” meaning under the hot dog.
I’ve been trying recipes from all of the people who sent them to me and taking a little bit from each. What you see below probably isn’t traditional. I didn’t see Worcestershire sauce or beer in any recipe that was sent to me, but where I come from Worcestershire is mandatory in a hot dog chili and using a cup of beer is a great way to boost the flavor. The amount of beer in this recipe leaves just a few sips in a standard bottle that you can drink while preparing as a bonus- feel free to use plain water if you’re uncomfortable adding alcohol though. I would say that this isn’t the best Michigan recipe that I can make, but it’s very good. The sauce recipes should be family recipes that are developed over time and passed along. I’m not willing to share any of the family recipes that were sent to me on this blog, but the recipe below is a great starter on taste and technique. Please adapt it and make your own!
- 1 lb hamburger (80/20)
- 1 small onion (or half of a big one)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 small (6 oz) can tomato paste
- 1 cup beer
- ½ cup Frank’s hot sauce
- 1 Tablespoon chili powder
- 1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Add the meat and beer to a cold pan and gently break up the meat until it forms a smooth consistency. This step is critical to achieve a fine crumble in the sauce. If you add the meat to a warm pan, the meat will cook slightly before you can crumble it all of the way and will leave large clumps in the final dish.
Dice the onion and garlic finely and add to the mixture. Add the remaining ingredients and combine well. Bring the pot to a light boil and then reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 2-3 hours.
Serve the sauce over a steamed Glazier hot dog with yellow mustard and diced raw onions.
Store refrigerated in an airtight container. The sauce can also be frozen for later use.