Michigan Expats - Commentary - See All Commentary
By John Galt
If you hail from anywhere between Genesee County to Cheboygan, this post is for you.
If not, you can stop reading now. I am about to reveal deep dark secrets of a century old
gastronomic fraternity, and if you aren’t from those areas, well, you probably won’t get
My friends, there is a sacred place filled with noble men, fighting to avoid the
legacy of so many other “Made in Michigan” embossed products. Their temple sits
unceremoniously at the north end of Runway 27 at Bishop Airport in Flint. I am talking,
of course, of the Koegel’s hot dog factory. From the narrow perspective of this mid-
Michigander, I can think of no food that more closely embodies the spirit and flavor of
Michigan than a good Koegel’s hot dog with Gracie’s Coney Sauce, cooked to perfection
on a beach grill or backyard porch. I know I am not alone in this nostalgic obsession, but
I fear our ranks are dwindling.
The Cult of the Koegel is small but strong. And in this brotherhood protectorate of
tubed-meat Templars, there is a simple and never deviated recognition code; a passphrase
that proves one’s bona fides as a member, much like a secret handshake or engraved
ring. The code, as simple as can be, goes as follows: I ask the street vender or waiter,
calmly and unpretentiously, “Excuse me, are these Koegel’s hot dogs?” The vendor
stops dead, but only for a moment so as not to appear startled by the secret code with
which he has just been challenged. Then, with a growing twinkle in the corner of his
eye, and with a half grin replies, “Of course. I wouldn’t serve anything else.” And so
it goes. The code has been passed, and you know that your food is to be handled with
the care of a serious epicurean. Why? Because of the pride that this hot dog brings to
those who serve it. From the Coney Island at DTW Airport to the Hot Dog vendor at the
Natural History Museum at U of M to the lakeside party stores dotting Up North, I have
given this passphrase, been answered according to the secret protocol, and been rewarded
with the most delicious tubed meat that only a member of the club can appreciate.
Granted, there is a growing trend of those in Michigan who are unaware of this cult.
Too often now I have strolled up to a hot dog vendor in Traverse City or Detroit, offered
the passphrase of divine predilection, only to be rewarded with a slopstick known as a
Nathan’s gutbomb or worse yet, the lard-tube known as a Ballpark Frank. Unacceptable.
I have often browsed Koegel’s website and contemplated purchasing a pack of their
Koegel’s Viennas sent to me in dry ice. Then, sadly, I remember that there is much more
to that hot dog than a tube of blended meat. It is a symbol of Michigan, a reminder of
what Michigan was, is, and can be. And that cannot be exported. Eating a Koegel on the
balcony of an apartment in suburban San Francisco seems, well… sacrilege. It wouldn’t
be the same, and frankly, I don’t want to sully the experience.
Next time you are in Michigan, I urge you to try out the secret code; I assure you
your reward will be worth the effort. And if you are from a part of Michigan that has
somehow drifted away from this most delicate of foods, demand it from your food
slingers. To eat a Nathan’s or Ballpark Frank or Oscar Meyer while in Michigan I
consider a sin as great as flaunting an Ohio State shirt in Ann Arbor or driving a Toyota
past the GM factory parking lot (another increasingly common trend which I will save
for another day). Vote with your tastebuds, and soon you too will be obsessing over the
quality of pork snouts jammed into your off-brand meat stick.
Tell me what you think? Check out the comments below and leave your 2 cents.