I love to serve chili dogs at a Fourth of July outdoor party. The chili sauce can be made well ahead and then kept warm in a slow cooker on the buffet table while somebody grills up the dogs.
This sweet/sour/spicy meat sauce has been a beloved New England specialty for several generations, and a bit of research turns up the fact that it probably emigrated from Greece by way of Coney Island and ended up in Rhode Island, the Boston area and, finally, in Maine.
The secret ingredient in this version of chili sauce (there are many) is a little bit of unsweetened chocolate. It’s elusive – you can’t really taste it – but it adds an unusual depth of flavor to the sweetly spiced concoction.
Lots of Mainers prefer “red hots,” the pink-tinted frankfurters that became pretty much the standard hot dog all over the Pine Tree State in the 20th century, but the choice is yours.
‘Dogs’ with Sweet Greek Chili Sauce
This recipe can easily be expanded to feed a crowd.
Sweet Greek chili sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound ground lamb
3/4 pound ground beef
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus additional if necessary
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon cayenne
1 cup tomato sauce
1 (14.5-ounce) can beef broth
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Half a cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
Hot dogs and buns:
8 hot dogs, any type
8 soft hot dog buns, top-split or traditional
Chopped raw sweet onion
For the chili sauce, in a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat.
Add ground lamb, beef, onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring to break up clumps, until the meat loses its pink color, about 10 minutes.
Add chili powder, cocoa powder, cumin, oregano, paprika, allspice and cayenne, and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add tomato sauce and beef broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in honey and vinegar and add the cinnamon stick and bay leaf.
Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes to blend flavors. Uncover and simmer for another 15 minutes or so or until the mixture has reduced to a light sauce consistency, adding a little more water if necessary to prevent sauce from sticking. Adjust the seasonings if necessary.
Discard cinnamon stick and bay leaf and spoon off any excess fat on the top of the sauce. If not using immediately, refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze.
Simmer hot dogs in enough water to cover them until heated through, or grill on a moderately hot grill. Place hot dogs in buns, ladle sauce over, sprinkle with chopped onion and serve.
Brooke Dojny is author or co-author of more than a dozen cookbooks, most recently “Lobster!” (Storey, 2012). She lives on the Blue Hill peninsula, and can be contacted via Facebook at: