Do you do the Hanky-panky?

March 2, 2012 at 1:23 PM | Posted in baking, cheese, Ground Pork, ground turkey | Leave a comment
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Do you do the Hanky-panky?

If you’ve been in Cincinnati long enough, you probably do

By Polly Campbell

For a city with a reputation for being conservative, Cincinnati sure gets up to a lot of hanky-panky. Super Bowl parties around town this Sunday, for instance, are sure to be huge hanky-panky occasions.

We speak, of course, of the snacks made of ground beef, sausage and processed cheese, piled on squares of cocktail rye and broiled or baked. They have a special place in Cincinnatians’ hearts and at Cincinnatians’ parties. They are sometimes called hanky-pankys, sometimes hanky-panks. Both spell cheesy deliciousness.

“They’re a local dish,” said Bill Head, of Fort Thomas, who owns Arnie’s on the Levee in Newport, where they’re on the menu. He is also a pilot for American Airlines. “I’ve been all around the country, and I’ve never seen them anywhere else. We’ll serve them at cocktail parties at home to people from out of town, and they’ll ask us what the heck they are.”

Sav-a-lot grocery stores did a Snack-Down poll in 2009 about what people in different cities around the country like to eat at Super Bowl parties. Cincinnatians mentioned, along with standards like wings and pizza, Cincinnati chili and hanky-panks. (The Minneapolis company that ran the poll had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.)

There’s even a band named for the snack, The Hanky-Panks. Their slogan, according to lead singer Billy Scott, is “Sausage, ground beef and Velveeta on party rye. Emphasis on the party.”

Many people think of the little snacks as not just Cincinnatian, but particularly native to the West Side.

“I have always thought of them as a Cincinnati thing, and particularly a West Side thing,” said Matt Huesman, owner of Maury’s Tiny Cove in Cheviot. Huesman grew up in Price Hill and other western reaches of the region.

“Whenever we had a family get-together of any kind, someone had to bring the hanky-pankys.”

His grandmother who made them was from Clifton, but she had originally gotten the recipe from a West Side friend. “They became my aunt’s responsibility,” Huesman said. “That and Jell-o.” He put them on the Maury’s Cincinnati appetizer plate along with mini-reubens and goetta balls.

“Customers love them, and I feel like they respond to them as a beloved West Side dish.”

Hanky-pank enthusiast Kristin Waldvogel, who grew up in Green Township and now lives in Columbia Tusculum, serves them often.

“If I’m hosting a tailgate or having people over to watch the game, rest assured hanky-pankys will be served,” she said.

In support of the notion that there’s more hanky-panky going on west of I-75, she said she has two Cincinnati native roommates. “One is from College Hill and has also grown up eating hanky-pankys, and the other is from from Hyde Park, who, hand to God, thought we were eating dog food on toast when we first made them for a party.”

Rookwood Restaurant in Mount Adams, definitely not the West Side, has them on the menu.

“We wanted something very Cincinnati on our menu to go with our Cincinnati history theme,” said part-owner and chef Jon Mouch. “Also, we didn’t want people to take us too seriously.” It was a chef from, yes, the West Side, who suggested them.

Rookwood has intensified the Cincinnati spirit in its hanky-panks by using goetta instead of sausage. They toast the rye bread first, too.

That mini-size cocktail rye bread is an important element of the dish. Josh Knepfle, of Delhi Township, who grew up in Bridgetown, said a roommate of his from college once made them on regular rye.

“To this day, he’s still known for his giant hanky-panks,” he said.

If the Velveeta and ground beef give hanky-panks an unsophisticated, pre-foodie American feel, you should know that David Cook of Daveed’s Restaurant, also in Mount Adams, has them on his catering menu. Sure, he includes caramelized onions, two kinds of sausage, red pepper flakes and Frank’s Red Hot sauce, but he keeps the Velveeta. (People often mention it has to be “real” Velveeta, a little like insisting on genuine Naugahyde.)

Cook is from New Jersey, and hanky-panks had not entered his life until his West Side brother-in-law made them for a family party. “I stuck my nose up at them, but then I ate about 22,” he said. His version, which is called sausage-cheese toasts on the menu, is very popular for corporate events.

“And I mean the top executives,” Cook said.

Sandy Koenig, of Montgomery, said that she made hanky-pankys for the first time when she was a young wife in 1979.

“I haven’t made them in quite a long time. My waist thanks me for that,” she said. “But the other day I heard my 24-year-old daughter mention hanky-pankys. I asked if I had heard her correctly. She said, yes, they were the best things she’d ever tasted. I guess when something is this good it lives on and on.”

So hanky-panks seem to have advocates on the west, east and Kentucky sides of town, and among all ages and strata of Cincinnati society. Now they’re even served in restaurants. (The new Bend in the Road Tavern in Green Township has them on the menu, too, made with chorizo and a homemade cheese sauce.)

But mostly they’re a homemade thing and associated by many with televised sports. There’s not much controversy over the recipe. Almost everyone who has posted a recipe for hanky-pankys somewhere on the Web agrees: You cook a pound of ground beef and a pound of sausage together, blend in a pound of Velveeta cheese until melted, then pile on cocktail rye and broil or bake. Some people add oregano, some Worcestershire sauce; some go a little crazy with minced dried onion or garlic salt. I have come up with some other variations.

Even her Hyde Park roommate is on the bandwagon, said Waldvogel.

“Now that she’s tried them, she LOVES hanky-pankys.”


The classic version

1 pound ground beef
1 pound pork sausage
1 pound Velveeta cheese, diced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 loaves of cocktail rye bread

In a medium skillet, brown the beef and sausage together, breaking up thoroughly with a fork. Drain extra grease. Add the Velveeta , oregano and Worcestershire sauce and stir until cheese is melted. Put 2 teaspoons of the mixture on top of each piece of rye bread and arrange on a cookie sheet or broiler pan. Preheat broiler, then broil the hanky-panks until the cheese is bubbly and hot.

Makes about 60.

These freeze very well. Just put them in the freezer in a single layer, and when they’re frozen solid, move to zip-lock bags. At the party, put in a 450-degree oven until bubbly and warm through, about 10 minutes.

One hanky-pank has about 87 calories


The traditional hanky-panky is pretty high-fat. (Have you checked calorie counts on breakfast sausage?) I’ve cut down the fat and calories (and slimmed down the name) by using poultry, and they still taste pretty good. These have about 60 calories per piece.

Follow above recipe, but for the beef, sausage and cheese, substitute:

1 pound ground turkey
1 pound chicken breakfast sausage
1 pound 2% Velveeta


Hanky-pankys spice up well. For the sausage, use a spicy variety, or Mexican chorizo, add a teaspoon of Frank’s Red Hot sauce, or more to taste, and top with a slice of jalapeno. That’ll spank your taste buds


Oh, go ahead. Get creative. Hanky-panks take well to variations. And I made up this version, which I think is a little more refined and a little leaner than the original. The recipe is highly improved by making crispy toast from the bread first, and pumpernickel makes a nice change. At the Rookwood Restaurant, they serve a little giardiniera, or pickled vegetables, with their hanky-pankys. That addition of something crunchy and pickly is a good contrast to the rich meat.

1 loaf pumpernickel cocktail bread
1 loaf cocktail rye
Olive oil or butter
1 onion, minced fine
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1½ pounds Laura’s lean beef
1/2 pound chicken breakfast sausage
1/2 pound Velveeta
1/2 pound grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Preheat broiler. Brush the bread slices lightly with olive oil or melted butter. Toast under broiler, watching very carefully. Turn over, toast second side, then remove and let cool. Heat oil in a skillet, add the minced onion and cook until very soft and starting to brown. Add garlic and cook another minute. Add the meats and cook, breaking up with a fork. Then add the cheeses and Worcestershire, stir until melted. Pile on toasts, broil.

Then top each piece with one of these:

cocktail onion
relish (Marble Hill’s cucumber-bell pepper is especially good)
roasted red pepper
pickled Mexican carrots (find them in a can in the Hispanic section)

Totally Cincinnati Hanky-Pankys

Use goetta instead of sausage

Hanky-Panky dip

Keep the meat-cheese mixture warm in a crock pot and serve with the cocktail rye on the side. Or you could use rye crackers.

German Hanky-Pankys

Stir in 1 cup of sauerkraut to the meat-cheese mixture

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