Secrets of Holeman & Finch’s Famous Burger

In a city with so many burger restaurants that you could have a favorite burger for every night of the week, Holeman & Finch Public House still manages to stand out with its hard to get, off-the-menu item nicknamed the 10 o’clock burger.

H&F’s take on the cheeseburger has earned it a cult following in Atlanta and celebrity status nationwide. In fact, it was recently named Georgia’s Best Burger and America’s Best Late-Night Burger by the Food Network.

But what exactly makes H&F’s burger so special?

I along with a small group of burger fans had the chance to find out at a seminar with H&F’s Executive Sous Chef Jason Paolini at Taste of Atlanta. While demonstrating how each burger is made, Chef Paolini shared some secrets to why it’s the taste that prompts people to seek out the elusive dish.

Of course, you can’t ignore the fact that H&F’s burger got its reputation in part because it’s tough to order. Claiming one of the 24 double patty cheeseburgers is a fiercely competitive game. The burgers are made at precisely 10 pm every night except Sunday (when H&F is closed). Within minutes (and sometimes before the clock hits 10), the burgers have all been claimed.

Believe it or not, the 10 o’clock burger isn’t a gimmick to increase the restaurant’s popularity. It began as a special offering for people in the restaurant industry who would order the non-menu item after they finished work, around 10pm. Word about the burger apparently spread to customers, who started requesting them. Though the burger isn’t a secret anymore, it’s still not listed on the dinner menu.

As the burger’s popularity increased, so did the crazy things people did to get one. Chef Paolini shared some amusing stories of burger dedication, from one group staking out a table at 7pm and eating a leisurely 3 hour meal just so they could claim a burger, to a person offering $100 for the last burger of the night — ten times its normal price. Even on slower nights like Tuesdays or Wednesdays, there is not one burger that goes unclaimed.

So how did H&F decide to make 24 burgers?  It’s a pretty simple explanation — that’s the way the burgers fit on the grill. There’s room for exactly 12 burgers at a time, and H&F aims to make every burger identical and perfectly cooked.

Ignoring all the hype and issues that arise with supply and demand, the burger is pretty darn good — and we were reminded of that when we tasted the burger at the seminar. It’s partly due to the use of fresh ingredients, right down to the ketchup and mustard served with it (H&F makes its own). The beef and veggie toppings come mainly from farms in Georgia, with some from farms in Alabama and South Carolina.

The meat is about a 50/50 mix of chuck and brisket, a mix that gives a good balance of fat to meat (though the exact ratio is still a secret). According to Chef Paolini, Chef Linton Hopkins tried about 27 variations to create the best patty.

The meat is ground fresh every day to preserve its quality. It is passed through the grinder twice for a fine texture. Each patty is 4 oz. for a total of 8 oz. of meat for each burger.

The bun is made fresh daily by H&F’s own bakery. It’s a spongy, French bread-style bun that is shaped to fit each patty perfectly. The buns and other breads from H&F are available at farmers markets around Atlanta.

After sharing the secrets to the ideal patty and ideal bun, Chef Paolini revealed the ideal cheese. No, it’s not the finest cheddar from a farm in Georgia, or something imported from France — it’s Kraft American cheese! Something about the creamy taste and the way the orange squares melt make them the perfect addition to the burger.

Once the main ingredients were revealed, it was time to assemble the burger:

The bun is cut in half. The insides are spread with butter, then placed butter-side down on the grill to toast. The patties are salted and placed on the grill, then seared until golden brown in color. While still on the grill, one patty is topped with onions and both with a square of cheese. Then the burger is assembled — bun, patty with onions, patty, homemade bread and butter pickles, bun — and voilà! H&F’s perfect burger.

The burgers are served with crispy Idaho potato french fries and homemade ketchup and mustard on the side. Chef Paolini recommends pairing the burger with a nice cold beer.

With these tips you can try to create your own version of H&F’s burger at home, though I’ll leave it to the experts.

As we were enjoying the last bites of our delicious burgers, Chef Paolini left us with one final, perhaps not so closely guarded secret: if you’re dying to get the burger but don’t want to be squeezed out by the 10pm rush, come for lunch on Sunday. There’s no burger limit and you’re sure to leave satisfied.

Holeman & Finch Public House, 2277 Peachtree Road NE, Atlanta.