Skip to main content

The Burger Show’s Alvin Cailan Shares His Burger-Making Secrets

Chef Alvin Cailan
Astrid Stawiarz/Stringer/Getty Images

The hamburger is a staple of American comfort food and with Labor Day Weekend coming up, there is no better time to indulge in one or four. No matter where you go — a barbecue, a drive-thru, or even if you get takeout from an upscale bistro — you’re likely to find some iteration of a burger on the menu these days, featuring everything from generic yellow cheese to truffle mayo and more.

While the customizable nature of the burger definitely contributes to its popularity, there’s something to be said for learning how to make a classic, straightforward, Platonic-ideal version of this flame-broiled wonder. And that’s a pursuit that Chef Alvin Cailan knows very well. On The Burger Show, Chef Alvin travels the country in search of must-try patty creations, and at his laid-back NYC restaurant The Usual and his iconic Los Angeles eatery Eggslut, Cailan serves up traditional burgers with clever twists, all made from top-quality ingredients.

Related Videos

When it comes to burgers, Chef Alvin definitely knows his stuff, so we figured that he’d be the perfect person to ask for tips on how to build an unforgettable burger at home. He gave us the following pieces of advice, which we’re happy to share with all the burger enthusiasts out there.

Specialty beef blends will yield the best flavor.

For prime patties, don’t settle for generic supermarket packages of ground beef. Instead, head over to the butcher counter and ask for a more specialized blend with strong flavor potential. “My idea burger blend would be rib-eye cap for the richness, brisket for the beefiness, and chuck for body. I used to think it didn’t matter, [but] now I’m sold on the bespoke beef blends,” Chef Alvin told The Manual.

View this post on Instagram

Double Good Burger

A post shared by ALVIN (@alvincailan) on

Martin’s Potato Rolls are the gold standard for burger buns.

As far as his burger-bun preferences are concerned, Chef Alvin has one clear answer: “Martin’s Potato Roll, toasted or grilled with butter.” Simple as that.

If you’re looking for a flavorful veggie burger, Beyond Meat patties are your best bet.

While Chef Alvin considers himself something of a burger purist, telling us that “my definition of hamburger is composed of a ground beef patty,” he does also “love, love, love vegetarian patties.” His favorite? “I use Beyond Meat a lot; with proper seasoning, it can [make] a delightful version of a burger.”

The Usual Burger Alvin Cailan
The Usual

Don’t have access to an outdoor grill? Get a cast-iron skillet.

Even if you lack a backyard grill (or a backyard, for that matter … #nycliving), you can still cook a beautifully seared burger patty with the use of a kitchen staple: the cast-iron skillet. “Invest in a good cast-iron skillet and cook burgers on the stove. The burger patty basting in its own juices is where the magic happens,” says Chef Alvin.

Season your patties right before putting them on the pan or grill.

Many amateur burger makers choose to season their meat before forming patties, assuming that the longer the salt and pepper sit on the beef, the more flavorful the end product will become. However, Chef Alvin cautions against this practice, explaining that seasoning too early will cause the “meat [to]  become dense like hockey pucks!”

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by ALVIN (@alvincailan) on

Instead, he recommends “seasoning the burger right before the burger hits the pan. Season one side, [place] the patty seasoned-side-down, and then season the other side. Seasoning will help develop a really tasty crust, [which is] just another element of an amazing burger experience.”

For an ideal burger condiment, try Chef Alvin’s aioli recipe.

Burger toppings can inspire very strongly held opinions. Some folks swear by ketchup and mustard, some won’t eat a burger without relish, and others prefer their own “special sauce” blend. Chef Alvin falls into the latter category, creating his own mayo-based aiolis for his restaurant burgers. “Mayo beats ketchup! The mayo enhances the melted cheese, while the acidity of the ketchup hides it,” Chef Alvin explains.

If you’d like to make Chef Alvin’s personal favorite aioli for your own burger purposes, here’s his preferred recipe:


  • 1 c mayonnaise
  • 1/3 c Dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp dill pickle juice


  1. Add all ingredients to a mixing bowl and stir to combine.

Last updated Sept 1, 2020.

Editors' Recommendations

Grilling year-round: 10 incredible tips for winter barbecues
Grilling and winter are two things that can and should get along. Here's how to grill in the offseason.
gas propane grill barbecue snow winter

If the culinary world has taught us anything, it's that rules are meant to be broken. A daring mindset has gifted us everything from fusion cuisines to unique wines. Keep that in mind next time somebody tells you grilling is just for the summer months.

Granted, cooking outdoors is easier when the weather is better. But that's no excuse to abandon creating some of your favorite grilled dishes come winter. No risk, no reward. There's never a bad time for smoking meat, assembling beer can chicken, or throwing some vegetables on an open flame. In fact, in the winter, when we're craving some big time protein and heartier dishes, we may crave grilled foods even more.

Read more
Ramen noodles can be so much more than just a 2 am drunken mistake
Turn your instant ramen into a restaurant quality dish
instant ramen noodles packet better

Coming into true adulthood is a mixed bag of emotions. While the perks of bigger bank accounts, spaces to call our own, and the ability to appreciate really good wine are beautiful things, it's perfectly normal to find oneself nostalgic for simpler times. For most of us, gone are the good ol' days of few responsibilities, hangovers that magically vanish in no time at all, and living off 5-for-a-buck packages of instant ramen. And while we can't do anything about the hangovers (sorry), we can give that familiar little orange package an adult upgrade.

Now that your kitchen (hopefully) consists of more than a greasy microwave shared with five other students, it's time to view instant ramen as the insanely convenient, perfectly delicious ingredient it is. For the most part, we've outgrown the version that's simply boiled to death then sprinkled with a packet of delicious MSG magic (though we won't lie — this dish still slaps at 2 am after a long night). So how do we turn this coming-of-age staple into fare fit for grown-ups?

Read more
The 3-ingredient mac and cheese recipe you should add to your Thanksgiving menu
This easy mac and cheese recipe will make a believer out of you
mac and cheese recipe hermes rivera 7ld9 ozddqs unsplash

Mac and cheese is one of America's favorite comfort foods. Its ooey gooey melty goodness satisfies in a way few dishes can. Kraft sells millions of its little blue boxes every minute, most casual restaurants have at least one version of the dish on their menu, and almost every family has their own favorite homemade recipe. But despite the love we have in this country for some good ol' fashioned mac and cheese, people seem to be pretty divided about whether or not it belongs at the Thanksgiving table.
We're here to put that debate to rest. This staple of American cuisine most certainly deserves a front-and-center spot on turkey day, and this mac and cheese recipe will make a believer out of even the most avid of skeptics.
Of course, there are thousands of mac and cheese recipes out there. It's one of those dishes that can be as pretentious as possible, incorporating expensive and indulgent ingredients like lobster and truffles. On the other hand, you can pick up a cheap boxed version at a gas station for about a buck. Overall, it's a pretty versatile dish, and we love all the versions. But if you're wondering how to make mac and cheese in a way that will please everyone, this recipe is the way to go. Easy, quick, inexpensive, and stupidly delicious, this is the perfect dish for every single day of the year. Including- nay, especially Thanksgiving.

3-Ingredient stovetop mac and cheese recipe

Read more