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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.

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.

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Double Good Burger

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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!”

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Seasoned.

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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:

Ingredients:

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

Method:

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

Last updated Sept 1, 2020.

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Taylor Tobin
Taylor Tobin is a freelance food, drink, and lifestyle writer based in Brooklyn. She's contributed content to publications…
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