Chef Alvin Cailan Reveals His Best Breakfast Sandwich And Burger Tips - Exclusive Interview

Name something that's better than a bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich on a Sunday morning — we'll wait. Breakfast sandwiches are a classic staple no matter where you are, especially after a night out, and no one knows this better than Chef Alvin Cailan. He's an expert on the perfect fried egg after creating Los Angeles' big restaurant hit, Eggslut — and now, he is focusing on Amboy, a restaurant popular for featuring out-of-the-box hamburgers and delicious breakfast options.

In an exclusive interview with Tasting Table, Cailan revealed the most underrated breakfast meat, how he makes a crispy cheeseburger, and the inspiration behind his "Stranger Things"-themed menu item. "The Burger Show" host gave the inside scoop on his recent partnership with Tanqueray for his new burger creation paired with a gin cocktail. Cailan also shared his burger expertise, from smash burger techniques to his favorite In-N-Out order — and he even gave us his best burger tips and tricks.

Cailan reveals his top breakfast sandwich tips

What is the best way to assemble a breakfast sandwich?

First thing first is you've got to consider texture and flavor. Nowadays, I like to pick square toast bread or a really good grain bread because it has more texture to it than a brioche. I'm over that. Next is you've got to consider how you want your egg. A lot of people love the idea of having a yolky egg until you get it splattered all over your t-shirt and then you have to change in the morning. I'm into a quick scramble nowadays. 

But my number one thing is adding something that has a flavor shock to it, whether it be spicy or something really savory. I've been using Maggi seasoning on my eggs a lot lately. Why shouldn't an egg or a breakfast sandwich wake you up as much as a coffee can? That's my motivation when I eat in the morning.

That's a good motto to have. You use a lot of different breakfast meats at Amboy. What is the most underrated U.S. breakfast meat?

The most underrated is turkey sausage. If it's done well, it could be just as good as any kind of sausage for breakfast out there. But the biggest mistake is that we use lean turkey. I've had great success with dark turkey meat. We strictly grind our own turkey thighs in-house when we make turkey sausage. It's healthy, so it's a win-win.

Cailan discloses how to make the best fried eggs and his crispy cheeseburger menu item

What is the biggest mistake that you think someone makes when cooking fried eggs?

There's too many rules. Obviously, no one wants to eat an overcooked egg, but when I went to culinary school, they were like, "You can't turn your eggs brown at all. It has to be one uniformly yellow or the yolk has to be completely perfect and the white can't be crispy." We have to throw those out the window and consider texture for everything.

It matters how you feel. Eggs are like a mood ring in the morning — it's how you feel. Sometimes I don't feel like an egg yolk, so I go for a scrambled egg. But most of the time, I like to eat a really crispy egg white. It's something that I grew up loving.

What is the best oil to use when cooking an egg? What do you normally use?

I like to use regular vegetable oil. I love using butter as well, but nowadays, I've actually used a good nonstick pan and a light spraying of vegetable oil on it. It works great. The eggs get crispier if you have a more smoke-neutral oil — a higher smoke point.

I'm going to switch gears to burgers. On your menu, you have a crispy cheeseburger. What is your hack to getting the cheese perfectly crisp? How do you do that?

The first thing is that you can't use pre-shredded cheese, because pre-shredded cheese has an additive to it that will make your cheese gummy when it hits the griddle. It's corn starch or something that they put on there. But number one: Shred your own cheese.

Then, it's just attention. You can't walk away and forget about it. You have to keep watching it because it's definitely one of those short window items that you can burn quickly. It's like bacon — bacon can look cooked in the pan, and then you can pull it out and it'll be burnt. It's the same thing with crispy cheese.

How Cailan feels about smash burgers and frying burgers in tallow

As smash burgers continue to trend, do you have any techniques you could share?

You can actually do both. Right now, I love playing with smashing burgers, but not in a ball. I like to smash them in a puck, and smashing the edges and then leaving the center thick. Think of a UFO or something like that. That's what I've been doing lately so that you can have the best of both worlds — a crispy, lacy edge, and then still have that substantial bite of beef in the middle.

Do you prefer to have that mix, or would you rather have a thin or thick burger?

It's also, again, how I'm feeling. On a regular basis, smash burgers are perfect because you don't have to worry about the cook temperature. It's very easy to forget it. But there's some days where I receive some good news or I want to celebrate something, and a thick burger is something that I crave. It depends on my mood, but nowadays, I've been grilling a lot, utilizing hardwoods to add flavor to my burger, and trying to learn how to create that same Maillard [reaction] without having to smash a burger. That's what I've been focusing on lately.

You have another menu item named "the Grizzly" where you fry the burger in tallow, which is a type of animal fat. What inspired you to do this instead of vegetable oil?

There's a place in Tennessee called Dyer's. It's been there for 50 years, and they actually deep fry their burger in tallow ... What's the craziest part about that particular burger is that they haven't changed the tallow in 50 years. It's this universal constant filtration that they do, I don't know.

I had one of those burgers and it blew my mind, so I wanted to create my version of it. We actually smash it on the plancha first, and then we baste it with beef tallow — even the cheese.

If someone wanted to do this at home, would you have any tips for that?

You would probably have a separate sauce pot with beef tallow in it, and then you can dip your patties in that after you've smashed them. You want to get the essence of beef.

What Cailan's 'Damn Fancy' burger with a Tanqueray cocktail really entails

You offer a burger sauce and a garlic aioli that I saw on your website. Are there any special ingredients that you use in either one?

Our burger sauce is your quintessential fry sauce that everyone puts on everything. What we do a little differently is we switch up the ratios, and we put a lot more of the sweet relish as opposed to pulling back on that. A lot of people don't even put in sweet relish; they just put pickle juice. But I like that extra tang to it.

Our garlic aioli — it's such a complicated dish, but it starts with garlic confit that we cook for two and a half hours to get it perfectly soft. Then we actually blend it and re-emulsify that thickness with its own garlic oil. It's got a lot of love to it.

You partnered up with Tanqueray for the upcoming Family Style Food Festival to create a gin rickey cocktail with the new burger called the "Damn Fancy" burger. Could you give fans a hint as to what ingredients the new burger entails?

We basically took the flavors of the cocktail and married it with our onions. That's inspired from a drink that I had called the Gibson, where they put cocktail onions in a gin cocktail. That's where I took the inspiration from. I haven't seen anyone do a macerated onion burger before, so this is going to be the first of its kind.

What do you think the response is going to be at the food festival?

If you're a burger lover, you're going to love it. Since we're pairing it with a delicious cocktail, it's going to be one of the things that you can't get at the festival unless you come to our booth. It's a very unique combination.

What is exactly in the cocktail?

It's going to be very lime forward. It's going to be a hint of black pepper. It is so good. It's a very delicious drink. I had the cocktail first, and then I was able to create the burger afterwards.

How long did it take for you to come up with this creation?

When I tasted that drink and I already knew that I wanted to do something with a cocktail onion, it was very easy. It was almost immediate. I knew exactly what to do, and we went straight to the kitchen and started doing it.

How Cailan got the inspiration for the Stranger Things burger with Gaten Matarazzo

I was watching "The Burger Show" when you made a "Stranger Things"-inspired burger. How did you come up with the Upside Down burger? Was that difficult?

Here's the thing — I wasn't a "Stranger Things" viewer. I hadn't watched it yet. I had to binge-watch it because I wanted to impress Gaten [Matarazzo]. I watched it and got really into it, and I was like, "Dude, there's a lot of gross, black oozy things and tentacles and all this stuff. Let's play with the experience that is the Upside Down."

Then I realized that there was this focal burger restaurant in the middle of this town where everything happens. I was like, "Let's pretend this would be a burger in the Upside Down at that burger restaurant" — what would it be? Also, [I took into] consideration that Gaten loved mac and cheese. I was like, "All right, let's throw that into the mix." Whenever I take any burgers that are inspired by anything, I take nuances — hard, deep cuts from things — and then put it into burger form.

I saw the dark burger — that was cool.

We used activated charcoal for the bun. It was a brioche too. It was whipped butter with activated charcoal. Then we took that butter and merged it into the dough so that it turned into a black dough. It was fire. The burger itself, besides all of the madness that it was, was actually pretty good.

It looked pretty good. What was it like to work with Gaten? Was it fun?

Oh, yeah. Dude, he's such a genuine kid. I'm twice his age. It was cool to watch this superstar kid come into the room and be so humble and appreciative. He was a really good kid. I like him a lot.

Cailan shares his order hack at In-N-Out

In a YouTube video, you reviewed In-N-Out, and you said you disliked the tomatoes but enjoyed the onions on their burger. Could you elaborate on that a bit?

Here's the thing about tomatoes, and I do love tomatoes on a burger. I have to clarify that with everyone that I talk to about this. It's that I don't like it all year round because sometimes it kills the burger when you have a flavorless tomato in it. Also, it provides a structural issue when you're biting a burger. It pops out all the time. I don't know if you notice this, but every time you eat a burger with a tomato in it, you're always picking tomatoes off of the plate.

I always have structural issues about that. If you were to put tomatoes in a burger, you should cut it super, super thin during tomato season, because then it's nice and soft and it adheres to the burger. That's my issue with In-N-Out. Also, I love In-N-Out. It's my favorite restaurant because it's not just a burger place, but it's an experience. It's something that I've been doing my entire life.

What would your go-to order be from In-N-Out?

It's actually a 3x3, no lettuce, no tomato. I get it with whole grilled onions and raw onions at the same time, so it's sweet and oniony. Then I add chopped chilies to it. It's a completely different burger. I've been doing this for the last seven years. That is probably the best burger that you can get in LA when it's done right.

Do you have any upcoming projects or any collaborations coming up that you would like to share?

No. We take it day by day. We like to keep it open. I've been traveling ... I love traveling across the country, even in the world, trying burgers. Hopefully, I can record that and turn that into content, and it'll be for everyone to see. That's what we've been working on lately — recording everything that we do on a daily basis. Keep an eye on that.

Learn more about the Family Style Food Festival on the website and head to Tanqueray's website to see its products. Check out Chef Alvin Cailan's Instagram page to keep up with his latest food creations.

This interview was edited for clarity.