Chef Adam Richman On The Most Mouthwatering Burgers He's Tasted - Exclusive Interview

There are many occasions when nothing can hit the spot like a good burger and a cold beer — tailgating season, weekend family gatherings, game night with friends, or even just a well-earned Friday night after a long week. And these days, the humble burger is anything but, with endless iterations of this meaty sandwich, each one getting more tasty and elaborate than the last.

There are few who appreciate the punch that a burger packs more than the one and only Adam Richman. The former "Man v. Food" star has put away a few burgers in his time. But not only that — Richman has a deep appreciation for food, how it affects us, and how it can be elevated. You only have to catch him on one of his History Channel shows or his new podcast, "The Meals That Made Me," to see it firsthand. At the end of the day, Adam Richman just loves a good burger.

Mashed got the chance to catch up with Richman recently at the Food Network New York City Wine and Food Festival, presented by Capital One. The chef and TV host is known for his big personality and even bigger appetite, so it was no surprise to find him as one of the stars of the event's signature Blue Moon Burger Bash, presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats — an evening dedicated to showcasing craft burgers and their partner in crime, craft beer. 

The annual extravaganza is hosted by Rachael Ray, but this year, Richman was among the panel of judges (alongside Sunny Anderson, Melba Wilson, and more) tasked with tasting all the next-level burgers on display at the event and crowning the overall winner. It's no small feat but certainly a challenge Richman was excited to take on. In between bites, Richman spoke exclusively with Mashed, talking all things burgers, including what makes one great, and some of the most mind-blowing and mouthwatering burgers he's ever tasted.

Judging a burger competition is the perfect challenge for Adam Richman

As we're speaking right now, how many burgers have you judged?

I think I've tried three of them.

So still quite a few more to try?

Yeah. They don't do 25. Back in the day, they used to have the judges try each and every one. I love that. But I think now, what they're trying to do is do some double-blind ... I don't know, I was always very bad in mathematics. But they're doing something. It's a weird system that I don't quite understand, but I've tried three of them in this round.

Is this like a "Man v. Food" mentality going in, gearing up for this?

Hah! Definitely not. Not doing that.

What was the judging strategy for you going in?

There's four criteria in our little judging books. There's bun, toppings, the meat, and overall impression. I love that a lot of the chefs are very clever. They're doing really cool side dishes and milkshakes and stuff to kiss our ass a little bit.

It's not even just about the burger anymore.

That's the thing. As a judge, you have to respect the competition, and also ... [This is] not just because he's my friend, [but] it's Pat LaFrieda meat; it's some of the best meat available. The truth is, if you have a really good product, in a really good burger, generally speaking, salt and pepper [and] temperature control is all you need. I know when these guys are throwing 19 toppings at it, it's like, what are you trying to cover up?

And the bun shouldn't just be a conveyance device for meat to your face. I just tried a really good one. I don't know where it came from, but I heard someone spill the tea a little bit. They said it might have been a Korean burger place. It was a synergy between using Asian flavors, sesame on the bun, hot honey, [and] a little bit of creaminess, like Kewpie mayo. It was awesome.

Adam Richman on the simple secrets to a good burger

When it comes to good meat, that's so much of what goes into a good burger. How do you determine good-quality meat for a burger?

It's about the ratios. Usually, it's 80-20 — 80% meat to 20% fat. You could go 70-30 if you're really like, "Screw my heart." But I've had great burgers that are 80-20 chuck, and I've had Pat LaFrieda's burger blends. I've had Schweid's burger blends.

It's so cool because I grew up [in Brooklyn], 25 minutes from where we're standing, and my dad would make burgers in a little Weber grill in our driveway. And it typifies that, with just good enough meat, if you go to a local butcher, they grind local meat and whatever. And what's so cool [is when] you look at how many people are here, you have a much more educated eater, a much more educated dining populace. Twenty years ago, nobody would've known what sriracha is; nobody would've known the difference between naengmyeon, ramen, [and] pho. And now, you can go to the middle of the United States, to Olathe, Kansas, and people could tell you the difference between tonkotsu [and] tonkatsu. There was one person that did their burger as shumai, and it was clever.

Adam Richman's favorite burger list includes Shake Shack (of course)

What is the most outrageous burger you've ever had?

That's a great question. Not counting those psychotic "Man v. Food" ones ... There's a lot that is coming to mind because I've had hamburgers in other countries. I've had hamburgers in Israel; I've had hamburgers in Japan.

Where was the last place you ever expected to have a burger [where] you had one?

This is the best burger interview. Where have you been all my interviewing career? The last place I expected to find a great burger, I would say ... There's a guy named Mike Puma and he has the Gotham Burger Social Club. He doesn't come from a culinary background at all, but he's a student of the form. During the pandemic, he was feeding firefighters and first responders on Cortelyou Road in Brooklyn, made right on the street, and we brought it to firefighters and EMS workers. One of the best burgers I've had.

And then George Motz — [in] the summer of 2020, which [was] already a bit of a dog fart of a year to begin with, he found his space in the back of a random-ass bar in Ridgewood, and he made a burger slide. I would say those are two really interesting ones.

I also have to say, trying other proteins in the burger ... Oh, Australia. Australia and Vietnam. In Vietnam, Ben Thanh Market, there's a place called Soul Burger. Oh my god. Ben Thanh Market in Saigon — some of the best onion rings and best burgers I've ever had.

What's your favorite fast food burger?

Shake Shack. They make one called the ShackMeister that's pretty sexy.

You are from the East Coast, so I was expecting you to say Shake Shack.

I like a Double-Double, Animal Style. Here's the issue. Burgers and fries go together like hugs and kisses. In-N-Out fries s*** the bed. I know they're real potato, but they're atrocious. They're so bad. Their shakes are good.

Chef Alvin Cailan from "The Burger Show" — because we're both on First We Feast now, we were talking, [and] he said, "You got to get chopped chilies and a whole grilled onion on the Double-Double, Animal Style." That's the upper-level classes. I'll take your 101 and then ... Oh, so sexy.

Adam Richman's new podcast and who he wishes could be on it

Your new podcast [is called] "The Meals That Made Me." What is it like podcasting instead of being on camera?

Weird. It's interesting you say that because I'm filming four shows for History Channel right now. So [it's interesting] getting a chance to go, "All right, I can turn this part of it off." On camera, I have to drive the story. I shot for 14 hours for "Food That Built America" Season 4 yesterday, and that's about me being the engine. But the podcast is about me serving these amazing human beings, and I am you. I am your ears. I ask the questions that you might ask. What I love is, I do lots of research, tee them up, and ... ask great questions. If you ask great questions and you get someone's wheels turning, you're going to have a better interview.

You've said before that if you could have Anthony Bourdain on that podcast, you would absolutely love to.

My heart breaks. I wish I could.

What meals do you think he would talk about?

The last meal he and I ate together one on one ... Oh, man. Man, it still hurts. At Spotted Pig, we had the whole top floor to ourselves, and they did a pig face. We both loved runny eggs and crispy pork, and we both loved food from certain regions of Brazil.

Bourdain — famously, the oyster was what set him on his whole journey. Bluefish was what helped get him his first job. He spent a good amount of time in Hong Kong, and that was the sickest thing — I was filming my first international show, and I was always one sitting behind him. Then I would get there, and then I'd catch up to him in Manila. And then I would film, and then I'd catch up to him in Rome. Actually, that's the last time I saw him. We had drinks in his hotel in Rome.

I like that I get told, "I'm inspired to eat at this local barbecue shop" or "I was inspired to experiment in my kitchen." But Tony set a global fire in terms of telling your story through the stories of other people's food and losing all pretense. [With] this rotting thing, this fermented thing, this thing crawling with bugs and whatever else, he's like, "Feed me." And I became a better host. To have him and Andrew Zimmern as mentors ... [Zimmern is] on the podcast. I literally broke down telling him how much I loved him on the podcast. ... He's kind of like the huggable version of Stanley Tucci.

For the latest from Chef Adam Richman, follow him on Instagram. Plus, learn more about the annual Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival, presented by Capital One, and be sure to check out the highlights from this year's event.

This interview has been edited for clarity.