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Burger tips from Grill Wars winners

Cody Baker (left) and Alex Hnatko prepare burgers at Adolph Store’s tent at last week’s Grill Wars. Adolph took third place. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 5
Adolph Store’s cowgirl burger — described as having a secret blend of BBQ seasoning infused with high temperature cheese. Steve Kuchera / 2 / 5
A burger doesn’t need a lot of toppings to be tasty or popular. The McKenzie’s Bar & Grill parmesan-crusted mac melt uses seasoned grilled parmesan crusted bread, a beef patty, bacon, cheese and sauce. It placed second. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com3 / 5
Melissa Allen feeds a piece of burger to daughter Brooke, 14 months, at Grill Wars Thursday at Bayfront Festival Park. The event is a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com4 / 5
Cody Gaskell (from left), Michael Haithcock and Megan Grams try to keep up with the demand for McKenzie’s Bar & Grill parmesan crusted mac melt burger at Grill Wars at Bayfront Festival Park Thursday evening. Superior Meats took first place at the event, McKenzie’s took second and Adolph Store took third. More than 2,700 people attended the event, with proceeds going to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Northland. Last year the event raised nearly $10,000 for the clubs. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com5 / 5

Mind your buns.

That’s the word from some of the patty-making pros who flipped their specialty burgers last week during the seventh annual Red Rock Grill Wars at Bayfront Festival Park. The event drew more than 2,700 burger aficionados who were asked to vote for a favorite from a mix of submissions by local restaurants and meat shops. The event raised $16,500 for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Northland.

A common theme among the top finishers: a bun that is more than just a bun.

Superior Meats took the title with a Whiskey Pepper-Jack Burger served on a pretzel bun — the only pretzel bun in the park.

“(The bun is) a big part of the burger,” said Superior Meats manager Mike Cragin.

That info wasn’t lost on McKenzie’s Bar & Grill, which served its melt on the Parmesan-crusted bread.

“The angle — our bread was going to be different,” said kitchen manager Chris Legrid.

Farley’s Family Restaurant didn’t finish in the top third this year, but was second-place in 2013 and went on to finish 21st at the World Food Championships in Las Vegas. The Hermantown restaurant’s meat vessel: a tomato-basil focaccia roll.

“It gave it a different look and texture,” said Kelly Trumpold, owner of Farley’s.

Some of the competitors at this year’s event were asked to dish about the world of burgs. Here are some secrets to how they do what they do.

Adolph Store

3710 Midway Rd., Adolph

When it comes to burgers, some things are a given.

“We just wanted to do something that we knew everyone liked,” said Cody Baker, who works in the meat department at the store and had a hand in creating the Cowgirl Burger that finished third Thursday. “We knew barbeque and bacon always sells.”

Adolph Store was the defending champion and had taken the title with a pepper bacon ranch burger last year.

This year’s concept was borrowed from a western-style brat sold at the store and was described as having a secret blend of seasoning infused with high temperature cheese.

Seasonings, Baker said, are key.

“I’d say our seasoning was the most important part,” he said. But the exact combo is staying under wraps. One clue: Lawry’s Seasoning Salt.

Farley’s Family Restaurant

4899 Miller Trunk Hwy, Hermantown

220 W. Superior St.

It’s all very simple, according to Trumpold.

“Quality meat, quality meat, quality meat,” the owner of Farley’s said.

This year’s submission was a tomato basil burger that included salsa on a tomato-basil focaccia bun.

“It seemed more summer-y and light,” he said. “I figured people would like it.”

As for the quality meat: Farley’s uses meat from Adolph Store — and last year took it to the World Food Championships.

“The local food markets have won first or second (in recent years),” he said. “There’s a reason for that.”

McKenzie’s Bar & Grill

5094 Miller Trunk Hwy., Hermantown

This Hermantown-based shop has had success in-store with its super popular parmesan-crusted turkey melt. So when grill-minders considered what would make a standout entry, they borrowed the tested and true concept: Spread butter on bread, dip it in a half-n-half mix of breadcrumbs and parmesan cheese.

The patty included pieces of bacon and was seasoned with a mix of spices, including Worcestershire and A1 Steak Sauce. It was good for a second-place finish — and an extra-long line during Thursday’s event. Each Parmesan Crusted Mac Melt was given a squirt of the signature McKenzie sauce, a super-secret mix that includes sour cream, chili sauce — and some undisclosed ingredients.

“We don’t want to give it all away,” Legrid said — adding that it plays well on French fries.

The grill’s entry isn’t on the menu yet, but it will be added the next time new menus are printed. Until then, feel free to order it.

“We can make it happen,” Legrid said.

Superior Meats

6301 Tower Ave., Superior

It’s no coincidence that the meat markets continually place high in this annual burger competition, according to Cragin.

“The main thing is fresh ground chuck that we grind ourselves,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that either us or Adolph have won it (the past two years). “We’re conscious of the freshness, and we use only whole muscle chuck. That’s all we grind. We feel chuck is your most flavorful burger and we grind it fresh every day.”

The leftover burger, he said, is turned into beef sticks.

As for the store’s entry into the contest: The Whiskey Pepper-Jack Burger — pepper-jack cheese, barbeque sauce and bacon on a pretzel bun — was based on a similarly themed bratwurst sold at the shop.