At the annual Grill Wars, a burger is never just a burger. It’s a canvas. It’s the starting point for grand innovations involving peanut butter or syrup or a special sauce you deliver by the ladle-full. The old patty-bun combo had no place last week at Bayfront Festival Park, where burger-fiends lined up 50-plus people deep, snacked on complimentary original flavor Doritos, waited for the next sliver of what-in-the-what.

Grill smoke plumed; the smell reportedly extended to I-35; a cover band delivered Violent Femmes, Hank Williams Jr., Jimmy Buffet.

Here are five burger innovations observed this year.

Lucky's 13 Pub made a burger with Cheetos and mac and cheese on top for Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug.14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com
Lucky's 13 Pub made a burger with Cheetos and mac and cheese on top for Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug.14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com

PUT A (FILL IN THE BLANK) ON IT

If you think about it, why stick to squeeze bottles of whatever; anything can be a condiment. And in a world where anything is a condiment, anything can go on a burger. A fried egg is a neat trick, yolk goo meet meat, and not uncommon. The scoop of ice cream, reportedly served on an otherwise normal burger at the Florida State Fair in Tampa, Fla., according to Mental Floss, is more so. Somewhere in between: Lucky’s 13 Pub burgers were topped with mac and cheese and Cheetos. For the noodle-curious, this was not an event specialty: The Mac & Cheese Burger is on the pub's menu.

McKenzie's Bar and Grill served their burger on apple-cinnamon bread with maple syrup at Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com
McKenzie's Bar and Grill served their burger on apple-cinnamon bread with maple syrup at Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com

FLIP THE SCRIPT

Take everything you know about burgers being nighttime food and toss it. McKenzie’s Bar & Grill in Hermantown offered a breakfast burger. Rather than a traditional bun, the well-done meat patty was served on thick slices of apple-cinnamon bread. The ketchup was swapped for a bottle of maple syrup. Overheard critique from the crowd: needs peanut butter. Peanut butter is not an unprecedented request: Big Daddy’s Burgers, not featured at Grill Wars, has its own take on the breakfast burger — cheddar cheese, egg, bacon, peanut butter on French toast with a side of syrup.

Grandma's Restaurants made a peanut butter, ghost pepper cheese number for Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com
Grandma's Restaurants made a peanut butter, ghost pepper cheese number for Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com

ABOUT THIS PEANUT BUTTER THING

Just a few smoky grills away, Grandma's Restaurants must have heard the Call of The PB Seekers. It was serving its burger with Sriracha peanut butter, ghost pepper cheese and a pickle. Gooey and good. In fact, the peanut butter burger might be trending. Tavern on the Hill, also not a Grill Wars participant, has a hip-slinging tribute burger on its menu. The Velvet Elvis has peanut butter and an egg, along with pepper jack cheese on a pretzel bun.

The Cast Iron Bar and Grill's burgers are up for grabs at Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug.14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com
The Cast Iron Bar and Grill's burgers are up for grabs at Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug.14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com

GET SPICY WITH IT

Meat and fruit is always a controversial move. Proof: Say the words Hawaiian pizza in front of other humans. Northwood's Family Grille created a cleverly-named Razzburger, which had raspberry adobo chili sauce with a tiny, hard-to-define crunch to it. The spice might have been the secret to the unconventional sauce. The Other Place's burger was seemingly all business: burger, cheese, onion, bun. But deep in there, a ladle-full of special sauce. It was Thousand Island peach-colored, but had a hot sauce edge.

Stokke's Meat Market went with smoked brisket, french fried onions and a pretzel bun for Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com
Stokke's Meat Market went with smoked brisket, french fried onions and a pretzel bun for Grill Wars on Wednesday, Aug. 14 at Bayfront Festival Park. Ellen Schmidt/eschmidt@duluthnews.com

BUNS MATTER

The meat vehicle matters. Anyone can do a bun-bun, right? This year's Grill Wars people's choice award went to Stokke's Meat Market, which served its patties with smoked brisket and french fried onions — on a pretzel bun. Very buttery, with a bit of salt. Let this be a lesson: Mind your buns, meat freaks. Mind your buns.