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Meet Canada's burger king

Rusty Johnson returns to Whistler to defend his Backyard Burger title



When basketball supernova LeBron James declared he was the best player on the planet during the NBA Finals this year, some crotchety members of the media took the opportunity to call him out on his perceived arrogance. The only problem? Nobody could really make a valid argument that he wasn't.

The same is true for Rusty Johnson, the reigning burger champion of Canada, who, while recognizing his superior skillset behind the grill, doesn't want to come off as bigheaded to the meat-loving masses.

"I do feel awkward being this arrogant about it, but I haven't actually lost a burger competition in a couple years now... except for the worlds," said Johnson, the 2014 winner of Dusty's Backyard Burger competition at the Canadian National BBQ Championships in Whistler.

Johnson, owner of Rusty's BBQ out of Port Moody, got his start on a whim after buying a personal smoker for his backyard. His part-time dabbling soon turned into a full-time obsession, and today Johnson is known as one of the country's top-ranked pitmasters.

Johnson will be returning to Whistler, his weekend home, for this weekend's barbecue championships where he will try to retain his place atop the burger throne.

"It's a really big contest for me and I'll never miss it ever because I drink at Dusty's every weekend," Johnson laughed.

A veteran of the international barbecue circuit, Johnson said the Whistler championships hold a special place in his heart — even when he's had to fend off some rather bold wildlife in the past. "It's definitely the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen for a barbecue competition," he said." There's no other contest I know where you're worried about fighting off bears in the middle of it. That throws a curveball."

While Johnson is more than adept at cooking up a batch of ribs or chicken, recently he's been heralded for his award-winning burgers, including last week, when he took home the honour of Canadian National Burger Champion in Edmonton for the second year in a row.

Tight-lipped about the award-winning recipe for his spicy Clamato caesar barbecue sauce burger that he plans to bring to Whistler this weekend, locals should already be familiar with Johnson's talents; one of his mouthwatering creations has been on the menu at Dusty's for the past year.

"That one was a really popular burger," said Johnson.

Ground chuck grilled to perfection, topped with a saffron, garlic and honey aioli and a harissa roasted red pepper relish, it's a beautiful combination of sweet and spicy that has a little crunch thrown in with the addition of a roasted eggplant skin.

The secret to Johnson's recipe is the fat he adds to the chuck to give the burger just the right amount of juiciness. Dieters beware.

"The caloric intake of a competition burger means you'll need to break out the defibrillator," Johnson said. "There's a lot of fat in there. It's really juicy for a reason. They're not that healthy."

The Bulleit Bourbon Canadian National BBQ Championships run Friday, July 31 to Aug. 2. Visit for tickets.