Since flipping his first burger at MaMa Jean’s Natural Market in 2011, Cory Norwood has gained a cult following of burger-craving customers who are willing to find him and his juicy patties as he rotates among the three MaMa Jean’s locations each week. With nothing more than a charcoal grill, a handful of toppings and a great personality, Norwood has won over the hearts and taste buds of many 417-landers. We caught up with him before a lunch rush to learn more about the man behind the grill.
417 Magazine: A lot of us know you from making a burger run during the week, but tell us something about yourself.
Cory Norwood: Cory is technically my middle name. My first name is Wendell. My dad’s side still calls me little Wendell. It was probably first grade when I switched. Wendell sounded too grown up.
417: When did you start making burgers at MaMa Jean’s?
C.N.: First time I did burgers was the Friday after the Joplin tornado. That’s how I date it. I noticed we sampled everything else in the store except for the beef, so one day I asked if I could do burgers. They said yes, and it has taken off.
417: Do you use a special recipe?
C.N.: This is my grandmother’s recipe. One summer, she cooked like eight burgers for this cookout even though there were a bunch of people coming. I ate four of them and got in big trouble for it. I liked them so much that recipe stuck with me.
417: What are the key ingredients?
C.N.: Garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper. I can’t give it all away, but that’s most of the seasoning.
417: How many burgers do you make?
C.N.: I started at just the south store with 30 burgers. That quickly sold out. Now we’re at about 75 to 90 at the south store.
417: What's your burger goal?
C.N.: My goal is a hundred burgers.
417: Do you have any regulars?
C.N.: I’ve got one guy who follows me to all three stores.
417: Have you always loved burgers?
C.N.: I’m a burger and fry kid always. There was one very memorable burger. Growing up, family would pick on you if you were little, and I was the youngest one running around, so they’d make me beat myself up. One time, they did it so bad I busted my lip and cried, so they bought me a quarter-pounder from McDonald’s. I still have a photo of that somewhere—me smiling with a burger and a big old busted lip.
417: After a long day of grilling, do you go home and grill?
C.N.: I do a lot more grilling at home. There’s something about the grill. It almost feels like vacation when you get back there. I’ll be tired, but shoot. As soon as I get the grill going, I’m okay.
417: Are you a charcoal guy or a gas guy?
C.N.: I’m charcoal all the way. The propane adds flavor and chemicals that aren’t good for you, and I don’t want to blow myself up. That’s the main thing.
417: What do you do when you’re not out here grilling?
C.N.: I do the floor in the stores and help in the kitchen and in the grocery and the deli counter. But whatever MaMa Jean’s needs, I’ll do. As long as they let me grill, I’m good.
417: Do you have a cooking strategy for when you get backed-up?
C.N.: Just keep moving and smile. You’ve got to make sure you talk to the people, and as long as you’re talking and they’re laughing, you’re good.
417: What would be on your dream burger?
C.N.: Blackened beef, bleu cheese dressing, onion straws with almost southwest flavors in there, toasted bun and some lettuce. My mouth is watering as I think about it now.
417: You’re out here year-round at the Sunshine and Republic locations, how do you stay warm?
C.N.: I get layered up pretty good. I usually have on four to five layers. There are those really windy days though were I step inside, oh boy! But it’s a lot of fun, it’s a lot of fun.
1. Season your meat first. That way the flavors have time to marry while you get the grill ready.
2. When half your coals are gray, put the lid down and turn off the oxygen to the fire. That will bring the temp down just a bit. You have to cool the grill down a little before you put the meat on.
3. The thinner the patty, the faster they cook. When I hand-patty mine, I want to get them nice and flat.
4. Don’t smash your burgers on the grill. You lose all that flavor and juice.
5. I try to squeeze it all in there as tight as I can when I’m making the patties. Oh, and always make your burgers a little bigger than you want.
6. Watch your meat. You don’t want to flip them too many times, and you want to look for the juices to bubble out. No pink juices. And the firmer the patty, the more done it is.