Food for Thought
Cooking with Dr Pepper: It's a Texas thing
There are certain quintessentially Texas tastes.
And then there’s Dr Pepper.
Long before my family moved to Texas, long before we used to visit my grandparents at their Poteet ranch house and drink bottles of Big Red, my mother had a Campbell’s Kids’ cookbook. Not that she was a great cook, or that she really taught her daughters much in the kitchen. I really don’t know why she had the book, but I do remember the chubby cartoon kids and that there was a recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches. And a recipe for hot Dr Pepper.
In the winter she would heat some of the Texas soda pop in a saucepan and serve it to us instead of hot cocoa. It was delicious, and a huge treat since we never had soda pop at home, it was always milk or iced tea with meals.
Fast forward many years and we moved to Texas, home of the country’s oldest soda pop.
And yes, it’s soda pop in Texas, or in some places soda water, but never cola, soda or soft drinks.
Any-hoo, Dr Pepper or DP, as fans say, was first served in 1885 at Waco’s Old Corner Drug Store. The company (today owned by Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Inc.) claims that the drug store owner Wade Morrison named the concoction of 23 flavors after Dr. Charles Pepper, a Virginia doctor who was the father of a girl Morrison was once in love with.
Which may or may not be true. But what is definitely true is that Dr Pepper has become the national drink of Texas, and it’s even stretched out to other parts of the country to become one of the most popular soda pops.
It has a museum, actually two if you count the one in Dublin, outside Waco, where the oldest Dr Pepper bottling plant (established in 1891 and considered the mecca of DP since it still uses the original recipe with Imperial pure cane sugar) is.
OK, let’s talk about that period for a minute. The very first ads in the 1880s for DP did, in fact, have a period: Dr. Pepper. But in the 1950s the company dropped the period. So, as any real Texan knows, there is no period in Dr Pepper, unless you’re about 200 years old. In which case, I would love to do a column on you.
But, getting back to the drink.
In my wild youth, I found Dr Pepper and a handful of aspirin was a great hangover remedy. I also found, in a previous life as a modeling instructor, that a DP and some peanut butter crackers from the vending machine at our studio made a nice lunch. And in 1974, my sister — a bio-chem major at Baylor University in Waco at the time — wound up with a commemorative bottle of DP honoring the college’s Southwest Conference football win. Dad has carried that bottle around for four decades now.
We are both terrified of opening it. Unlike a fine wine, I doubt DP gets better with time.
But there is one thing I’ve learned about Dr Pepper lately, and that’s that you can cook with it.
“I’m from Texas,” says Matt Lovelace, AKA “Tater,” sous chef at The Barbed Rose Steakhouse and Seafood Co. in Alvin, “everybody loves Dr Pepper, how can you not?”
Born in Baytown, raised in Deer Park, Tater says he and his dad drank DP growing up. His favorite was Dr Pepper floats with vanilla ice cream. But, as he became a culinary king, he realized the unique, sweet flavor, was also great for meat and pork glazes.
“We did this pork belly with a thick syrupy reduction of Dr Pepper and Szechuan peppers as a finishing sauce, it was so good,” he says. “Of course, we had a lot left over, so we used it on steaks, too. People loved it.”
Tater’s advice for cooking with DP is not to overpower the soda pop with other flavors.
“Your have to be able to taste it,” he says. “It’s a comfort thing.”
“Matt’s the one that got me into cooking with Dr Pepper,” says L. J. Wiley, recently of Yelapa Playa Mexicana. “We worked at Cullen’s Upscale American Grille and he was always cooking with Dr Pepper. When I was at Yelapa I saw this kimchi/ Dr Pepper glaze recipe on a blog and I thought no way that was going to work, but it did. And it was great on a pork shoulder.”
This born and raised Houstonian also loves the DP glaze with mustard oil drizzled on a salad of greens with beef capriccio.
“It goes really well with any beef or pork dishes,” he says. “Although I don’t really drink it much since I don’t drink soft drinks. But sometimes I get a hankering for it and I have I have to have a Dr Pepper and a burger.”
Which made me Google it, and yes, there are recipes for Dr Pepper burgers out there. And I'm certainly going to try them.