Texas Living

Dr Pepper: A Texas History

By Peter Simek 2.4.19

Dr Pepper: It’s as Texas as longhorns, bluebonnets, bright summer moons, and sunsets over rolling mesquite plains. In Texas, Dr Pepper isn’t just a choice at a drive-through; it’s the only soda option on the table. It’s the liquid fuel of state pride.

It might be difficult to explain the cult of Pepperheads to the uninitiated, with their “I’m a Pepper” T-shirts and penchant for adding the soda to everything from chili to barbecue sauce. But most Texans just get it.

The Pharmacist’s Secret

The mysterious recipe for the unmistakable flavor of Dr Pepper bubbled and brewed in Waco in 1885 when a pharmacist named Charles Courtice Alderton combined a classified combination of fruit extracts and sweeteners. Working out of Wade B. Morrison’s Old Corner Drugstore, his concoction was a fast hit for customers. To meet demand, Morrison teamed up with chemist Robert S. Lazenby to open the Artesian Manufacturing and Bottling Works in 1891 to distribute the drink statewide. In 1904, they brought their drink to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis, and the drink began to spread nationwide.

The company (and the recipe) changed hands a couple of times before becoming the Dr Pepper Company in 1923. Although the drink is now popular the world over, the recipe is still a closely guarded secret. Rumor holds that the recipe is kept in two halves, which are locked away in separate safe-deposit boxes at two different banks.

A Waco Pilgrimage

Diehard Texans flock to pay homage at the Dr Pepper Museum in Waco. Exhibits retell the story of the drink whose inspiration came, in part, from the sweet smell of the Old Corner Drugstore, which Alderton tried to replicate in a carbonated drink. Tours and workshops explore cooking with Dr Pepper, the science behind flavor and carbonization, and the world of soda at large. Perhaps the highlight of the tour is getting to walk into the replica of Morrison’s old pharmacy and capture the feeling of what it was like to taste Dr Pepper in the place where it was invented.

Dr Pepper BBQ Sauce

Photo by Natalie Goff

Your Kitchen’s Secret Weapon

Texans have long known that Dr Pepper can offer a sweet, fizzy kick to a surprising number of recipes. Try these two:

Dr Pepper Barbecue Sauce: The perfect condiment for your next cookout or baste for grilled chicken and pulled pork. This recipe from Wide Open Country subs in Dr Pepper as the sweetening agent in a tangy barbecue sauce.

1½ cups Dr Pepper (Remember, diet is OK)
1 large onion
4 cloves garlic
½ stick butter
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 can tomato paste

Sauté the onion with the garlic in the butter for 10 minutes. Once it begins to brown, stir in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 20–25 minutes. Let cool, blend, and simmer uncovered for another 20 minutes and it will be ready to serve.

Dr Pepper Chili: Inspired by Spicy Southern Kitchen, this recipe adds a can of Dr Pepper to sweeten the Texas classic.

1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup diced onion
½ cup diced red bell pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon oregano
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 (12-ounce) can Dr Pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1 (14-ounce) can fire-roasted tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Sour cream, red onion, and cilantro to garnish

Cook the beef until browned, then added the onion and pepper and cook until softened. Add your spices, followed by the Dr Pepper, broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, chipotle peppers, and Worcestershire sauce. Simmer for 30 minutes — or as long as you’d like.

It’s not bad in a float, either.

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