It’s that time of year when we are eager to fire up the grill and eat al fresco. But for those who have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, a neighborhood BBQ can be a scary place.
Gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley, is in most bread products and can even be found in hot dogs or burgers themselves. Trace amounts of gluten can also contaminate grill grates or lurk in condiments and alcohol. Despite limited options at a conventional backyard cookout, there’s no need to completely avoid the fun. Read on for guidelines to throw your own gluten-free BBQ, plus tips to safely eat at one while away from home.
Who said appetizers have to be loaded with fried food and gluten? Rather than default to pretzels and chips (though there are gluten free options), opt for gluten-free corn tortilla chips and raw veggies with your favorite homemade dips. Note: Some whole grain tortilla chips include wheat. Make sure to check labels and stick to 100 percent corn.
Create a bright and colorful crudité with crisp lettuces such as radicchio and endive, as well as string beans, broccoli, snap peas, asparagus, mini bell peppers, and carrots. Serve with a homemade dip such as hummus or guacamole. Sliced veggies and homemade from-scratch dip is the perfect healthy, naturally gluten-free finger food.
Instead of using gluten-loaded buns, purchase gluten-free whole grain buns. Or create lettuce wraps with romaine and Bibb lettuce leaves. Fill a large leaf of lettuce with grilled chicken, steak, and veggies, and serve taco style.
Burgers and Hot Dogs
It’s always better to make your own turkey, meat, or veggie burgers from scratch. That way you’ll know there are no breadcrumbs or other gluten ingredients included. There are also many brands that make gluten-free burgers and hot dogs. Whether you are vegetarian or a meat eater, you can find everything from bison burgers to veggie burgers that are gluten free. Be sure to read product labels carefully: Look for the certified gluten-free label and scan the ingredients list for good measure.
While quite a few brands of ketchup and mustard are gluten-free, not all condiments are in the safe zone. Soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, marinades, and many dressings can contain gluten. Consult labels or prepare your own healthy and tasty toppings at home. Consider making your own salsa, guacamole, and barbeque sauce to top burgers and wraps. You can also arrange small ramekins with fresh herbs such as basil and cilantro, diced or sliced tomatoes, scallions, chives, mushrooms, vidalia and red onions, sprouts, arugula, purple cabbage, avocado, and other vegetables to pile on top of your grilled fare.
The gluten-free beer market has expanded quite a bit recently. There are now dozens of options, from dark ales to pale lagers. Not wild about beer? There are a handful of gluten-free hard cider options which are especially tasty on ice. You can also whip up some DIY mocktails with seltzer, fresh lemon and lime wedges, and fruit juice such as cranberry or grapefruit.
Tips to Avoid Cross-Contamination
Many people think gluten-free is a diet fad and that there’s no harm in a little gluten here and there. But as we mentioned, just a small amount of gluten can have grave consequences. One study found that people who consumed 50 milligrams of gluten each day (that’s about 1/70th of a slice of bread) will, over time, experience intestinal damage. The risk of cross contamination exists on and off the grill: Cutting boards, serving plates, utensils, tin foil, and the grill rack need to be clear of gluten. You can stand close by or suggest that you grill your own burger or hot dog to ensure it’s safe and not contaminated. Don’t be shy: Take charge of your health.
Use Tin Foil
Bring your own tin foil to the BBQ so you can create a barrier between your hot dog or hamburger and the grill racks. That way you don’t have to worry about scrubbing down the grill or chancing cross-contamination. Bits of gluten-containing foods can stick to the grill and transfer to your food. Even small amounts of gluten can lead to adverse reactions to people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. You can also create a foil packet to grill veggies and keep other items from touching. Be careful when grilling your food so whoever is in charge of cooking knows to use clean utensils to flip your burger or hot dog, and not the same tools as used for everyone else. Though all these steps may feel demanding or uncomfortable at someone else’s home, it’s better to be clear from the start rather than suffer from a reaction to gluten.
Designate Gluten-Free Racks on the Grill
The top rack is the best spot for your gluten-free items. If you use a lower rack, meat or marinade drippings from other foods may make contact with your burger or hot dog. Try to designate the top rack of the grill for gluten-free food only. Make sure the cook or whoever is in charge of the grill keeps other foods away from this rack. For added protection, the top grill rack can be lined with tin foil, as mentioned above. Hang out by the grill to make sure no one moves your burger or hot dog to a lower rack when cooking.
Use a Separate Cutting Board and Towels
Shared cutting boards and kitchen towels are huge no-nos when it comes to gluten contamination. Use a separate cutting board and label it with a sticky note or permanent marker so there’s no chance crumbs or other gluten ingredients will touch your food. And even if you can’t see crumbs or condiments, undetectable gluten may remain after someone else slices a bun or burger on the same board.
When it comes to kitchen towels, the same rules apply. At your own home, you can purchase a set of towels in a specific color and designate them as gluten-free. Make your guests aware so no one wipes their hands on the gluten-free towels after handling hamburger buns. Again, it may not always be easy to spot gluten ingredients on the towel, but you risk cross contamination when you wipe your hands and then touch your food.
Mustard, ketchup, relish, and mayo can make a great burger even better, but many people are unaware of the gluten that can hide in many condiments. Soy sauce and marinades often contain gluten ingredients such as wheat, which are used as stabilizers and thickeners. Make your own marinade or read the ingredient list carefully on any product. Use gluten-free soy sauce (tamari) instead and don’t purchase any pre-marinated products such as pork, beef, shrimp, or chicken. Your best bet is to make your own marinade with olive oil, vinegar, fresh herbs, garlic, sea salt, pepper, and spices. Fresh is always best when it comes to marinades because you will know exactly what goes into your food.
Use Clean Utensils
The last thing you need is to spend all your energy keeping gluten out of your food and then end up with someone flipping your burger or hot dog on the grill with the utensil they used for a gluten-containing food. Place gluten-free utensils on a serving tray labeled “gluten-free” so you and your guests know that those utensils are not to be used for other foods that may contain gluten. Set out a pair of tongs, a sharp knife, a fork and anything other items such as a thermometer. Clean the utensils before using them in case they were not fully cleaned beforehand.
For a gluten-free BBQ this summer, follow these tips and guidelines. Your grilling safety starts with the items you choose in the grocery store: Read all labels closely and stock your kitchen with whole, fresh foods including chicken, fish, fresh fruits, and veggies so you don’t have to worry about cross contamination. With a few safety measures, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your BBQ with friends and family!