Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can cause serious health issues. As a result, these individuals must follow strict gluten-free diets and avoid foods containing gluten. This leads many to wonder – are popular condiments like BBQ sauce safe to eat on a gluten-free diet?
The short answer is: it depends. While some BBQ sauces are gluten-free, others contain ingredients derived from gluten-containing grains. Carefully checking the label is crucial.
What is Gluten?
Gluten consists of two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, found naturally in certain cereal grains. The most common sources of gluten are:
Gluten helps give bread, pizza crust, pasta, and other baked goods their chewy texture. However, for individuals with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an immune response that damages the small intestine.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects around 1% of the population. When someone with celiac disease consumes gluten, it causes damage to the small intestine villi – the finger-like projections that absorb nutrients. This leads to symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, malnutrition, weight loss, and fatigue.
The only treatment for celiac disease is strictly adhering to a 100% gluten-free diet. This allows the intestinal villi to heal and resolve symptoms. Even small amounts of gluten can cause issues for those with celiac disease.
Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
Non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS) is a condition where an individual experiences adverse reactions after ingesting gluten, but does not have celiac disease. Symptoms may include gastrointestinal upset, fatigue, headaches, joint pain and eczema. The mechanism is not fully understood.
Many people with NCGS find their symptoms improve significantly on a gluten-free or reduced gluten diet. However, there is debate over whether non-celiac gluten sensitivity is caused by gluten itself or other components of grains.
Are BBQ Sauces Gluten-Free?
So when it comes to BBQ sauce, should you assume it’s off-limits if you follow a gluten-free lifestyle? Here’s what you need to know:
- Some BBQ sauces are labelled “gluten-free” and are safe for a gluten-free diet.
- Other BBQ sauces contain wheat, barley or malt as thickeners and flavorings and are not gluten-free.
- Many major BBQ sauce brands offer gluten-free varieties, but always check the label.
- Homemade BBQ sauce recipes can easily be made gluten-free by using corn starch as a thickener and avoiding soy sauce.
Reading BBQ Sauce Labels
When checking if a BBQ sauce is gluten-free, look for these clues on the ingredient list:
- “Gluten-free” listed clearly on the label
- No mention of wheat, barley, rye, malt or ambiguous thickeners like starch
- Corn starch used as a thickener
You’ll also want to watch out for these ingredients that indicate the BBQ sauce is not gluten-free:
- Malt vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
Gluten-Free BBQ Sauce Brands
Many major BBQ sauce brands now offer gluten-free options:
Sweet Baby Ray’s
Sweet Baby Ray’s, one of the most popular BBQ sauce brands, has several gluten-free varieties:
- Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce
- Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce
- Sweet Baby Ray’s Hickory & Brown Sugar Barbecue Sauce
KC Masterpiece’s Original Barbecue Sauce is labelled gluten-free. However, other flavors like Honey Roasted BBQ Sauce are not gluten-free.
All of Stubb’s barbecue sauce flavors are labeled gluten-free, including:
- Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce
- Stubb’s Spicy Bar-B-Q Sauce
- Stubb’s Honey Pecan Bar-B-Q Sauce
Bull’s-Eye Original Barbecue Sauce is gluten-free.
Other Potentially Gluten-Free Brands
Always carefully read the label, but these barbecue sauce brands may offer gluten-free varieties:
- Trader Joe’s
- Bone Suckin’
Homemade Gluten-Free BBQ Sauce
Making your own homemade BBQ sauce is an easy way to control the ingredients. Here is a simple recipe:
- 1 cup ketchup
- 1⁄4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce (gluten-free)
- 1 teaspoon mustard
- 1⁄4 teaspoon each of salt, pepper and garlic powder
- 1⁄8 teaspoon cinnamon
- Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently.
- Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until thickened.
- Cool and transfer to an airtight container. Store in the fridge for up to 4 weeks.
Cornstarch can also be used as a thickener if a thicker consistency is desired. Avoid soy sauce and malt vinegar when making homemade gluten-free BBQ sauce.
Gluten-Free BBQ Sauce Nutrition
Most BBQ sauces are thickened with corn starch and sweetened with sugar or honey. Here is the nutrition information for a typical 2 tablespoon serving of gluten-free BBQ sauce:
As you can see, BBQ sauce is high in sugar. Those limiting added sugars may want to use BBQ sauce sparingly. However, it can fit into a healthy gluten-free diet when used as an occasional condiment.
Should You Avoid All BBQ Sauce on a Gluten-Free Diet?
Is it necessary to avoid all BBQ sauce when gluten-free? Here are some things to consider:
- Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should only consume BBQ sauces labeled “gluten-free” or known to be gluten-free based on their ingredients.
- Individuals with mild gluten sensitivity can sometimes tolerate BBQ sauces thickened with wheat starch, but should confirm with their healthcare professional.
- Barbecue sauces flavored with malt vinegar or soy sauce should always be avoided.
- When in doubt, homemade BBQ sauce or brands with “gluten-free” labeling are the safest options.
Even if a BBQ sauce is labeled gluten-free, there is a small risk of cross-contamination at the manufacturing facility. Those with celiac disease are advised to look for brands that are certified gluten-free, meaning they test regularly for gluten during production.
Gluten-Free BBQ Sauce Uses
Gluten-free BBQ sauce can be used to flavor all kinds of grilled meats, vegetables and more. Try it on:
- Pulled pork
- Hot dogs
Gluten-free BBQ sauce can also be used for dips, salad dressings, marinades and even cocktails. Get creative with how you incorporate it into gluten-free cooking and grilling.
The Bottom Line
Many popular BBQ sauce brands offer gluten-free options that are safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. However, some BBQ sauces contain gluten-containing ingredients like wheat, barley or malt. Carefully reading ingredient lists and looking for a “gluten-free” label is key.
With so many gluten-free choices available, from specialty brands to homemade sauces, BBQ lovers on a gluten-free diet don’t have to miss out. A little label reading and awareness can help determine if your favorite BBQ sauce is gluten-free.