How can you tell if BBQ sauce is gluten-free?

Quick Answer

The main way to tell if a BBQ sauce is gluten-free is to check the ingredient list for any ingredients containing gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity need to avoid gluten as it causes damage to their small intestine. Some common gluten-containing ingredients to look out for in BBQ sauce include wheat, barley, rye, malt vinegar, soy sauce, and modified food starch. If a BBQ sauce is labeled “gluten-free” it should not contain any gluten. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer to confirm the BBQ sauce is gluten-free.

What is gluten and why do people need to avoid it?

Gluten is a general name for the proteins found in wheat, barley, and rye. It helps give elasticity to dough, helping it keep its shape and texture. Gluten is found not only in breads and baked goods, but can also be an additive or ingredient in many processed foods.

People with certain medical conditions need to follow a strict gluten-free diet and avoid all foods containing gluten. The two main conditions that require a gluten-free diet are:

Celiac disease – An autoimmune disorder where the small intestine is damaged by gluten. Even small amounts of gluten can cause damage. About 1% of the population has celiac disease.

Non-celiac gluten sensitivity – People experience digestive symptoms, fatigue, brain fog, joint pain and other issues when consuming gluten, but they do not test positive for celiac disease.

For people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, eating gluten triggers an immune response that attacks and damages the small intestine. This can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain, vomiting, constipation, fatigue, headache and more. Over time, the intestinal damage can result in malnutrition, anemia and other complications if gluten is not eliminated from the diet.

Following a strict 100% gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This means reading labels carefully and avoiding any foods that contain wheat, barley, rye and other gluten sources. Even small amounts of cross-contamination can cause issues.

Common sources of gluten in BBQ sauce

There are many potential sources of gluten that can be found as ingredients in BBQ sauces:

  • Wheat – Wheat and wheat flour are commonly added to BBQ sauce for thickness and texture.
  • Barley – Barley malt, malt extract or malt flour can be used as a sweetener in BBQ sauces.
  • Rye – Rye flour may be used as a thickening agent in some BBQ sauces.
  • Malt vinegar – Malt vinegar is made from barley malt and contains gluten unless specifically distilled. Cider vinegar and wine vinegar are gluten-free alternatives.
  • Soy sauce – Many soy sauces contain wheat. Tamari is a gluten-free style of soy sauce made without wheat.
  • Modified food starch – Can be made from wheat, though cornstarch is a gluten-free option.
  • Hydrolyzed wheat protein – Used to enhance flavor. Wheat-based and contains gluten.
  • Natural flavor – Flavorings can sometimes contain gluten. Need to verify with manufacturer.

These are some of the most common potential sources of gluten that may be found in the ingredients of BBQ sauces. Checking the label closely is important.

What to look for on BBQ sauce labels

When evaluating a BBQ sauce to determine if it is gluten-free, check the following parts of the label:

  • Ingredient list – Scan for any ingredients containing wheat, barley, rye, malt or modified food starch. The sauce must not contain any gluten ingredients.
  • “Gluten-free” label – If the BBQ sauce has been certified gluten-free, it will be labeled as such. This ensures the product contains less than 20ppm of gluten.
  • “Made in a gluten-free facility” – BBQ sauce made in a dedicated gluten-free facility has a lower risk of cross-contamination.
  • Allergen warnings – Check for “Contains wheat” or “Contains gluten” warnings.
  • Nutrition facts – If the sauce contains wheat, barley or rye, it will be listed under Total Carbohydrates.

You may need to contact the manufacturer directly if a BBQ sauce does not have clear labeling regarding gluten or allergens. Many brands now make gluten-free BBQ sauces, so options are available. When dining out, always ask about ingredients and preparation. Cross-contamination is a concern in restaurants.

Tips for finding gluten-free BBQ sauce

Here are some tips for locating gluten-free BBQ sauce options:

  • Check major brands like Stubbs, Sweet Baby Ray’s and KC Masterpiece to see if they make certified gluten-free varieties.
  • Look for gluten-free labels or claims on the front of the packaging.
  • Shop the gluten-free section of grocery stores or specialty health food stores.
  • Search for gluten-free BBQ sauces online from gluten-free brands.
  • Stick to simple classic ingredients like tomatoes, vinegar, spices and sweeteners like honey or brown sugar.
  • Make your own homemade BBQ sauce with gluten-free pantry staples.

Major retailers are now carrying more gluten-free options due to increasing demand. You can also find many small batch gluten-free BBQ sauce options from artisan makers online or at farmer’s markets if you prefer more unique flavors. With some diligent label reading and asking questions, finding gluten-free BBQ sauce is much easier these days.

What to do if you get sick from potential gluten exposure

Those who need to avoid gluten absolutely should be cautious about potential exposure from unsafe ingredients or cross-contamination. Here is what to do if you experience symptoms after consuming a questionable BBQ sauce or meal:

  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated if experiencing diarrhea.
  • Manage nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain with medications like acetaminophen, anti-nausea drugs or antacids.
  • Avoid high-fiber foods and instead eat bland, gentle foods until diarrhea subsides.
  • Get plenty of rest and go easy on exercise.
  • If symptoms persist or you see blood in stool, consult your doctor promptly.
  • Follow up with your gastroenterologist for any severe or ongoing GI symptoms.
  • Determine the source of potential gluten exposure and avoid that product/restaurant going forward.

In most cases, symptoms from minor gluten exposure will resolve in a few days with conservative at-home care. However, notify your doctor about any exposure as they will want to monitor for any persisting problems. Strictly adhering to your gluten-free diet helps avoid accidental exposures that can undermine health.

Homemade gluten-free BBQ sauce recipe

Making your own homemade gluten-free BBQ sauce is simple with just a few basic ingredients:


  • 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons molasses or honey
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon each salt, garlic powder, pepper


  1. Mix all ingredients together in a medium saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened.
  3. Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 2 weeks.

This easy homemade BBQ sauce uses tomato sauce as a gluten-free base along with spices, sweeteners and vinegar for flavor. Feel free to tweak ingredients to suit your tastes – add more honey for sweeter sauce or extra chili powder if you like heat. Make a batch to have gluten-free sauce ready for grilling out!

Commonly Asked Questions

Can I just look for a “gluten-free” label to know if a BBQ sauce is safe?

Looking for a certified gluten-free label is the easiest way to identify a gluten-free BBQ sauce. However, be aware that some sauces may be gluten-free by ingredient but not actually carry a gluten-free certification. Checking the ingredient list is still recommended.

Are BBQ sauces with wheat or soy sauce always unsafe?

Yes, any BBQ sauce containing wheat, barley, rye or standard soy sauce made with wheat is unsafe for a gluten-free diet. Tamari soy sauce may be used in some gluten-free BBQ sauces, but confirm with the manufacturer.

What about cross-contamination risks with BBQ sauce?

Cross-contamination is always a concern, especially from shared grills, utensils and prep areas. Use your own BBQ tools and prep dishes, wash hands thoroughly, and cover sauces when not in use. Manufacturing facilities should follow protocols to reduce cross-contamination.

Can I make my own gluten-free BBQ sauce easily?

Yes, homemade BBQ sauce is simple to make yourself using basic gluten-free pantry ingredients like tomato sauce, vinegar, spices and gluten-free sweeteners. This avoids any uncertainty about ingredients or manufacturing.

What sauce ingredients signal a BBQ sauce likely contains gluten?

Ingredients like wheat, barley, rye, malt, malt vinegar, soy sauce, modified food starch or hydrolyzed wheat protein indicate a BBQ sauce most likely contains gluten and should be avoided.

The Bottom Line

Checking ingredient lists and labels carefully is the best way to evaluate if a BBQ sauce is gluten-free. Look for gluten-containing ingredients like wheat, barley and rye or verified gluten-free claims before consuming. Make your own gluten-free sauce or choose verified brands for peace of mind. Be vigilant when dining out to avoid cross-contact. With the rise in gluten-free diets, most major brands now carry gluten-free BBQ sauce options at grocery stores. Reading labels, asking questions, and contacting manufacturers can help identify safe gluten-free BBQ sauces so you can keep enjoying flavored grilled meats.

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