Barbecue sauce is a popular condiment used on meats like chicken, ribs, and brisket. Many people wonder if all barbecue sauces are gluten-free or if they need to seek out specialty gluten-free barbecue sauce. The answer depends on the specific ingredients used in each barbecue sauce recipe.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. People with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity cannot tolerate gluten and need to follow a strict gluten-free diet. For these individuals, consuming even small amounts of gluten can cause digestive issues and other health problems.
There are many potential sources of gluten in food. Some common examples include:
- Breads, baked goods, and pasta made with wheat, barley, or rye
- Beer and ales brewed from gluten-containing grains
- Soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, and other condiments made with wheat
- Thickeners and stabilizers like wheat starch
- Flavors and seasonings that contain malt from barley
As a result, people following a gluten-free diet need to read ingredient labels carefully and watch out for hidden sources of gluten in foods.
Common ingredients in barbecue sauce
There are many variations of barbecue sauce with different ingredients. But most barbecue sauces contain some combination of the following:
- Tomato products – Ketchup, tomato paste, tomato puree, and tomato sauce provide the tangy, tomatoey backbone.
- Vinegar – Cider vinegar, white vinegar, red wine vinegar, etc add a bright acidity.
- Sweeteners – Brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple syrup, and corn syrup give barbecue sauce its sweetness.
- Spices and seasonings – Paprika, garlic, onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, and more provide flavor.
- Fruits and vegetables – Ingredients like pineapples, apples, carrots, and onions add extra dimensions.
- Liquid smoke – Some recipes use liquid smoke to impart a smoky barbecue flavor.
- Thickeners – To achieve the desired thickness, cornstarch, flour, xanthan gum, or other thickeners might be used.
So which of these common barbecue sauce ingredients are gluten-free, and which ones could potentially contain gluten?
Gluten-free barbecue sauce ingredients
The following barbecue sauce ingredients are naturally gluten-free:
- Maple syrup
- Fruits like pineapples, apples, etc.
- Vegetables like onions, carrots, etc.
- Spices and herbs
- Liquid smoke
As long as these ingredients are pure and not processed with other gluten-containing ingredients, they can be considered gluten-free.
Potential sources of gluten in barbecue sauce
Below are some barbecue sauce ingredients that have the potential to contain gluten:
- Soy sauce – Many soy sauce varieties contain wheat. Tamari sauce is a gluten-free substitute.
- Malt vinegar – Vinegar made from barley malt contains gluten. Cider vinegar and wine vinegars are gluten-free.
- Worcestershire sauce – Traditional Worcestershire sauce uses barley malt vinegar. Gluten-free substitutes are available.
- Brown sugar – Some brown sugars are produced using wheat starch coatings. Look for brands confirmed gluten-free.
- Thickeners – Wheat flour, wheat starch, and other gluten-containing grain derivatives are sometimes used.
- Stabilizers – Additives like maltodextrin can be derived from wheat/barley.
- Flavors – Natural and artificial flavorings can contain gluten from various sources.
Always check the label on these barbecue sauce ingredients to determine if they are made from gluten-free sources. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer.
Common barbecue sauce brands
Most major barbecue sauce brands indicate “gluten-free” directly on the label if the product does not contain gluten. This makes it easier for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance to identify gluten-free options.
Here are some of the most popular gluten-free barbecue sauce brands:
- Sweet Baby Ray’s (labeled gluten-free)
- KC Masterpiece (labeled gluten-free)
- Stubb’s (labeled gluten-free)
- Open Pit (labeled gluten-free)
- Annie’s Organic (labeled gluten-free)
- Bull’s-Eye (no gluten ingredients)
- Jack Daniel’s (labeled gluten-free)
There are also many small batch and artisanal barbecue sauce companies that produce gluten-free varieties. Check your local grocery store or specialty markets for locally made sauces.
Homemade gluten-free barbecue sauce
Making homemade gluten-free barbecue sauce is simple. All you need are naturally gluten-free ingredients like tomato paste, vinegar, spices, etc. Here is one sample recipe:
- 1 cup ketchup (gluten-free)
- 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce (gluten-free)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- In a medium saucepan, combine all ingredients and whisk together.
- Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
- Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until thickened.
- Remove from heat and allow to cool before using.
- Store leftover sauce in a sealed container in the refrigerator.
You can customize this simple recipe with your favorite gluten-free ingredients like molasses, maple syrup, spices, etc. Homemade is a great way to ensure your barbecue sauce is gluten-free.
Verifying barbecue sauce is gluten-free
When selecting a barbecue sauce, here are some tips to verify it is gluten-free:
- Look for a “gluten-free” label on the packaging.
- Scan the ingredients list and make sure no gluten-containing grains are included.
- Check for thickening agents like wheat flour or stabilizers that could contain gluten.
- Call or email the manufacturer if you have any uncertainty about ingredients.
- Stick to reputable brands that make a range of gluten-free products.
- Refer to gluten-free watchdog sites that test products.
- Opt for homemade barbecue sauce using simple whole ingredients.
If you follow a gluten-free diet, never make assumptions about the gluten content of a barbecue sauce. Always thoroughly check the label and product information first before consuming.
Even if a barbecue sauce is labeled gluten-free, there is still a chance of cross-contamination occurring during manufacturing. Some safety tips include:
- Look for barbecue sauce made in a dedicated gluten-free facility.
- Avoid buying barbecue sauce made by major companies that also handle gluten products unless they have thorough allergen protocols.
- Only buy reputable brands with strict quality control over ingredients and production.
- Call the manufacturer and ask about their procedures for preventing cross-contamination.
In restaurants, always advise about your gluten allergy so proper precautions can be taken in the kitchen to avoid cross-contact with gluten.
Should ketchup be avoided?
Ketchup is a primary ingredient in many barbecue sauce recipes. The main question is whether ketchup contains hidden gluten that could make the barbecue sauce unsafe.
The answer is no – leading ketchup brands like Heinz and Hunt’s have been tested extensively and confirmed to be gluten-free to less than 5-10 parts per million. Ketchup can be safely eaten on a gluten-free diet as long as cross-contamination is avoided.
However, some individuals choose to avoid ketchup and select alternative tomato-based ingredients like tomato paste out of an abundance of caution.
As mentioned earlier, malt vinegar contains gluten because it is made from barley malt. Cider vinegar and wine vinegars are better choices for gluten-free barbecue sauce.
Distilled white vinegar is also gluten-free. However, some brands add small amounts of malt vinegar after distillation, so check the label.
Balsamic vinegar can also sometimes contain added malt, so gluten-free varieties should be selected.
Barbecue sauce is commonly used as a marinade, glaze, or dipping sauce for meats. So alongside checking your barbecue sauce, you also need to ensure the meat itself is gluten-free.
Most raw meats like chicken, pork, and beef are naturally gluten-free. But deli meats, sausages, and prepared meat products might contain gluten-based fillers, seasonings etc. Always read labels.
Grilled meat can also pick up traces of gluten if cooked on the same surface as gluten-containing foods like buns and patties. Make sure to cook gluten-free meats on a cleanly-washed grill.
Some barbecue sauce recipes call for butter or other dairy products to add richness. If you need a non-dairy substitute, be mindful that many contain potential sources of gluten.
For example, margarine and vegetable oil spreads can contain flour, wheat starch, barley malt, and other questionable ingredients. Opt for brands that are clearly labeled gluten-free.
Soy milk and other milk alternatives can also be subject to cross-contamination from shared equipment with gluten-containing dairy products. Again, choose reputable gluten-free brands.
Keeping gluten-free barbecue sauce safe
Here are some final tips for keeping your gluten-free barbecue sauce safe:
- Store gluten-free barbecue sauce in a separate area of the pantry away from gluten-containing items.
- Use a designated gluten-free spoon or brush for applying barbecue sauce to prevent cross-contact.
- Wash hands thoroughly before and after handling gluten-free barbecue sauce if also cooking with gluten products.
- Keep barbecue sauce covered when not in use to avoid airborne contamination.
- Don’t dip the same spoon back into the container after touching food to prevent contamination.
- Consider transferring some barbecue sauce to a squeeze bottle for easier use and to keep the bulk supply isolated.
Many mainstream and specialty barbecue sauces are gluten-free or can be prepared gluten-free using simple ingredients. But it is always important to thoroughly inspect labels for any sign of gluten-containing ingredients.
Homemade barbecue sauce and brands marked certified gluten-free are safest. For optimal precautions, look for sauce produced in a dedicated facility and focus on proper handling when also cooking gluten-containing foods.
By being an informed and vigilant consumer, you can safely enjoy delicious gluten-free barbecue sauce as part of a gluten-free lifestyle.