Is Sonny’s BBQ sauce gluten free?

Sonny’s BBQ is a popular barbecue restaurant chain found throughout the southeastern United States. They are known for their wide variety of mouthwatering smoked meats, side dishes, and homemade barbecue sauces. For those who need to follow a gluten-free diet, an important question is – are Sonny’s BBQ sauces gluten-free? Let’s take a detailed look at the ingredients and find the answer.

What is Sonny’s BBQ Sauce?

Sonny’s BBQ has four signature barbecue sauces that customers can choose from:

  • Sweet Barbecue Sauce – A classic sweet and tangy barbecue sauce.
  • Spicy Barbecue Sauce – A sweet sauce with a touch of heat.
  • House Barbecue Sauce – Sonny’s original sauce with a distinctive flavor.
  • White Barbecue Sauce – A mayonnaise-based Alabama white sauce.

In addition to the four main sauces, Sonny’s also offers other limited-time and regional sauces. The ingredients can vary between sauces, so it’s important to check each one individually for gluten-containing ingredients.

What Does Gluten-Free Mean?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune reaction that damages the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, fatigue, and more. The only treatment for gluten-related disorders is adhering to a strict lifelong gluten-free diet.

For a product to be considered gluten-free, it must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten. This trace amount is generally recognized as safe for the majority of those sensitive to gluten. Anything labeled “gluten-free” must meet this strict standard.

Checking Sonny’s BBQ Sauce Ingredients

To determine if a Sonny’s BBQ sauce is gluten-free, we need to thoroughly check the ingredients listed on the bottle. Gluten can hide in sauces under names like wheat, barley, rye, malt, and malt vinegar. Oats are also a potential source of trace gluten cross-contamination.

Here are the key ingredients to look for in Sonny’s BBQ sauces:

  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Malt
  • Malt vinegar
  • Oats

If any of these appear in the ingredients list, then the sauce is not gluten-free. Next, let’s examine the ingredients for each of Sonny’s sauces.

Sweet Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients: Tomato puree (water, tomato paste), high fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, molasses, modified food starch, contains less than 2% of salt, pineapple juice concentrate, natural hickory smoke flavor, spice, onion powder, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives), caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, tamarind, natural flavor.

The Sweet Barbecue Sauce does not contain any gluten-containing ingredients, so it can be considered gluten-free.

Spicy Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients: Tomato puree (water, tomato paste), high fructose corn syrup, distilled white vinegar, molasses, modified food starch, contains less than 2% of salt, spice, onion powder, natural hickory smoke flavor, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives), xanthan gum, chili pepper, caramel color, garlic powder, sugar, dehydrated red & green peppers, citric acid, natural flavor.

Like the Sweet Barbecue Sauce, the Spicy Barbecue Sauce also does not contain any gluten and can be considered gluten-free.

House Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients: Tomato puree (water, tomato paste), high fructose corn syrup, distilled vinegar, molasses, modified food starch, contains less than 2% of salt, natural smoke flavor, spices, onion powder, garlic powder, mustard flour, natural flavor, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives), extractives of paprika, caramel color, tamarind.

The House Barbecue Sauce contains mustard flour, which is made from mustard seeds. Mustard is naturally gluten-free, so this sauce is also gluten-free.

White Barbecue Sauce

Ingredients: Soybean oil, water, egg yolks, vinegar, sugar, salt, contains less than 2% of xanthan gum, natural flavor, calcium disodium edta added to protect flavor, onion powder, potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate (preservatives), maltodextrin, dried garlic.

At first glance the White Barbecue Sauce appears gluten-free. However, it contains maltodextrin, which is derived from corn, potato, or wheat starch. Since the source is not specified, this sauce may contain gluten from wheat starch making it unsafe for those sensitive to gluten.

Other Sonny’s BBQ Sauces

Beyond the four main sauces, Sonny’s BBQ also has limited-time and regional sauce flavors. Some examples include:

  • Alabama White Sauce
  • South Carolina Mustard Sauce
  • North Carolina Vinegar Sauce
  • Florida Orange Sauce

The ingredients can vary widely between these special sauces. So it’s very important to check the label each time to see if wheat, barley, rye or related ingredients are included. Don’t make any assumptions that a sauce is gluten-free based on a previous version or flavor.

What About Cross-Contamination?

Even if a Sonny’s BBQ sauce contains no gluten ingredients, there is still a risk of cross-contamination occurring. Cross-contamination happens when gluten is accidentally introduced from shared equipment, utensils, or surfaces.

All Sonny’s BBQ sauces are produced in a facility that also processes wheat-containing foods. The company does not make any guarantees regarding cross-contamination. So there is a good chance trace amounts of gluten could make their way into the sauces.

Those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity may want to avoid Sonny’s sauces due to this cross-contamination risk. People with milder sensitivities may be able to tolerate the sauces in small amounts. But it’s impossible to know for sure if any individual will react.

What Does Sonny’s Say About Gluten-Free?

On the Sonny’s BBQ website, they provide this statement regarding gluten-free options:

“Sonny’s BBQ makes a reasonable effort to serve gluten-free menu options, however we do not have specific gluten-free preparation areas in our restaurants. Therefore, we cannot guarantee that cross-contact with foods containing gluten will not occur. Please inform your server if you have a gluten allergy or sensitivity.”

So while they try to accommodate gluten-free requests, they openly admit gluten cross-contact is likely in their restaurants. There is no reason to think their sauces would be handled any differently.

Should You Eat Sonny’s BBQ Sauce on a Gluten-Free Diet?

Whether or not Sonny’s BBQ sauce is safe on a gluten-free diet depends entirely on how sensitive an individual is to gluten.

Here are some general recommendations based on sensitivity levels:

Sensitivity Recommendation
Celiac Disease & High Sensitivity Avoid due to gluten ingredient risk
Moderate Sensitivity May tolerate small amounts but reactions possible
Mild Sensitivity Most likely tolerate without issues

Those with celiac disease or who are highly gluten intolerant should avoid Sonny’s sauces, even if labeled gluten-free, due to the manufacturing processes. People with moderate or mild sensitivity can try small servings to see if any symptoms develop.

Of course, the only way to know for certain if you will react negatively is to try consuming Sonny’s BBQ sauce yourself after reviewing the ingredients. Start with a very small amount and discontinue use if any concerning symptoms occur.

Other Gluten-Free Barbecue Sauce Options

If you need to fully avoid potential gluten exposure from Sonny’s BBQ sauce, there are several certified gluten-free sauce alternatives:

  • Annie’s Organic Sweet & Tangy BBQ Sauce
  • Brianna’s Home Style BBQ Sauce
  • Bone Doctors’ Barbeque Sauce
  • Open Pit Original BBQ Sauce
  • Stubb’s Original Bar-B-Q Sauce
  • Sweet Baby Ray’s Original Barbecue Sauce

brands like these produce their sauces in dedicated gluten-free facilities and test regularly for gluten. This eliminates any risk of gluten cross-contact.

You can find these gluten-free options at most major grocery stores, health food markets, and online. Always double check that the product does in fact say “gluten-free” on the label when purchasing.

Is Sonny’s BBQ Restaurant Gluten-Free Friendly?

While Sonny’s BBQ sauce may not be the best choice for a gluten-free diet, many of their menu items can be modified to be gluten-free.

Here are some tips for eating gluten-free at Sonny’s BBQ restaurants:

  • Choose smoked or grilled meat without breading or sauce
  • Ask for gluten-free side dishes like green beans, corn, potatoes, rice
  • Verify ingredients in salads and dressings
  • Avoid breaded appetizers and fried sides
  • Request aluminum foil wrap to help prevent cross-contact
  • Tell your server you need gluten-free meal precautions

You can also check Sonny’s allergen information online or in-store to view which menu items typically do not contain gluten ingredients. But keep in mind that cross-contact is still a possibility when dining at their restaurants.

The Bottom Line

While Sonny’s signature Sweet, Spicy, and House sauces appear gluten-free based on ingredients, the Alabama White sauce contains maltodextrin with an unspecified source. And all sauces run a risk of gluten cross-contamination during production.

Those with celiac disease or a high sensitivity are better off choosing a certified gluten-free barbecue sauce. People with a milder intolerance may be able to consume small amounts of Sonny’s sauces with no issues.

When dining at Sonny’s BBQ restaurants, most menu items can be prepared gluten-free by avoiding breading and sauces. But cross-contact is still possible in their shared kitchens.

Ultimately, the suitability of Sonny’s BBQ sauce on a gluten-free diet comes down to your personal sensitivity level. Check all sauce ingredients carefully, start with a small serving, and stop consuming immediately if any symptoms develop.

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