Gluten-Free. Two words that can strike fear in our hearts when a family member or friend is diagnosed and has to change their diet. It affects the entire family. Suddenly we have to understand how to cook for them so they can relax, enjoy themselves and be safe at mealtime. Here are some pointers to help you be the consummate host or hostess.
Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye and foods made with them. These grains or their byproducts have been added to many foods to boost flavor, add sweetness (malt), and appeal specifically to the American palate. And contrary to what you may have heard, cooking foods does not eliminate gluten or “kill it” making it safe to eat. If people are celiac or are extremely sensitive to gluten they cannot consume foods made on the same equipment as gluten-full foods – that’s why reading labels is so important.
Gluten Can Hide in Surprising Places
Gluten ingredients are added to a vast number of our prepared foods. We have to be vigilant and constantly read labels. Luckily, in the past decade the gluten-free food industry has boomed and there are more and more options available to us.
The easiest way to tell if prepared foods are gluten-free is to look for the labeling. But be careful, wheat-free does not always mean gluten-free because it may contain barley or rye.
Some of the more common items you may use or serve at your barbecues are:
- Hot dogs, sausages, and other processed/cured meats
- Soy sauce and other condiments
- Prepared BBQ sauces, dry rubs and spice blends
- Prepared salad dressings
- Malt vinegar made from barley
- Dark alcohols, such as bourbon and rum
- Gluten-free beer for marinades
- Plastic food containers must be very carefully cleaned, but it is safer to buy a new set just for your GF foods and ingredients
Food Substitutions that Everyone Can Enjoy
Gluten-free does not mean the food doesn’t taste good. There are many wonderful options everyone will love without risking anyone’s health:
- Manufacturers such as Applegate make gluten-free meats that are wonderful and no one will guess they are gluten-free
- Stubb’s brand of BBQ sauce, marinades, and dry rubs are all gluten-free
- Use gluten-free soy sauce or tamari sauce to make your own sauces and marinades
- Massel stocks are gluten-free and perfect for making sauces or marinades
- Use lettuce to wrap foods or use portobello mushrooms instead of bread or buns
- Make rice or quinoa salads instead of pasta salads
- Fresh fruit salads, grilled corn on the cob and grilled vegetables are delicious and healthy for everyone
- Buy unflavored chips – most are gluten-free but always check the labels to be sure
- Making your own rubs, sauces and dressings keeps your guests safe and taste so much better than any processed foods.
Keeping Track of Cross-Contamination Issues
If you are hosting anyone with celiac disease or severe reactions to gluten, you have to be extra careful about cross-contamination. Gluten-free foods cannot be cooked on the same surface that has been used to cook regular foods. Even the grill brush you normally use to scrub the grates can harbor minuscule bits of crumbs or residue from marinades and sauces. There are ways to safely use a non-dedicated barbecue:
- Buy a portable grill such as Char-Broil’s® Grill2Go™ Infrared Gas Grill and keep it dedicated for gluten-free cooking. If you have the room and are cooking gluten-free often, consider buying a second BBQ such as Char-Broil’s® TRU-Infrared™ 2-Burner grill. No special cleaning needed!
- On shared grills, thoroughly wash the grates and all utensils in hot soapy water and use a clean towel to dry them. Wipe down the inside of the lid, too. If you are regularly cooking gluten-free, you can buy an extra grate and keep it specifically for gluten-free cooking.
- Cook GF foods first for the safest way to avoid cross-contamination. The grill will be freshly cleaned and there is no risk of marinades or sauces coming in contact with the GF foods.
- Use a separate set of utensils and knives for turning and serving the foods. And keep clean towels, aprons, napkins, etc. available. Even casual contact with gluten can cause some people to get horribly sick. Place two sets of utensils by the grill and line a baking sheet with foil – keep the GF specific utensils on that baking sheet so they won’t get confused with the other tools used for regular foods. Use stainless steel tools that are scrubbed clean – plastic and wood can harbor contaminates.
- When in doubt, use aluminum foil to keep gluten-free foods completely separate from the other foods being cooked. Build a foil barrier to visually remind you that there are two cooking areas, set sheets of foil on the grill to keep your GF foods safe or for the safest option, cook them in foil packets.
- Do not use any wooden or plastic spoons, tongs, or cutting boards. The tiny crevices can trap and innocently transfer gluten. Choose non-porous easily cleaned tools. Buy inexpensive colored flexible plastic cutting boards and keep them just for gluten-free foods (red = GF for example). You can tuck them away and save them for future parties.
How to Keep Food Safe After it has been Cooked
Preparing the food safely is critical, but the cross-contamination vigilance isn’t over yet. People innocently using the same utensils to serve gluten-free foods as regular foods is another issue. Here are a few ideas of how to protect your gluten-free foods once they are ready to be served:
- If you are serving a buffet, separate the GF foods, setting plates or a centerpiece between the two sets of foods
- Set serving utensils on plates set in front of the foods and remind guests to use the spoon/tongs meant for each dish
- Label the foods so it is easy for your guests to find the foods that are safe for them to eat
- Alternately you can serve the gluten-free foods on different plates or in individual ramekins or similar dishes
Just remember that with a little advance planning, you and your guests can have a delicious, fun and safe party that everyone will love. Now get out there and start cooking!
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