Summer celebrations are something we all look forward to, but when the festivities occur in someone else’s back yard, you may feel a little nervous about steering clear of hidden gluten and avoiding possible cross-contamination.
The fact is, for those of us who must be on a strict gluten free diet, it is difficult to relax when we aren’t in total control of the food and how it’s handled.
To help you feel a bit more at ease, I’ve compiled a useful list of tips you can use for any time you’re faced with a picnic or cookout. So, go ahead… take this list, take your favorite gluten free potluck dish, and spread the gluten free cheer!
Gluten Free Gigi’s Summer Picnic Survival Guide
- Always take a dish or two that you love. I suggest one savory and one sweet. Take along serving spoons, too, to make sure there are enough to go around. This will cut down on serving spoon sharing between dishes and help reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
- If it’s a potluck, check to be sure other dishes aren’t using shared serving spoons.
- If your host insists you do not bring a dish, take along a back-up snack for yourself just in case. This could be something as simple as sliced veggies and hummus, nuts or seeds, or a fruit salad. The point is if there is absolutely nothing you feel safe eating, you will not starve.
- Man the grill…literally! If grilled foods like burgers, hot dogs, or steaks are being served, there are a few tips to keep in mind (don’t hesitate to offer your services as Grill Master if it makes you feel better about keeping your food safe):
- Don’t take anything at face value…If burgers are served, feel free to ask if the burger patties are “only meat” or if they have anything added. Some cooks have special spice blends or ingredients they add to enhance their burgers. Those could contain gluten.
- The same goes for hot dogs. Some dogs contain gluten, so be sure to read the label before digging in. Some brands that say they are gluten free are Applegate Farms, Nathan’s Famous, Dietz & Watson, and Boar’s Head. Always be sure to read the labels, as ingredients can change without notice to the consumer.
- If meats are marinated, ask your host about the ingredients in the marinade (if it is a bottled or packaged marinade, ask to see the original container so you’re able to read the label carefully).
- If gluten-containing marinades are used, ask to have your meat cooked without any added.
- Keep in mind, grilling gluten free foods on grates where gluten-containing foods were grilled contaminates the food. The best practice is to start with a clean grill and cook gluten free foods first. Alternatively, a section of the grill can be reserved for only gluten free foods if the grill is large enough. As a last resort, use aluminum foil to put over the grill grates to cook your gluten free food separately.
- Some people like to warm bread or buns on the grill. This usually occurs after everything else is cooked, but be sure the gluten free foods are removed from the grill before gluten-filled breads go on.
- The No-Sharing-Utensils Rule applies to the grill, too. Tongs used to turn foods that contain gluten (like pork loin chops in a marinade that contains soy sauce) should not be used to turn that plain steak you’ve got your gluten free eyes on.
- Be sure to ask about all vegetable dishes and salads, too. Sauces and salad dressings are key places gluten can hide.
- When it comes to cocktails, if you’re partaking, be sure to avoid all beer unless it is gluten free.
- Some gluten free beers are: St. Peter’s Sorghum Beer (it’s an English beer I’ve used in this cocktail recipe), Red Bridge (this one is made by Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser), New Planet (a Boulder-based company that produces several pale ales).
- Wine is generally gluten free. However, in the event you’ve heard or read about (1) wheat paste being used to seal the inside of oak barrels for wine storage or (2) winemakers using wheat gluten for fining wines (fining is the process where wines are clarified and unwanted ingredients are filtered out), I want to briefly address these issues.
First, sealing barrels with wheat paste is a dated practice used mainly (and these days, rarely) in Europe by artisan winemakers.
Second, everything from a substance called bentonite (an impure clay) to fish bladders (Yes, I’m serious!) are used to fine, or clarify, wine. Although research is limited, that which does exist indicates wine fined with wheat gluten remains gluten free.
The bottom line on wine: If you drink wine and have no issues, carry on (in moderation, of course!). If you drink wine and have unexplained symptoms of Celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, you may want to consider eliminating the wine, at least for a time, to determine if that relieves your symptoms.
- The National Institutes of Health Celiac Disease Awareness Campaign states all distilled spirits are gluten free. Most experts in the gluten free world agree, even for spirits made from gluten-containing ingredients. That is because the distillation process removes gluten proteins. However, the Celiac Sprue Association recommends individuals with Celiac disease only consume spirits derived from gluten free sources (like potato vodka, tequila, rum, wine and brandy with no additives, and gluten free beer).
The bottom line on distilled spirits: Consume these at your discretion and personal comfort level, but always err on the side of caution if you are not sure.
- If you consume mixed cocktails, be sure the mixer used is gluten free.