Whether spread on a burger, rack of ribs or chicken wings, a delicious sauce is a must-have at any cookout. But if you follow a gluten-free diet, be aware that there could be gluten lurking in your barbecue sauce, especially if you're a fan of unique, experimental flavors.
Barbecue sauce may not seem like an obvious place gluten is hiding, but it can contain the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. That said, there are plenty of gluten-free barbecue sauces for you to add to your cart. Keep an eye on the labels, as some brands offer both gluten-containing and gluten-free flavors and varieties. Or make your own gluten-free version right at home!
BBQ Sauce Ingredients
Considering every brand takes its own unique spin on the condiment, some barbecue sauces contain gluten while others may not. There are a handful of common ingredients most versions share, but whether or not they contain gluten can also vary from brand to brand. Always check the label to verify these common barbecue sauce ingredients are gluten-free.
- Tomato concentrate: This combination of tomato paste and water, according to the USDA, is typically safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivities.
- Vinegar: Vinegar can be risky for people avoiding gluten depending on the form used, according to the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center. While apple cider and balsamic vinegars are made from apples and grapes, making them gluten-free, malt vinegar is made from barley and not distilled, so it's not gluten-free. Be sure to check barbecue sauce labels for vinegar before consuming.
- Molasses: gluten-free sweetener
- Fruit puree: gluten-free crushed fruit
- Spices: generally not derived from any gluten-containing grains
- Modified food starch: A common thickening agent, modified food starch can be made from wheat, according to Beyond Celiac. However, typically this is made clear on the food label.
- High fructose corn syrup (or other sweeteners): gluten-free, corn-derived sweetener
- Caramel color: Caramel color is not usually made with wheat ingredients and is safe to consume, according to Beyond Celiac.
Depending on the flavor of the sauce, many companies add other gluten-containing ingredients to their formulas, like beer or soy sauce. Some brands, like Jack Daniel's, even formulate their barbecue sauces with whiskey and whiskey flavoring; while distilled liquor is generally safe, according to the University of Chicago Medicine, flavored liquor can contain gluten.
Any barbecue sauce bottle labeled gluten-free must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten and is considered safe for people with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease, according to the FDA. But given the variety of flavors each brand provides, it's best to check the ingredient label before drizzling some on your food.
What Kind of BBQ Sauce Is Gluten-Free?
There are quite a few varieties labeled gluten-free, including:
Bone Suckin' Sauce
Available in both thicker and spicier varieties, Bone Suckin' Sauce contains less than 20 ppm of gluten. All of the company's sauces are gluten-free, according to the Bone Suckin' website, now including the Yaki sauce, which is no longer formulated with soy sauce.
A popular choice on Amazon, Daddy Sam's barbecue sauce is gluten- and dairy-free and formulated with no high fructose corn syrup.
If you're looking for a gluten-free sauce that's also formulated with clean ingredients, Date Lady's Organic BBQ sauce is probably your best bet. Unlike most barbecue sauces, this option is made with no artificial sweeteners or syrups.
All nine Mr. Spice sauces are gluten-free. While Mr. Spice makes several traditional barbecue sauces, like Honey BBQ or Hot Wing, the brand also offers gluten-free steak sauce and gluten-free Thai peanut sauce, among others. All of these flavors are also salt-free and organic.
Organicville Original BBQ Sauce is certified gluten-free by the Gluten Intolerance Group, which means it contains 10 ppm or less of gluten. Sweetened with organic agave nectar, Organicville's sauce is also certified organic and vegan-friendly.
Rufus Teague offers seven different barbecue sauce flavors, all of which are certified gluten-free by the Gluten Intolerance Group.
With three different flavors, Simple Girl organic barbecue sauces are all gluten-free with less than 20 ppm of gluten. Simple Girl's sauces are also sugar-free and free of artificial sweeteners, according to the Simple Girl site.
Stubb's Smokey Mesquite Legendary Bar-B-Q Sauce is certified gluten-free by the Gluten Intolerance Group. This variety is also formulated with no high fructose corn syrup. However, not all of the company's products are gluten-free, so be sure to read the labels.
Tessemae's Organic BBQ Sauce is gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free and has no added sugar. In fact, all of the company's barbecue sauce varieties, including Diggy's Sweet & Spicy, Honey BBQ and Chocolate BBQ, are gluten-free, according to the company's site.
BBQ Sauces That May Contain Gluten
While some brands may not explicitly list gluten-containing ingredients on their labels, they still may not claim their products as gluten-free due to a potential risk for cross-contamination. These sauces might come in contact with gluten during manufacturing if they're prepared alongside or on the same surfaces as gluten-based foods, according to the Gluten Intolerance Group.
Some brands at risk for cross-contamination include:
- City Barbeque: City Barbeque's sauces are not marked gluten-free and therefore may not be safe for people avoiding gluten, according to the company site.
- Heinz: Heinz Original Sweet & Thick Barbecue Sauce is not labeled as gluten-free and therefore may contain more than 20 ppm of gluten due to cross-contamination, according to Heinz.
- Hunt's: Hunt's offers three flavors of barbecue sauce, but they are not marked free of gluten.
- Kraft: Although it's a common brand, Kraft's Original Barbecue Sauce is not marked gluten-free and may be subject to cross-contamination during the manufacturing process.
- Lillie's Q: Lillie's Q ENC Barbeque Sauce is not made with any gluten ingredients but is made on equipment that also processes wheat, according to Lillie's Q.
- Scott's Barbecue Sauce: While Scott's Carolina Barbecue Sauce is not formulated with any gluten ingredients, the product may be be at risk for cross-contamination, according to the Scott's Barbecue Sauce site.
- Sweet Baby Ray's: Sweet Baby Ray's Barbecue Sauce isn't formulated with gluten-containing ingredients, but it also isn't labeled gluten-free, according to the brand site. This may mean that the sauce is prepared alongside gluten-containing foods, putting it at risk for cross-contamination.
- Trader Joe's: Trader Joe's Organic Kansas City Style BBQ sauce is not labeled gluten-free, according to the Trader Joe's site.
BBQ Sauces Made With Gluten
If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, there are a few brands and varieties you'll want to stay away from, as they are known to contain gluten:
- Bull's-Eye: Bull's-Eye does not label its condiments as gluten-free, meaning even the varieties with no gluten ingredients may be at risk of cross-contamination. The Bull's-Eye Guinness flavor contains barley, a gluten-containing grain, according to the Kraft site.
- Diana: Many Diana brand barbecue sauces are formulated with malt vinegar, which is not safe for those with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, according to the Diana site.
- Famous Dave's: Some varieties of Famous Dave's barbecue sauces contain barley, like Rich & Sassy and Devil's Spit, according to Famous Dave's.
- Jack Daniel's: Jack Daniel's formulates several of its sauces with wheat or gluten, making them unsuitable for those with celiac disease, according to the Jack Daniel's site. However, the company does specify which varieties are safe for those avoiding gluten.
- Stone Brewing: Stone Brewing's barbecue sauce varieties are made with either beer or liquor, making them unsuitable for those with gluten sensitivities, according to the company site.
DIY Gluten-Free BBQ Sauce
When in doubt, make barbecue sauce yourself. Even if you're not sensitive to gluten or following a strict gluten-free diet, you'll be able to cut back on sugar and avoid sweeteners like corn syrup found in many store-bought brands. Instead, this 15-minute recipe uses real strawberries to give the sauce a sweet flavor.
- USDA: "Commercial Item Description: Barbecue Sauce"
- University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center: "Is Vinegar Safe For Those With Celiac Disease?"
- Beyond Celiac: "Modified Food Starch"
- Beyond Celiac: "Is Caramel Color Gluten-Free?"
- University of Chicago Medicine: Is Alcohol Gluten-Free?"
- Bone Suckin': "FAQ"
- Tessemae's: "Condiments"
- Simple Girl: "All Dressings, Spices and Sauces"
- Gluten Intolerance Group: "Cross-Contamination"
- Jack Daniel's: "The Sauce"
- Stone Browing: "Tangerine Express BBQ Sauce"
- Sweet Baby Ray's: "Original Barbecue Sauce"
- Lillie's Q: "ENC"
- Scott's Barbecue Sauce: "The Sauce"
- Heinz: "Heinz Classic Original Barbecue Sauce"
- City Barbeque: "Sauces"
- Kraft: "Bull's Eye BBQ Sauce Guinness"
- Famous Dave's Products: "Rich and Sassy"
- Diana Sauce & Marinade: "Sauce"
- Trader Joes: "Organic Kansas City Style BBQ Sauce"
- Hunt's: "Ketchup & BBQ Sauce"