Gluten-Free Etiquette for Hosting Great Summertime Parties and BBQs!
Around many a backyard patio, you’ll find hosts everywhere scurrying about, fussing over their grills and picnic tables full of seasonal food, goodies and summer treats for family and friends.
But what if you’re expecting gluten-free guests at your gathering? How do you make them, and you feel comfortable that they won’t get sick?
Knowing what steps to take to accommodate gluten-free guests at your celebration will go a long way to making you feel less awkward, and your guests feel calm about the day and the food you serve.
Serving gluten-free options for your party can be a little tricky especially if you’re not familiar with all the areas where gluten can hang out, hidden gluten in everyday foods, and where cross-contamination can spoil your best gluten-free hosting efforts.
And, while you’re apt to drive yourself crazy if you were to try to ward-off every potential source for cross-contact, helping your guests stay safe is relatively simple when you follow these tips:
Steer Clear of Cross Contamination
Cross-contamination is when a gluten-free food becomes contaminated with gluten – enough gluten to make someone on a gluten-free diet, sick. Also referred to in the food industry as cross-contact, cross-contamination can occur in a variety of different places, including your kitchen, on utensils, pans, serving dishes, and grills. It also can occur in pre-packaged foods… If the nutrition ingredients don’t list wheat, it’s still safer to steer clear if a gluten-free listing is not on the packaging.
1. What You Can Do
- Label and separate your utensils – Tongs, sauce brushes, spatulas, your grill brush, and serving knives, forks, spoons and cutting boards. Keep gluten-free utensils, cooking and grilling supplies separate from the food that your other guests will be eating. The reason is so important – for example, if a gluten-eating person uses a pair of tongs from the meat platter and places it on a wheat-containing bun, and the tongs touch the bun during the process, the tongs have been contaminated and could cause your gluten-free guest to become ill. The same goes for toppings, lettuce, tomato, onion – serve these on a separate platter with their own set of tongs for serving.
- Squeeze bottles are best – Jars and bowls + knives and spoons for condiments = the possibility for disaster. Squeeze bottles make it a whole lot easier for everyone.
- Clean your grill space and grates before the party – The grill and space around it could have gluten on it from the previous grilling on the same surface. Designate a section of your grill – Use the top rack as the strictly gluten-free area on your grill.
Use aluminum foil (even in your dedicated grill space) to be extra safe!
- Avoid basting, toasting or roasting on the upper rack above foods meant to be gluten-free – Basting with marinades that contain gluten, toasting buns, or direct roasting vegetables and other food items that are spiced with gluten-containing ingredients above foods meant to be gluten-free is a sure recipe for disaster and your guests getting “glutened” by mistake.
- Avoid mix-ups – Cook gluten-free meats and foods first – Use separate utensils (label them gluten-free or choose ones with different color handles) for flipping and serving and serve foods on a separate plate for your gluten-free guest.
- Bring your grill master up to speed – Talk with the person doing the grilling. Educate and emphasize the importance of being careful about how they grill for your gluten-free guests. If gluten-free meats are on the menu, double-check that the spices and sauces are safe, and be cautious about marinades, consider leaving some meat un-marinated for your gluten-free guests.
- Invest in a small travel-size grill – Are you still having anxiety about grilling for your gluten-free guest? Consider this option to be completely sure that your food isn’t touching left-over gluten on your mainstay grill.
2. Know Your Meats
- The majority of meats for grilling are gluten-free; however, there are exceptions to every rule. Be sure to ask your butcher or read the nutrition ingredient listing to identify brands that use wheat fillers that would make an ordinary hotdog, brat, hamburger or sausage unsafe for celiac or gluten-sensitive guests. Hotdogs, bologna, brats and other sausages commonly contain hidden gluten. Look for the gluten-free logo included on the packaging of many brands.
3. Marinade, Sauce, Season, and Spice Knowingly
- As in grill meats, gluten can hide in marinades, sauces, seasonings, and spices. Gluten-containing thickeners are sometimes crucial components to the manufacturer ingredient recipes for these items. Make sure to do your research before flavoring the meats you’re planning to grill. Be sure to purchase and use a gluten-free soy sauce for preparing your original marinade. Read the labels of barbeque sauces and look for the gluten-free logo included on the packaging of many brands.
4. Banish the Bun
- A great substitute for traditional buns is to provide a lettuce wrap, potato wrap, or gluten-free tortilla for all of your guests as a healthier alternative to the bun. Most grocery stores offer unique lettuce varieties that will work well, adding variety and visual appeal to your meal. Gluten-free corn tortillas can also be a great substitute for a bun, especially for south-of-the-border themed parties. Another trend is to ramp up the nutrient level of grilled foods traditionally served on a bun by serving them in sweet potato skins. Just bake the sweet potato in foil, when tender, hollow them out and use the skins to wrap your burger or hot dog in natural potato-y goodness. Or how about wrapping your burgers or dogs with bacon? You can’t beat adding bacon to increase the flavor. Make sure you read the package to make sure it is gluten-free.
If you’re still really set on impressing your gluten-free guest by serving buns, look for a great tasting gluten-free brand available at most major grocery stores. A small pack of buns for them to enjoy at your party (labeled and served on a separate plate) will usually cost under seven bucks, and isn’t your friend or family member worth it?
5. Other Foods
- You can serve many other foods that should inherently be gluten-free, but only if the proper steps are followed during preparation, plating, and serving. Again, use separate dishes, tongs, and utensils for serving gluten-free foods. Get creative when thinking about what to serve. Instead of crackers use sliced cucumbers or other items from the veggie tray for eating with homemade spreads and dips. Hummus is delicious! Yogurt and sour cream-based dips work as a tasty option for everyone. Fruit skewers are a fun way to serve up fresh fruits. Peel-N-Eat Shrimp with gluten-free cocktail sauce is always a winner! Most potato chips are gluten-free. Ice slushies, melons, and popsicles make great treats for dessert on hot summer days. And, who could resist root beer floats? Just make sure the ice cream you purchase is also gluten-free. The list goes on and on.
6. Wash Your Hands and Tools
- Cooks and servers should always wash their hands after handling gluten-containing foods and before handling gluten-free foods. No, a quick wipe across your grill apron doesn’t cut it here. Be safe, keep wet wipes handy by the grill and at tables for quick hand cleaning. Finally, consider serving gluten-free guests first.
Now, don’t you feel better? You’ve learned a lot on how to avoid the pitfalls of planning your summertime party or barbeque when accommodating gluten-free guests. So, take a moment. Kick back, grab a cool beverage of your choice. It’s time to relax and enjoy your fun-filled times with family and friends. Happy Summer!