Gluten-Free Barbecue Sauce

Updated June 2016

Which barbecue sauce brands are gluten-free?. Michael Phillips/E+/Getty Images

Barbecue sauce may not seem like a food product that would inherently include gluten, and it's true that many of the sauces on the market are in fact considered gluten-free.

However, not all of them are safe when you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. In fact, ingredients such as barley-based beer, soy sauce or even bourbon (to which some of us react) are more common in store-bought barbecue sauce than you might imagine.

In addition, many sauces contain vinegar derived from gluten grains. This isn't a problem for all of us, but a significant minority of those in the gluten-free community do react to gluten grain-based vinegar (learn more about this here: Is Vinegar Really Gluten-Free?).

In addition, lots of barbecue sauces contain natural smoke flavoring, and barley malt flour can be used to produce this ingredient. To avoid potential problems with natural smoke flavoring, I recommend you stick with smokey barbecue sauces that have been explicitly verified as gluten-free by the manufacturer.

So If I'm Gluten-Free, Which Sauce Should I Buy?

Whether you want to cook up some great ribs or barbecue some chicken on the grill, there are plenty of good choices. Here's the list of popular barbecue sauces and what their manufacturers have to say about their ingredients and gluten-free status:

  • Bone Suckin' Sauce. This product is advertised as "a Western North Carolina tomato-based sauce." You can buy it in its original blend, a hot version, a thick version, and a hot/thick version. All have been tested to contain less than 5 parts per million of gluten, according to the company. Note that the company also makes Bone Suckin' Yaki, a teriyaki-style sauce that does contain wheat in the form of soy sauce but (confusingly) also tests below 5 parts per million for gluten. Manufacturer Ford's Gourmet Foods says its entire line of products is all-natural with no high-fructose corn syrup, no canola oil and no added MSG.
  • Budweiser Barbecue Sauce. Budweiser sauces come in containers that look just like beer bottles, which may be enough by itself to ward you off. If that's not enough, though, take a look at the ingredients: these sauces contain barley-based beer. Stay far away.
  • Bull's-Eye BBQ Sauce. Bull's-Eye, which makes four different barbecue sauces, is a Kraft Foods brand. As I explain below in more detail, Kraft Foods will disclose any gluten-containing ingredients on its food labels, but products that aren't explicitly labeled "gluten-free" may be subject to gluten cross-contamination in processing, and therefore may not be safe for most of us.
  • Hunt's BBQ Sauce. Hunt's, a ConAgra Foods company, manufactures barbecue sauce in both Original and Hickory & Brown Sugar versions. Neither appears on ConAgra's gluten-free list, which means that while they may not contain gluten ingredients, they could be subject to gluten cross-contamination.
  • Jack Daniels BBQ Sauces. Despite the name, these barbecue sauces aren't made with Jack Daniels whiskey—they apparently just taste like there's whiskey in the recipe. Heinz actually makes Jack Daniels barbecue sauce, and although there are numerous flavors, only four of them—Original #7, Hickory Brown Sugar, Spicy and Masterblend BBQ—appear on Heinz' U.S. gluten-free list, which includes products with fewer than 20 parts per million of gluten. In Canada, only the Jack Daniels Original #7 is listed as being gluten-free (Canada's gluten-free labeling rules also call for less than 20 parts per million of gluten in products).
  • KC Masterpiece. KC Masterpiece, which makes barbecue sauces, marinades, and seasonings, reports that "most of our products do not contain gluten," and says that any wheat, barley or rye ingredients will be clearly disclosed on the package label. The company states it will label products "gluten-free" if they pass scheduled testing, and after the company conducts additional allergy protocols. Since KC Masterpiece warns that ingredients and product formulations can change, you always should check the label of the product you're considering buying to make sure it's safe.
  • Kraft Barbecue Sauce. This is probably the most ubiquitous brand of barbecue sauce on grocery store shelves. Kraft makes its sauce in eight flavors ranging from Original to Sweet Brown Sugar and Thick & Spicy. Kraft does not label many products "gluten-free," but will specifically call out any wheat, barley or rye ingredients on its labels. However, a product that doesn't contain gluten ingredients isn't necessarily gluten-free, since gluten can creep in through cross-contamination in processing. (Learn more here: What Does 'No Gluten Ingredients' Mean?) According to the company: "You might notice that some Kraft Foods products may have ingredient statements that do not list a source of gluten, but without the extremely specialized procedures in place to diligently validate gluten purity, we do not label the finished product as gluten-free."
  • Lip Lickin' BBQ Sauce. The Carolina Sauce Company makes two tomato- and vinegar-based sauces: Bold & Spicy and Sweet & Smoky. Although these previously had been listed as "gluten-free" on the company's website, they no longer carry that designation.
  • Organicville. Organicville products carry certification from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO), which requires testing to ensure products fall below 10 parts per million of gluten (lower is better, of course). They also are certified organic (as you might have guessed from the name). Organicville makes two different barbecue sauces: Original Organic BBQ and Tangy Organic BBQ. The company uses a certified gluten-free vinegar derived either from corn or cane.
  • Sweet Baby Ray's Gourmet Sauces. Sweet Baby Ray's is the go-to barbecue sauce for many people who don't eat gluten, and with good reason: according to a customer service rep, product testing conducted by outside laboratories confirms that the sauce contains less than 2.5 parts per million of gluten (the lowest limit detectable by current testing technology). The company makes nine different flavors: Original, Honey, Hickory & Brown Sugar, Sweet 'n Spicy, Honey Chipotle, Sweet Vidalia Onion, Hawaiian, Raspberry Chipotle, and Sweet Golden Mustard.
  • Stubbs Legendary Bar-B-Q. Stubbs offers barbecue sauce in seven flavors: Original, Sticky Sweet, Spicy, Sweet Heat, Hickory Bourbon, Smokey Mesquite and Honey Pecan. The company, which makes a variety of marinades and rubs in addition to its barbecue sauces, is certified gluten-free by the GFCO (testing to below 10 parts per million). A company spokesperson reports that the vinegar used is derived from corn. If you react to bourbon and to other distilled gluten grain-based alcohols, you may want to steer clear of the Hickory Bourbon flavor, which does include real bourbon in the ingredients.
  • Stone Brewing Co. Barbecue Sauce. Stay away: this barbecue sauce contains barley-based beer and therefore is definitely not gluten-free.
  • Trader Joe's. T.J.'s sells a couple of different barbecue sauces, including All Natural Barbecue Sauce and Bold & Smoky Kansas City Style. Unfortunately, the quirky grocery chain doesn't list any barbecue sauces on its current gluten-free list, so I would avoid them even if they don't appear to have gluten ingredients.

Or You Can Make Your Own Barbecue Sauce

Of course, you always have the option of mixing up your own barbecue sauce (which gives you total control over the ingredients).

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