Summer is the season for barbecues, picnics, and outdoor cookouts with family and friends.
Thankfully, there are ways you can enjoy all the fun summer vibes – and food – without sabotaging your gluten-free diet.
The following 13 tips will help you survive summer cookouts while staying true to your gluten-free ways.
(1) Disclose Your “Allergy” Ahead of Time
If you’re attending a summer cookout at a friend’s house, you might consider calling them beforehand to discuss the menu.
While you may feel funny having to “disclose” your special diet to your host, you must do it.
Advocating for what you need is part of life when you live with celiac disease, a food allergy, or food intolerance, so don’t be afraid to speak up kindly to advocate for what you need to ensure a safe party for all.
If your friend cares about you, she will happily make simple accommodations to help you feel at ease. For most decent human beings, making sure their guests feel comfortable and welcome is par for the course. Some would say it comes with the responsibility of being a good party host.
Here’s an example of how you might kick off the conversation:
Hi Julie, Thank you for inviting me to your summer cookout. I’m calling because I don’t know if you know this, but I follow a medically-neccessary gluten-free diet, which means I can’t eat gluten or anything that comes in contact with gluten.
I would still love to attend the party to be with you, but I was hoping we could discuss what you’re serving so I can offer to help, see where I may need to bring my own options, or maybe we could find some easy swaps to make one or two of the dishes gluten-free.
(2) Bring a Dish (or Two) to Share
After discussing the menu with your friend, you’ll have a better sense of how you might be able to help ease the burden.
This is an opportunity for you to offer to bring a gluten-free dish (or two) to share. Not only will you be relieving some of the hosting burdens for your friend, but also you’ll be creating a dish that you know you can eat.
Consider bringing any of the following gluten-free, potluck-friendly dishes:
- Quinoa Pasta Salad with Lemon Dill Vinaigrette
- Gluten-Free Pasta Salad Recipe with Homemade Italian Dressing
- Black Bean and Corn Salad with Chipotle Lime Dressing
- Lemon Dill Hummus with Gluten-Free Crackers
- Easy and Cheesy Spinach Artichoke Dip with Gluten-Free Crackers
- Chunky Pico de Gallo with Avocado with Tortilla Chips
- Guacamole and Chips
- Veggie Platter with Cheesy Corn Dip
(3) Arrive Early
Arrive early to help your friend set up and prepare food. This is a chance to show your friend gratitude for including you and making special accommodations for you at the party.
Arriving early also enables you to make a plate before the food gets touched and potentially cross-contaminated with other dishes.
Pro Tip! If you’re not ready to eat, add food to a plate before everyone else digs in. Cover the plate with foil, and set it aside until it’s time to eat.
(4) Beware of Cross-Contamination
Cross-contamination occurs when a naturally gluten-free food comes in contact with something that contains gluten, rendering the food no longer gluten-free and safe.
For example, while Grandma says her famous potato salad is gluten-free, it can quickly become cross-contaminated on a buffet table when the same spoon used to scoop the pasta salad somehow makes its way into the potato salad.
A wheat cracker can contaminate an entire bowl of dip, and food spilling from one dish to another can quickly sabotage a gluten-free item on a busy buffet table.
(5) Beware of the Grill
Everyone loves a hamburger or hotdog at a summer barbecue party; however, if a burger is cooked on a shared grill that is also used for cooking foods that contain gluten (think soy sauce and breadcrumbs inside meat), then the grill is no longer gluten-free and safe.
Remember, heat does not kill gluten. Only a good cleaning will kill gluten, and it’s extremely hard to get grill grates clean enough to be safe.
If you want to enjoy a grilled piece of meat prepared on a friend’s grill, ask the host to lay down a clean grill mat (pictured) or piece of aluminum foil before placing your food on the grill surface.
If there are gluten-y products being cooked on the grill, consider asking your host if you can cook your meat in a pan, microwave, or oven instead.
(6) Avoid Sources of Hidden Gluten
Even a beef burger could contain hidden gluten if someone adds breadcrumbs to the meat or marinates an innocent steak in soy sauce, which contains wheat.
Make sure you know all ingredients in any dish (or beverage) before eating it. Never assume something is safe just by looking at it.
(7) Bring Your Own Meat
If you’re worried about cross-contamination on the grill or how our friend prepares her burgers, it’s okay if you decide to bring your own meat (or fish) to the party.
To make life easier for all, consider pre-cooking your food and keeping it warm in a thermos until mealtime.
(8) BYOB #1 (Bring Your Own Bun)
Most hosts will provide a gluten-free hot dog or hamburger, but it’s unlikely they will provide a gluten-free bun. Instead, I suggest bringing your own gluten-free bun; this way, you can enjoy the full cookout experience.
Pro Tip! Forgo the bun and bring a lettuce cup instead to lettuce wrap your burger or hot dog. This is a healthier option, and if I’m being honest, most gluten-free burger buns are only fair and not worth the calories.
(9) Stick to Naturally Gluten-Free Foods
When perusing the potluck lineup, choose the least risky items to eat. Look for foods that are uncooked and naturally gluten-free.
Think slices of watermelon and fruit salads, undressed salads, pickles, potato chips, corn chips, hummus, guacamole, vegetable platters, and corn on the cob (that has been boiled, not grilled).
(10) BYOB #2 (Bring Your Own Beer)
If you want to kick back a few cold ones at your summer cookout, consider bringing your own gluten-free beer to the party. Be sure to store your precious gluten-free beer in your own cooler so no one mistakenly takes it.
(11) Bring Extra Gluten-Free Food
Inevitably, someone shows up at a party and tells me they’re gluten-free too. I then feel guilty that I’m enjoying my gluten-free beer and have nothing to share because I only brought one for myself.
I always bring a few extra gluten-free items to share in case someone shows up at the party ill-prepared.
(12) Don’t Forget Dessert
If you enjoy a sweet treat at the end of a savory meal, consider bringing a dessert for yourself. Don’t worry about sharing your dessert with everyone else, as there will likely be plenty of gluten-y options for them. Just worry about you.
If you decide to bring dessert for the crowd (sharing is caring!), consider these potluck-friendly gluten-free desserts:
- Gluten-Free Raspberry Bars
- Yummy Gluten-Free Lemon Bars
- Classic Gluten-Free Vanilla Cupcakes
- Gluten-Free S’mores Cookies
- Gluten-Free Peanut Butter Brownies
- Gluten-Free Cosmic Brownies
- Classic Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Light and Fluffy Cassava Flour Cupcakes (pictured)
Pro Tip! If the host tells you they’ll be making s’mores for dessert, be prepared with your own gluten-free graham crackers.
(13) Have a Good Time
Finally, vow never to let your “disability” get in the way of having a good time. Parties shouldn’t always be about what you can and can’t eat. Sometimes it’s more important to spend quality time with friends and family and not allow your diet to take center stage.
Following a gluten-free diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out on summer cookouts and BBQ fun.
With some planning, communication, and creativity, you can enjoy delicious food and great company without sacrificing your health or dietary needs.
Whether you’re bringing your own food, communicating with your host, or sticking to the most naturally gluten-free and safe foods on the potluck table, these tips will help you navigate the summer BBQ season with ease and confidence.
So get out there, enjoy the sunshine, and savor all the delicious gluten-free options and special times with friends the summer offers!
PS: Grilling burgers? Try my Gluten-Free Hawaiian Burgers – they’re delicious!