There’s nothing like a pile of good, hot, salty french fries as a side with a burger or a sandwich at lunch time right? Really there is no substitute. When we celiacs go to a restaurant and servers ask us “Do you want fries with that?” We desperately want to say “Yes!” just like many other customers. But for people on the gluten-free diet, it’s rarely that simple. **This post originated in 2009, please consult with your restaurant for updated information.
The Problem with French Fries
You would think french fries should be fine for celiacs. They’re made of potatoes, which are gluten-free. Many of them start out that way. However, the way they end up can be anything BUT gluten-free. Sometimes manufacturers add a coating to potatoes which may add a flavor or a crispiness during cooking. Others add seasonings that may be questionable.
But arguably the biggest contaminant is the cooking process itself. A good portion of US restaurants make their fries inedible for celiacs because they’re fried in oil that is shared with all of the other deep fried foods, like chicken nuggets, mozzarella cheese sticks, onion rings, etc. This breading on these items contaminates the oil and as a result contaminates our perfectly gluten-free potatoes. (Side note: be careful because some places also “finish off” regular potatoes in potentially contaminated oil. This happens with the potato canoes at Timberlodge.)
Finding the Perfect Gluten-Free French Fry
I just kept wondering where you CAN get french fries that aren’t screwed up for us celiacs. So I started asking around — and here’s what I found:
McDonald’s is the top choice of the 58 celiacs who responded to my question. They are fried in a dedicated fryer. But this one is the hard one because McDonald’s actually admits on their website that their french fries contain hydrolyzed wheat. But it appears from the rumblings of celiacs and on the internet, during the cooking process, the gluten is “cooked off”. Many people referenced this as well in their emails. I do have an email into the Gluten Intolerance Group who has worked with McDonald’s in the past on this. The group is working on a current response but I have not received it as of this posting. However, I did find this statement from G.I.G. on the Clan Thompson website from March of 2006:
“The fries have been tested and are GF. We had also posted another link to a statement by McD on the testing but that link was removed from McD’s site in order to replace it with a different statement. We are working closely with McD. Unfortunately it is very difficult to help consumers understand the science behind the processing of flavorings.”
Our family also does McDonald’s french fries with no problems. So are they or aren’t they? I can’t give you a clear black-and-white answer. Hopefully I have provided some helpful information so you can choose whether McDonald’s fries are okay to eat, for you or your child.
Chick-Fil-A came in a close second! Many people recommended the restaurant’s waffle fries. They are posted on their gluten-free list. Readers said they are fried in separate oil. Check Chick-Fil-A’s website for additional information on locations.
The next three are tied for third:
In-N-Out Burger is very popular. According to one fan, “[In-N-Out] has dedicated fryers and [they] hand-cut their potatoes at the restaurant as they use them. They have no breaded items, like chicken nuggets, on their menu, so the only thing that gets fried is potatoes.” This restaurant chain is based mostly in the southwestern US.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries is another location. They have 300 restaurants in 25 States (including St. Cloud, MN and another one coming to Edina for my Minnesota peeps). Nearly everyone who responded about them described how the French fries are made right from potatoes and they’re the only thing deep-fried in the restaurant – so no cross-contamination. What I liked was right on their home page they talk about everything in the place being gluten free except the bun. This is great! Considering I’d never heard of the company before today. For others in the same situation as me, a fellow gluten-free blogger, GF Road Warrior reviewed the restaurant.
Red Robin is a casual sit-down restaurant with a gluten-free menu. Many people said they order french fries at this restaurant. You’ll want to take note of the gluten-free menu however. There are special instructions for getting their fries gluten-free. But also on the menu it cautions you on cross-contamination:
“Plain Red Robin Steak Fries (without Red Robin Seasoning or Garlic-Parmesan Seasoning) do not contain any allergens; however, there is a risk they might be fried in a common fryer with the allergens you want to avoid.”
As for the other big chains? Wendy’s has a gluten-free menu but french fries are not on there. I also checked in with Culvers , a popular regional fast food chain. When I inquired about the gluten-free status of their fries, this was the company’s response,
“The ingredients of our fries do not contain gluten but are designated on our website and brochure as containing it due to possible cross-contamination possibilities. In some cases such as this, operating procedures do not always allow us to maintain separate cooking areas.”
When I followed up in a second email telling her the manager of my Culver’s says they have a dedicated fryer, she said “…technically, they should be free of gluten. Although, please keep in mind that we cannot guarantee cross-contamination.” So there is hope, you just might need to do some questioning at each store.
Burger King is another place a handful of people said they went to. But the fries are not on the company’s gluten-free list. One celiac called it a crapshoot in the email they sent. Another talked about needing special instructions every time you go.
Many people also said they stay home and eat Ore Ida fries or make them from scratch. We make them from scratch at least once a week. Here’s the very quick recipe: Cut your potatoes to be the size of a McDonald’s fry, put fries on cookie sheet, spread olive oil over all fries so they’re coated. Add salt. Bake on 425 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until crisp. Done! They’re very good!
Now, take this list with you next time you’re on a trip! Enjoy and get your french fry fix!
As always, there is a risk of cross-contamination when you eat out. So dining out and putting your diet in someone else’s hands is a personal choice.