Today in the Twin Cities it is supposed to get up to 80 degrees! Fantastic! Time to really unleash the “summer” grilling season. But there is one big thing to question when you are grilling – either at home or a guest at someone else’s house: How celiac-friendly is the charcoal?
Gluten in Charcoal?
Our family did away with charcoal long ago and went to gas – it is a lot quicker. As a result, I had put this notion, rumor, story (whatever I had considered it until now) way in the back of my mind until a student in my gluten-free class asked me about it Tuesday night. I didn’t have a firm answer.
It turns out those charcoal briquettes have a definite chance of containing wheat starch. Can you believe it? The starch is used as the binder in the littler “briquette” pieces. Connie Sarros, gluten-free cookbook author and cooking expert on the Clan Thompson website offered a helpful explanation on this issue.
“I had heard that wheat was used in charcoal as a filler, but I didn’t really know much about it, so I researched it. According to the Texas Wheat Producers Board and Association, and The Kansas Wheat Commission, wheat starch is used as a binder in most commercial charcoal briquettes. On another site, I found the Kingsford charcoal ingredients listed as follows: Wood Charcoal, Lignite Charcoal, Anthracite Coal, Limestone, Starch, Borax, Sawdust and Sodium Nitrate. This list does not specify where the starch comes from, but at an allergy site [editor note: which as of this posting is no longer active], more information about Kingsford Briquets was provided: ‘Both corn and wheat starches are used in this product, but they predominantly use cornstarch. They do not make any food products that do not contain gluten. This was confirmed by the company.'” — Connie Sarros, Clan Thompson Expert
I also found a grilling website that supported the idea of wheat starch as a binder saying, “…starch is used to hold briquettes together, and is found in corn, wheat, potatoes, and rice.” Gluten Free Trading Company’s Sprue’s News also confirmed the gluten in the briquettes, but recommended, “…use lump charcoal which is charcoal made from large pieces of wood (without binder)”.
So what’s the big deal?
Celiacs cannot have any gluten. Just a little bit will do damage to their small intestine. So there are questions and concerns about whether ash floating around during the grilling would contaminate the food. Connie Sarros explained that you may not need to worry, “I learned that if you allow your coals to burn to a complete ashy surface before you start cooking, any glues and additives will burn off before you start cooking.”
After all this, if you’re asking the question, “How do I find gluten-free charcoal”? Mali’s Gourmet Lump Charcoal is gluten-free and you can purchase it online at the Gluten Free Trading Company. Check with your local co-op or natural food store to see if they carry it or another version.
If you are visiting someone’s home and can’t fix the charcoal problem, an effective backup plan would include using aluminum foil in which to cook your food. But if you’re worried about charcoal at the grill at your own house – I personally would tell you to get a gas grill and fear no more.