Is Meat Gluten-Free? Here's What You Need to Know

Gluten-Free Meat

With celiac disease awareness and gluten-avoidance trends firmly taking their place in the nutritional zeitgeist, you may find yourself checking every single food and expecting to find some sort of gluten hiding. And while that is pretty far from the truth, it's always better to be safe than sorry, right?

Sometimes you just have to double-check. It's like looking up how many teaspoons are in a tablespoon. It's better to just look it up than deal with that doubt. There are 3. Right?

Right...?

Asking if there's gluten in meat is sort of similar, and there's no shame in asking, so without further ado:

Does meat have gluten?

No! As long as we're talking about just the meat and not an entree or plate in its entirety, then no.

Any meat without added ingredients is naturally gluten-free. Gluten is a naturally occurring mixture of two proteins that acts as a binder and gives bread its chewy, elastic texture. If you've ever baked sourdough bread and noticed how the bread changes from being this dense blob to a more aerated, stretchy texture, that's a clear sign of the development of gluten "strands". It's also what helps sourdough have those awesome pockets when you cut it open and look at it from the side.

What are the most common sources of gluten?

Now that you know that plain meat isn't something you need to worry about, here's an excerpt from a list of major foods that contain gluten from Celiac.org. Go here for the full list.

Biggest culprits:

  • Wheat and its derivatives.
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Pasta
  • Noodles
  • Baked Goods
  • Pancakes, waffles, etc.
  • Tortillas
  • Beer

Foods you need to check the label for:

  • Granola bars
  • Fries
  • Chips
  • Soups
  • Dressings
  • Soy Sauce
  • Meat Substitutes

How to always make sure you're eating gluten-free meat

Keep it simple and close to the source

The short answer is to only eat and buy meat that isn't fried or contains extra ingredients like frozen entrees sometimes do. If you stick close to the source, a.k.a. eat relatively simple versions of meat (and simple doesn't mean bland!), then you're fine. Most seasonings and ways to cook meat are on the table—you just want to keep an eye out for additions like flour or other wheat-based starches. And wheat flour can be found in way more products than you may think. Just develop the habit of checking labels, and you'll be fine.

In short, sorry fried chicken, but we all know what you're hiding in that delicious breading of yours. See? English even tries to help you out here.

Look for gluten-free certified products

Even though you can probably bet most meat is fine, meat companies also have the opportunity to become officially gluten-free sources. This ensures that the preparation methods are also free of gluten - e.g. they aren't cutting breaded meat with a knife and using that same one to cut your deli meats. This isn't as important to watch out for when it comes to just buying chicken or steak from a butcher, but it's definitely something to keep an eye out when buying deli or lunch meats.

Speaking of...

Gluten-free lunch meats

Lunch meats are a bit trickier since many brands add questionable ingredients to their cuts, but if you stick to certified brands as mentioned above, then you'll be just fine.

Here's a shortlist of gluten-free lunch meats to make it easy for you. Always check the label of course, but you'll be hard-pressed to find these brands adding any gluten to their meat:

  • Applegate Naturals
  • Boar's Head
  • Columbus
  • Diestel
  • Meijer
  • Wellshire Farms

Now that you have some broader suggestions, let's reiterate some specific questions we hear a lot:

Is ham gluten-free?

Yup! In its natural state ham cuts are free from gluten. So grill up that ham and eat away — just don't put it on any bread!

Is steak gluten-free?

Of course! Take that medium-rare ribeye and feast to your heart's content. You've got nothing to worry about.

Does chicken have gluten?

Nope! Again, not fried chicken (I'm looking at you, hot-chicken-loving Nashvillians) or chicken cordon bleu, but roasted, grilled, boiled—a.k.a. any chicken cooked with normal seasonings or what have you is safe.

Is beef jerky gluten-free?

Brands like Chomps are, but gas station jerky is often filled with extra starches and ingredients that have gluten. We've heard so many horror stories of people with celiac on road trips who make the mistake of eating modified beef jerky and suffer a reaction. Always make sure you check the labels—ideally the fewer ingredients the better and search for jerky that says it's specifically gluten-free.

Are meat substitutes gluten-free?

That depends. Soy-based foods like tofu are gluten-free, but the way they're prepared often negates this (think soy sauce, malt vinegar, etc.). So while your base is probably fine, many of the recipes you find are going to complicate things. Any "lab meat" burgers will just depend on the specific binders they used to compile the burger.

As always, your best bet is to check the labels, but here's a list of gluten-free meat substitutes to get you started:

  • Gardein's Chick'n Scallopini
  • Beyond Meat’s Beast Burger
  • Tempeh
  • Amy's Bistro Veggie Burger
  • Upton's Jackfruit Carnitas
  • Gardein's Ultimate Beefless Grounds
  • Beyond Meat Chicken Tenders
  • Gardein's Chipotle Black Bean Burger
  • TVP

Awesome gluten-free sides to pair with your protein

Now that you know meat is generally safe and what you need to watch out for when buying meat, here are some of our favorite recipes for gluten-free sides!

But we both know that it’s not all about meals. What about some gluten-free snack options? We've got you covered.

The perfect gluten-free meat snack

Chomps is the perfect snack for those looking to avoid gluten. We've taken all of your health-conscious considerations and built them into a single, protein-packed snack.

It's the right size. It has the right amount of protein. There's no MSG. There's no wheat starch. There's no added sugar. It's grass-fed—essentially all of the ideal proportions and ingredients you could ever want, all packed into an energy-boosting, stomach-satiating beef stick of perfection.

    Now you can stop wondering, "is jerky gluten-free?" and start knowing that Chomps are.

    Order Chomps direct today, or find the closest retailer.

    About the author
    Nathan Phelps
    Nathan Phelps is a foodie, writer, marketer, and musician living in the great city of Nashville, TN. He loves the intersection of healthy eating & science, and his daily activities include co-opting coffee shops as offices, morning optimism, afternoon doubt, and a nice swig of evening regret before bed.

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