Are Hamburgers Always Gluten-Free?

Sometimes an innocent-looking hamburger actually contains gluten

raw hamburger patties
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For the most part, you can have confidence that homemade hamburgers you prepare from scratch with plain ground beef are gluten-free.

Pure beef you buy in a package from the store is safe, and any hamburgers you make out of that 100% ground beef also will be gluten-free, assuming you don't subject them to gluten cross-contamination when you're cooking them.

You should be able to find a gluten-free hamburger bun to put that homemade burger in, too—plenty of gluten-free manufacturers now make them.

So Where Can Gluten Creep In?

Gluten can start to creep in when you buy pre-formed hamburger patties. Some (not all) of these patties you'll find at the store do contain grains (almost always wheat) as fillers.

If this is the case, though, the manufacturer wouldn't be able to claim the burgers were "100% beef," and also would be required to disclose the filler in the ingredients list, so the gluten should be pretty obvious. If in doubt, you should be able to call the manufacturer's toll-free number and ask.

Also, you should never eat a burger (or anything else) prepared by a friend or relative since it is hard to know what's really in them.

Restaurants Are the Biggest Hamburger Issue

It's in restaurants—which aren't required to disclose ingredients in their meals—where you can run into the most trouble with gluten in hamburger meat.

Many restaurants serve pre-formed burger patties that include additional ingredients, including wheat (again, as a filler). Others make their own burgers in-house, but use bread crumbs to stretch the meat and improve the texture of the burger.

You won't know about this practice unless you ask... and when you ask, you need to question someone who actually knows how this works at that particular restaurant. Generally, that's either the chef or the manager, not your server.

Now, most fast food restaurants seem to serve hamburgers that don't include gluten grains as an ingredient. In fact, some people with celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity say they have good luck ordering bun-less burgers at chains like Wendy's, In-N-Out Burger and Sonic Drive-In. (Check out my overall article on gluten-free fast food for the menu details.)

Of course, when ordering fast food, you need to beware of the potential for cross-contamination—make sure the workers change gloves before serving you, and that your hamburger never goes near the gluten-y buns.

So the bottom line is, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a gluten-free hamburger, especially if you're careful to read labels on pre-made beef patties and to talk to the chef at any restaurants. Oh, and make sure the ketchup you use is gluten-free, as well.

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