Like all food preparation while accommodating food allergies, grilling requires careful attention to ingredients. However, the biggest challenge in grilling often comes from the potential for cross-contamination. Ideally, I would just maintain an allergen free section of grating in our grill. However, we live in an apartment complex with two large communal gas grills. There is no telling what allergens may have been in the marinades, sauces, or seasonings of the previous user of the grill. We have encountered similar issues grilling out at friends’ homes and at parks and other public spaces.
Grilling foil is the most simple and versatile tool for preventing exposure to allergens. It has a heavier thickness than standard aluminum foil and typically has a non-stick surface. For single servings for an individual with allergies, simply cut out an appropriately sized square and cook the protein directly on the foil (note that grill manufacturers strongly discourage covering entire grilling surfaces with foil, as this blocks air flow and can be dangerous). For fattier meats, like burgers, I find it best to poke a small hole in the center of the foil to allow liquids to drain. Obviously, it’s also easy to pack a square for a cookout and completely disposable (recyclable!). The foil can also be used as a physical buffer and visual identifier when food is served, saving the need to have a second serving dish and preventing someone inadvertently taking the safe serving for themselves.
While foil is great for single servings, dedicated grilling surfaces for safe foods are best when preparing larger batches. I use a large, low-walled grill basket with a detachable handle for these purposes. When shopping for one, make sure to measure the internal dimensions of your grill so that you can close the lid with the basket in place, making sure to account for the height of the basket and the curvature of the lid. Baskets are available in non-stick varieties, though those tend to not be dishwasher safe. Ours came from Williams-Sonoma (click here for information) and is dishwasher safe, and I brush it with canola oil each time I use it to prevent sticking.
It is also a wise precaution to have tools and utensils that are reserved for contact with foods free of your targeted allergens. I have also used grilling foil in a pinch when I didn’t have access to a second set of grilling tools, wrapping the end of tongs or a spatula with foil to avoid cross-contamination when cooking safe and unsafe foods at the same time. I use silicone brushes for all brush applications; I find the large bristles to be easier to clean than paintbrush style brushes which gives me greater confidence I am not leaving behind any potential allergens.
Dealing with Soy
Soy is one of the most pernicious allergens; it is everywhere. This is particularly true in grilling applications. Nearly all cooking sprays, even if they don’t use soybean oil as the primary ingredient, use soy lecithin (soy protein) as the propellant. There are, however, several brands of canola and olive oil sprays that do not use additional propellants, including Winona Pure and Bertolli. For grilling purposes, canola oil is better, as its smoke point (400 degrees Fahrenheit) is higher than olive oil (350 degrees). Alternatively, you can brush canola oil directly on the grilling surface.
Soybean oil is also a common emulsifier in many commercial seasoning mixes. In our first months of cooking with food allergies, we ruined more than one planned meal by seasoning meat with a mix that included soy. Equally common are seasoning blends that list “natural flavors” among the ingredients. Under current labeling guidelines, this term could be a catch-all for any number of potential allergens and represents a form of food allergy Russian roulette that we choose not to play. Kosher salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and homemade spice mixes do the job just fine. Also, having had limited luck finding barbecue sauces that are free of soy or “natural flavors,” our go-to now is Pickapeppa Sauce, a versatile vinegar-based Jamaican sauce that is terrific brushed on almost any protein.
Hopefully, these tips will prove useful for others looking to accommodate food allergies in their grilling.
If you having any questions or your own solutions, please leave them in the comments below.
Christopher Dye is a university professor by day, but is also well-known and loved in our world for being an incredible food allergy dad He is a very important part of our Food Allergy Arsenal.