Living in Southern California, it’s hard to think of fast food without the iconic image of an In-N-Out drive-through popping into your head. But living with celiac disease or gluten intolerance makes it impossible to think of any fast food restaurant without wondering if you can safely eat there.
For most fast-food restaurants, the answer is no. Between gluten ingredients, cross-contamination, and limited allergy education, fast food is a challenge for gluten-free.
Fortunately, In-N-Out Burger easily accommodates a gluten-free diet. The hamburger bun is the only food item on the menu that contains gluten, and hot chocolate is the only beverage that may contain gluten.
What You Can’t Eat at In-N-Out
The buns. That’s it.
(Side note, there is also one beverage that In-N-Out specifically states is not tested for gluten, hot chocolate.)
The buns are the only gluten-containing food item at In-N-Out. By obvious extension, this means you can’t eat any item with a bun. No regular hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double, or even grilled cheese off the “not-so-secret menu”. Don’t worry… we’ll get back to those secret menu items.
You can eat anything that doesn’t have a bun. So what does that include? Nearly everything. Of course, if you have celiac disease, you have to consider cross-contamination. We’ll get to that, too, or you can jump ahead.
In-N-Out Burger Gluten-Free Menu (from the Official Menu)
The official In-N-Out Menu has only four items, not counting beverages: cheeseburger, hamburger, double-double (a burger with double meat and double cheese), and french fries. Almost everything on it is, or can be, made gluten-free.
How to Order a Gluten-Free Cheeseburger, Hamburger, or Double-Double
The burgers are all gluten-free if you order them “protein style” which will get you a burger in a lettuce wrap, with no bun.
Consistent with In-N-Out’s business model and very simple menu, there are no gluten-free buns available at In-N-Out. If you aren’t a fan of a lettuce-wrapped burger, bring your own bun!
Gluten-Free French Fries at In-N-Out
Everybody’s most important question… are the french fries gluten-free? Yes, the french fries are gluten-free and made in a separate gluten-free fryer by default, because nothing is fried at In-N-Out except for fresh, hand-cut potatoes.
The only questionable beverage at In-N-Out is hot chocolate. It gets an asterisk on the allergy menu on the In-N-Out website because “it has not been specifically tested for wheat gluten”.
All other beverages at In-N-Out are gluten-free, including milk, coffee, fountain beverages from the Coca-Cola Company and the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, and…
The shakes are gluten-free! You can enjoy a strawberry, vanilla, or chocolate shake. All are gluten-free and made with real ice cream.
In-N-Out’s Gluten-Free Not-So-Secret Menu
Some of the fun of In-N-Out is being “in the know” about the secret menu. To keep you in the loop, In-N-Out publishes part of that secret menu on its website, but there are many more items not on that publicized list.
The previously covered “protein style” (lettuce-wrapped burger with no bun) is actually from the secret menu.
Some of these secret menu burgers are already sans bun. If they aren’t, I have added “protein style” next to the burger name, so it will be made gluten-free.
Protein-Style (Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Double Double…)
As already mentioned, you can (and must if you are eating gluten-free) order any variety of burger protein style, which will replace the gluten-filled bun with a lettuce wrap around your burger. Like all burgers at In-N-Out, your protein-style burger also comes with onions, tomato, and spread.
Here’s how this sounds, “I would like a protein-style cheeseburger, please.”
Protein Style, Animal Style (Hamburger, Cheeseburger Double Double…)
Or try this out, “I would like a protein-style, animal-style hamburger, please.”
Keeping the “protein style” because you are not eating a gluten-filled bun, add the words, “animal style” and you’ll get a lettuce-wrapped, mustard-grilled patty, grilled onions, sliced tomato, extra pickles, and extra “spread” (In-N-Out’s burger sauce).
Protein Style Double Meat
Double Meat is a hamburger with two patties, tomato, onion, and spread. It automatically comes with a bun, so make sure you add “protein style” to the order to get your lettuce wrapped around the two patties, with no bun. Unlike the double-double, there is no cheese on this burger.
Protein Style 3×3
Again, with the lettuce wrap, tomatoes, onion, and spread, this burger comes with 3 patties and 3 slices of cheese.
Protein Style 4×4
You can probably guess where this is going. Just like the 3×3, but with 4 patties and 4 slices of cheese, tomatoes, onions, and spread, all inside the lettuce wrap.
Protein Style Mustard Grilled (Hamburger, Cheeseburger Double Double…)
Similar to the animal-style option, this burger is grilled in mustard, but without the popular animal style’s extra pickle, extra spread, and grilled onions.
No need to ask for this one protein style, it is automatically gluten-free. Order the flying Dutchman and you’ll get two patties with two slices of cheese between them.
Flying Dutchman Animal Style
Also, automatically gluten-free, the flying Dutchman animal style is two patties with two slices of cheese and grilled onions in the middle. Your extra sauce and extra pickles are served on the side.
This secret menu item (which also happens to be gluten-free) is for your four-legged friend. It is simply a plain, unsalted beef patty.
Other Burger Options
- Well Done
- Add Ketchup
- Add Mustard
- Add Chilis (they are spicy!)
- Add Pickles
- Grilled onions
- Whole-Grilled Onion
- Cut in Half
- Cold Cheese (not melted)
- Extra Salt
- No Salt
- Side of Spread (comes in a packet)
French fries with melted cheese.
Animal Style Fries
French fries with melted cheese, spread, and grilled onions.
Other Fry Options
- Well Done
- Extra Well Done
There’s no need to settle for just one flavor. Order a Neapolitan shake and you’ll get gluten-free vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate all together in one delicious shake.
Half-and-Half of Any Two Shake Flavors
Mix any two of vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate milkshakes. The chocolate-vanilla blend is also known as a black-and-white shake. Half strawberry and half vanilla is my favorite combination.
Root Beer Float
Half vanilla shake and half root beer.
Why Is In-N-Out So Popular?
More than once, we’ve had out-of-state houseguests with In-N-Out on their California vacation bucket list. And there are the long drive-through lines that make the name “In-N-Out” a bit ironic. What makes this West Coast chain so popular?
The food tastes good. Good, old-fashioned burgers and fries. The menu is short and simple. Even the items on the secret menu are mostly just a scramble of basic ingredients on the main menu.
And the food is not full of preservatives and questionable fillings.
The beef patties are made fresh at In-N-Out patty-making facilities “using only fresh, 100% USDA ground chuck — free of additives, fillers, and preservatives” and delivered fresh to its stores.
The french fries are made from actual fresh potatoes cut and fried at your local store.
The shakes are made with real ice cream.
There are no freezers or microwaves at your local restaurant. The food is fresh. When you indulge in fast food at In-N-Out, you know it’s real food.
More Reasons to Love In-N-Out
- Complimentary Stickers and Paper Hats. Store associates generously hand these goodies out to kids and sometimes to kids-at-heart. It’s wonderful to have a sticker puzzle to keep your children busy while waiting for their food.
- Two Foundations Making a Difference: In-N-Out Burger Foundation and Slave 2 Nothing Foundation. I have personally seen grants from these Foundations in action and love supporting any company that gives to causes I believe in.
- Taking care of associates. When I was working on my MBA, one of my classmates was a Human Resources employee at In-N-Out. I was impressed by how staff members were valued and treated, from fair wages to robust benefits and opportunities to move up. Treating employees well seems to translate to a great company culture and happy, friendly employees.
For individuals with celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or severe sensitivity to gluten, gluten-free needs to mean free from gluten cross-contamination. In-N-Out is not a dedicated gluten-free restaurant and there is a risk of cross-contact with gluten-containing buns in the store.
The safest items are fries and shakes (and other beverages, except hot chocolate), as they are not prepared close to the burgers and buns.
I have celiac disease and personally order a “protein style” burger (bun-less and lettuce-wrapped) using the following recommended methods to reduce the risk of cross-contamination:
State you have a “gluten allergy” when you place your order. We know celiac disease is not an allergy, but the person taking your order has an “allergy” button and you want them to push it. I often say “severe gluten allergy” to make sure that button is pushed, and I ask them to add the allergy to every item I order, including the fries.
Ask questions and ask for a manager, especially if you have not already cleared the cross-contamination protocols and awareness at a particular In-N-Out location. All In-N-Out restaurants are owned and run by the same privately-owned company, but anecdotally, allergy education and follow-through can vary by restaurant location. Specifically, ask about:
- Glove changes.
- Grills and spatulas. Ask for your burger and onions to be grilled away from the buns and with a clean spatula.
- Spread. Request that your spread be served from a fresh container and with a clean spatula. Or order a side of the spread, which is safely served in a packet.
When ordering through the drive-through, confirm your allergy with each store associate when placing the order, paying for it, and picking it up at the final window.
Request that allergy items be placed in a separate bag or box to avoid cross-contamination with buns ordered for others in your party.