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Gluten Free on the Go: Hardee's and Carl's Jr.
Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are the same restaurant.
If you go to their websites, they're very similar. They have similar Mexican affiliations (Red and Green Burrito), similar star logos, and very similar menus. If you've ever been in a location with one and then gone to a location with the other, you start to notice that they have similar (if not the same) ads on TV.
That's why I'm lumping both of these restaurants together in one place.
But are there differences? Enough that a gluten-sensitive person might have to worry in one state while dining out at Hardee's, but not when they hop over to another state and hit Carl's Jr.?
Let's find out.
Gluten Free Suggestions from Hardee's
It was easy to find the PDF listing all the ingredients, as well as the allergens present in the Hardee's menu. You can find this (along with nutrition facts and the ingredients list) on the website right at the top under "Menu and Nutrition," as well as on any page of the menu. The first thing I did was scroll through this list and get an idea of what items didn't contain wheat.
When it comes to sandwiches you actually have an option that don't involve going bun-less! Sort of. They offer a low-carb thickburger, which means that it comes wrapped in a leaf of lettuce. A pretty smart idea, if you ask me.
But it turns out to be just about the only smart, gluten-friendly idea on this allergen list.
The fries have that same problem all fries have--they are probably fried in the same oil as other items. I did not see a disclaimer anywhere on these documents, so you need to double check with your local restaurant to make sure if this is true or not. The curly fries do contain wheat, as do the chicken tenders.
For dessert you can probably safely consume the ice cream in a cup, but the shakes are iffy, since they may share mixing equipment with the malts. Another situation where you should probably ask.
At breakfast you can't have the hash browns yet again (they contain wheat flour), but the menu chart claims there is some kind of low carb breakfast bowl. There is a place for "gluten sensitive" recommendations on the main part of the website, and you can find more information about this item there. For some reason I still don't see it on the regular breakfast section of the website.
For side items you can have mashed potatoes (no gravy), cole slaw, green beans, or a side salad. I'm not sure about availability at particular locations, but I would assume the side salad should be available. The mashed potatoes and cole slaw are side items for the fried chicken offerings. It should be noted that the side salad is the only salad on the menu.
And that's it.
It's not much, is it?
Gluten Free Suggestions from Carl's Jr.
This isn't much better.
But it's all a little bit different.
Once again for the sandwiches you have an option of a low-carb thickburger wrapped in lettuce. One assumes you can make just about any of the burgers low-carb, but you'll want to refer to the ingredients list AND the allergen chart first.
The chicken here still contains soy sauce, which means no chicken sandwiches and no chicken salads either, even though salads appear on the menu.
The fries and sweet potato fries listed as wheat-free on the menu are still contending with a batch of other fried items that may be fried in the same oil. When in doubt, ask about shared fryers.
And yet again, the shakes are contending not just with the malts, but with Oreo cookies that might be blended into the shakes and malts. Another chance to ask about shared equipment.
The "gluten sensitive" suggestions on the Carl's Jr. website includes three kinds of thickburgers. They don't even try to pretend that they have options.
This list was even shorter.
Hardee's and Carl's Jr. are doing everything right by having their allergen and ingredient information in an easy-to-find place and offering burgers wrapped in lettuce for customers who want to cut the carbs, calories or gluten from their meal.
In a previous version of this article, I talked about mistakes on the allergen chart that were "unforgivable," and since writing that I have found that the mistakes finally went away. No longer are the apple turnovers listed as not containing wheat, for example. But it's been over a year and the grilled chicken still contains wheat (eliminating another category of product that would generally be safe(r) for those who must avoid gluten, both as far as salads and lettuce-wrapped chicken sandwiches). Carl's Jr. doesn't even really pretend to have options, and while Hardee's has a breakfast bowl, the list of "gluten sensitive" items is still really small.
When restaurants take steps--even small ones--to help customers feel safer in their restaurants, that's a big deal. I can appreciate the efforts made by Hardee's/Carl's Jr. by giving us a (short) list of "gluten sensitive" (notice the wording there) options. However, because the list of gluten-less options is so small, and because the low-carb burgers are something that has to be handled quite a bit for preparation, I do question the safety of eating at either restaurant. Unless you're seriously aching for a 1/3 lb. thickburger wrapped up in lettuce. It might be safer to just make your own or visit an establishment with a slightly safer prep area.
Just make sure that if you do go for the Thickburger that you ask them to change their gloves first.
Contact Hardee's Here or at 877-799-STAR (7827)
Contact Carl's Jr. Here or at the same number as above. (I told you, they're the same thing.)