This week, I picked up a couple of domestic ducks and cooked them up in the smoker and they were really, really good.

My family went crazy over the smoked duck and I have no doubt that yours would too if you choose to cook these in your smoker. They do make an excellent Christmas meal but they would be great almost any other time as well.

If you do plan on cooking these for a Christmas and you’ve never smoked a duck before, I recommend, as always, to do a trial run before then to sort of get your game plan together.

Hopefully my instructions and pictures below will help with the process.

When it comes to duck, there are the wild duck variety and then there’s the domestic ducks that you normally find in your local supermarket or grocery store. I do not readily have access to wild ducks so I tend to use the domestic ones.

You will find that the domestic ducks have more fat on them and specifically just under the skin. Part of this cooking process will include steps to try and render some of that fat before it gets to the table. If you are using wild ducks, you won’t usually have this problem.

Here’s what you’ll need
Preparing the Ducks

Most of the time they will be frozen when you buy them so you will want to purchase the ducks ahead of time so they will have time to thaw in the fridge. If you need to speed up the process, you can place them in cold water and replace the cold water every 30 minutes.

Frozen, thawing in cold water

From personal experience, unless you let them thaw for several days, they will still have ice in the cavity.

Thaw the ducks then run cold water into the cavity to loosen the ice so you can remove the neck and other gifts they leave for you down in there.

Duck neck, liver, etc.

Soaking/Brining the Ducks

While you really don’t have to brine these ducks (they are extremely moist and that fat under the skin really keeps them basted while they cook) I do like to soak them in buttermilk and so I usually just go ahead and add some salt to the buttermilk and do a sort of buttermilk brine which always makes them turn out delicious.

The buttermilk has some enzymes and such that helps to tenderize poultry and the brining process causes the liquid to be drawn into the meat. Thus, by adding 1 cup of kosher salt to a 50:50 mix of water and buttermilk, the diluted buttermilk gets drawn into the meat of the duck and, to me, makes a big difference in the outcome.

To make the brine, add 1/2 gallon of water to a gallon sized pitcher, Add 1 cup of kosher salt and stir well until the salt is dissolved. Add 1/2 gallon of buttermilk and gently stir until mixed well.

Rinsed and cleaned ducks

Place the rinsed and cleaned ducks into gallon sized zip top bags or other non-reactive brining container (I recommend using plastic or glass). Pour brine into the bag or brining container to cover the duck and close it up.

If you use zip top bags, place them down in a bowl to minimize the risk of leakage and place them in the fridge for about 6 hours.

ducks in zip top bags with buttermilk brine

Once the ducks are finished brining, pour out the buttermilk and rinse them well with cold water inside and out.

Brined ducks ready to be seasoned

Add a Little Flavor to the Ducks

As with any meat, it is a good idea to add a little seasoning and you will find none better than my very own dry rub. I sell the recipe on this site and you can then use it on almost everything you cook outdoors.

With any poultry, it is good to add the seasoning to the outside of the skin but it never hurts to get some up under the skin as well wherever you can.

Tip: to get the dry rub up under the skin melt a half stick of butter in the microwave and add 2 Tablespoons or more of my rub to it. Mix well then use a turkey baster to suck up some of the mixture and squirt it up under the skin of the duck.

I always like to use a little something to help the rub to stick and I experiment with different oils, pastes, condiments, jelly, syrup, etc. to find what works on different types of meat.

I decided to use a little Dijon mustard on these particular ducks and just happened to have some on hand already.

Tip: If you don’t want to use the Dijon mustard and prefer something sweet with duck, use a little warmed maple syrup on and under the duck skin in the same way.

A very light coal of the mustard and a good sprinkling of the rub followed by a good massage was just the ticket for these waterfowl.

Dijon mustard to help the rub to stick

Mustard applied all over the duck

Rub poured on then massaged all over the meat

I placed them on a Bradley rack for easy transport to and from the smoker

Get the Smoker Ready

I get a lot of requests for recipes for various types and brands of smokers and I need to explain that ALL of my recipes are for ALL types and sizes of smokers. A smoker is simply a heat source with the addition of smoke. It does not matter if you use wood, charcoal propane or electric.. as long as you are running it at the recommended temperature and watching for the recommended finish temperature of the meat, it will work.

Most smoking is done to temperature rather than time which is one of the many things that makes it different than oven cooking indoors.

Having said all of that, I am in the process of putting together articles and how-to information for various smokers to help with the specifics of each one.

The following list of popular smokers should provide some specific help:

Normal smoking temperatures of 225-240°F will work just fine for the duck and you can expect about 5 hours for large ducks (6 lbs or so) and a little less for smaller ducks (5 lbs or less)

My ducks were in the 6 lb range and I opted to cook them a little hotter than usual for most of the cook. I maintained about 250-275°F and they took about 4 hours to reach 165°F in the thickest part of the breast.

I smoked these ducks with pecan for the entire time which is highly recommended. They will also do well with fruit wood or even hickory or oak.

Duck almost finished

Finished duck

Finishing the Duck

Remember that fat layer under the skin that I told you about? Well that fat has to render if you want the skin to be somewhat crispy and one of the ways to help this happen is to cook it hotter like I did. I have to say that while a lot of the fat rendered, even at 250-275°F, there was still a layer of fat between the skin and the meat.

I have heard that some folks poke small holes or cut several “x” shapes in the skin before cooking to allow the fat to drip out once it has rendered but I have never tried this.

Another way to help render some of that fat is to preheat the home oven to about 500 degrees and once the duck reaches about 155°F in the smoker, move it quickly to the oven to finish out the last 10 degrees in this high heat.

The third and most effective way is to go ahead and carve the duck once it reaches 165°F and has rested for about 10 minutes removing the wings, the legs and then very carefully the entire breast.

Pre heat a cast iron skillet over high heat and just a very small amount of oil to just lightly coat the bottom. Lay the whole breast skin side down for a minute or two to finish rendering out most of the fat that is under the skin.

Personally, I don’t eat the skin so I don’t worry too much about it most of the time. I cook them a little hotter than usual but other than that, it’s the meat that I’m interested in not the skin so much.

Carving the Duck

This cannot be explained with words or even pictures.. videos are a lot more helpful. I am certainly not an expert carver but I can successfully remove the wings, legs and breast in just a minute or two and all that’s left is a carcass.

I recommend searching for “how to carve a roasted duck” or “carving roasted duck” in YouTube or in Google to find help with this. It is not really difficult but you really need to see it the first time then you will be able to do it yourself and like anything else, you will get better with practice.

All in all, you should end up with 2 legs and 2 breast pieces. I don’t serve the wings at the table but I do get a few small pieces of meat off of them which I am only too happy to eat and make sure it tastes ok.

The Dirty Rice Recipe

My wife makes a mean dirty rice as a side to this duck and when I asked her for the recipe, she simply gave me a link to a website.

Knowing her well, I asked her if she changed anything and the only thing she did different was to use half as much rice as it called for. She liked it with more meat less rice.

Making the dirty rice

Adding the veggies to the dirty rice

Mixing up the dirty rice

A little tester bowl

The dirty rice went really well with the duck and it was absolutely delicious. Here’s the link to the recipe:

http://www.louisianaschoolofcooking.com/recipes/dirtyrice

A nice portion of smoked duck with dirty rice

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1 Comment on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. Will December 22, 2013 at 1:01 am - Reply

    Hello Jeff,

    Thanks for the recipe and tips on smoking duck; it was very helpful. I'm planning to smoke a duck this year for Christmas, but wanted to try a different method of brining called "dry brining" which basically uses no water. Have you ever tried this method before, and do you have any tips to offer? Keep up the good work with your newsletter and Happy Holidays to you and your family.

    Will

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