As Christmas rolls around this year, I am trying extra hard to think of things that would make an excellent Christmas meal but also ones that may be a little outside of “normal” parameters for some people.
We’ve been doing Christmas ribs at my house for a number of years and we may still do that this year but I want to show you guys and gals a few new things and see if it sparks some interest.
Last week we talked about how to smoke a pork sirloin roast and I’ve had a lot of good feedback on that which I always enjoy hearing about but, 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 it 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 meal 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
- 1 duck for every (4) eaters
- Dijon Mustard
- Jeff’s rub recipe (order recipes)
- Maple Syrup (optional)
- Melted Butter (optional)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
Once the ducks are finished brining, pour out the buttermilk and rinse them well with cold water inside and out.
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.
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:
- Bradley 4-Rack Digital Smoker – An electric smoker that is fully automated and keeps the temperature where you set it. It also keeps the smoke flowing via an automated mechanism that moves a new wood puck into the smoker every 20 minutes. See this smoker and read reviews on Amazon.com
- Weber Smokey Mountain 22.5 Smoker – the king of charcoal water smokers. Add charcoal, water and wood and you’re good to go for several hours. 3 dampers on the fire bowl allow you to dial in the air perfectly for maintaining perfect smoking temperatures. See this smoker and read reviews on Amazon.com
- Big Green Egg – Ceramic cooker that uses charcoal. Add lump charcoal, light it and add some wood.. set the top and bottom vent and you’re good to go for hours on end due to the thick walls that hold heat incredibly well.
- Great Outdoors Smoky Mountain Propane Smoker – A propane smoker that works exceptionally well. I have had mine for more than 8 years and it still works great. See this smoker and read reviews on Amazon.com
- More smokers on the way..
Normal smoking temperatures of 225-240 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 degrees F and they took about 4 hours to reach 165 degrees 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.
Finishing the Duck
Tips for Rendering the Fat Under the Skin
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, 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 degrees 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 degrees 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.
The dirty rice went really well with the duck and it was absolutely delicious. Here’s the link:
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SO much better than just salt and pepper, this goes really well with the smoked duck. Make sure you get it under the skin for the absolute best results!
The recipes for my dry rub and sauce were designed several years ago in my lab and made especially for pork. We soon found out they were good on almost everything. I invite you to try it today and see for yourself what you’ve been missing.
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I made your rub and sauce and smoked a ham. fantastic. My son loved it. Never seen him eat so much ham. just tried a sliced ham. may have to fight him for it. lol. thanks for your years of effort. Now on to other meats…… ~ Ron
The rub is totally awesome and I haven’t changed it a bit. My wife and I love these recipes and I would recommend them to anyone that wants to take there bbq to the next level, you cannot buy sauce or rub this good at the store(i have tried many). I would also like to mention that these recipes are great anytime you want to use bbq sauce, not just for smoking. ~ Jason
Wow! wow! wow! The best rub and sauce I have ever had. Also did the turkey for thanksgiving and it was the best turkey I ever had. I usually only eat dark meat and this turkey was so good I ate only white meat ~ Andy
I purchased the rub and sauce and I have to say that I love it and so has everyone that has tried it, just like you and others said they would. ~ Matt
Jeff I have to tell you that your rub and sauce recipes are the best. I had never smoked a rib or anything until last weekend and by fallowing your directions on your site I was the RIB KING for a day. Thanks a bunch pal, ~ Harold
Let me say that I’ve been using your Rib Rub for a couple years now. I use it on ribs (obviously), but I also use it on steak, ham, chicken, and everything else I smoke. My family and I absolutely LOVE it! It rocks! ~ Trapper
Jeff, I did a smoked pork roast yesterday and used your recipe both for the pork and for your Smoky Barbecue Sauce. Everyone loved it. My wife said the sauce was the best she had ever tasted and I have to agree. Fantastic. ~ Barry
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