Smoked Duck: A How-To-Guide

Smoked Duck: A How-To-Guide

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Ask David about duck meat and you’ll get a mixed review. Ask me, and I will tell you I love it any way I can get it. I thought I loved smoked turkey, however, this smoked duck may very well be my new favorite poultry.

One thing is for certain, this smoked duck recipe is one David and I both agree on. So I told David I needed to try to explain why we chose to smoke a duck. He glared at me and said, “We cook shit, that’s what we do, we’re The Mountain Kitchen.” 

Lordy, he sure has a way with words, doesn’t he?

Smoked Duck Cuban Sandwich from Front Royal Brewing Company

We fell in love with smoked duck meat when it came served on a smoked duck Cuban sandwich from Front Royal Brewing Company, in the town of Front Royal. The sandwich was part of their ever-changing menu. Eventually, they took it off the menu, but we couldn’t get it off our minds. 

Since we could no longer get the delicious sandwich, we decided to learn how to smoke a duck ourselves. Then we recreated the delicious duck Cuban sandwich at home.

Goodness, gracious! It was a glorious sandwich! 

homemade smoked duck Cuban

Perfectly smoked duck meat is tender and incredibly juicy. It also packs some serious flavor. Our first experience with smoking duck leaves us wanting more!

If you are looking for something new and different to place upon your smoker. You should try this recipe. Here, let us tell you how we did it.

smoked duck on water smoker

How To Smoke A Duck

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Brining Time: 24 hours
Smoking Time: 5 to 6 hours

Equipment:

(Listing contains affiliate links)

Orange-Beer Brine:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • ¼  cup whole black peppercorns, toasted
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 4 large navel oranges, zest, and juice from each
  • 24 ounces beer, 2 (12-ounce) bottles amber-style
  • 3 quarts water
  • 21 cups of ice water
  • 5 ½ pound Pekin duck, (5-6 pound range) cleaned
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground black pepper

Brown Sugar Soy Glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

Duck Meat

Duck meat is dark and moist with a distinctively rich and bold flavor. If you love the dark meat of a chicken or turkey, you will love duck meat! Duck is perfect for smoking because it has more fat than most birds and this fatty meat retains the smoke flavor the best.

When smoking duck, it is best to smoke the whole bird rather than pieces. This results in a more tender and juicy finished product.

How To Purchase Duck

Unless you a hunter and plan on using a wild mallard duck from your hunt you will need to purchase a duck. David and I had never purchased a duck before so we had to do a little research to help us find out what kind of duck to purchase.

According to FineCooking.com, there are three types of duck you could possibly come across at your grocery store. They are:

  • White Pekin – tender, mild-flavored meat. 
  • Muscovy – slightly larger with a stronger flavor
  • Moulard – a cross between a female Pekin and a male muscovy. This type of duck is mainly raised for their livers (foie gras). However, the breasts, (magrets), are considered a delicacy because of their large size and steak-like eating qualities. They do however have a stringier texture.

White Pekin is the most common variety of duck and can be found at any average grocery store. Most ducks are commercially raised and weigh between 3 to 6 pounds. 

This recipe for the smoked duck was developed with a whole Pekin duck. For tender juicy results, shop for a whole, USDA Grade A, fresh white Pekin duck that weighs about 5 pounds. The breast meat should be plump and firm and light in color. Avoid any duck that has been plumped or comes in brine. They are way too salty! 

If you cannot find fresh duck you can purchase a frozen one, just make sure it has all of the characteristics as described above. If you find a smaller bird, you can cut back on the amount of brine solution and glaze accordingly. Keep in mind that ducks have heavier bone density than most birds, so take that into consideration with the weight.

How To Thaw A Frozen Duck

To best way to thaw a frozen duck is to thaw the bird in the refrigerator. For a whole bird, this can take up to a couple of days.

If you don’t have time to allow the duck to thaw in the refrigerator, place the duck is inside a leak-proof bag and submerge it into cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. A 3 to 4-pound duck can take 2 to 3 hours to defrost, whereas a 4 to 6-pound bird can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.

The most important take-away is to make sure the duck has defrosted completely.

Adding the duck to the brine

Prepare the Duck for Brine

Remove the duck from the packaging. Then remove the giblets from inside the duck and; discard. Rinse the duck inside and out under cold running water, pulling out any extra fat or cut bits from the body cavity. 

Brine the Duck

Combine the brown sugar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, orange zest and juice, beer and water in a 6-quart stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. When the brine comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow it to cool completely.

Transfer the brine into a large 4-gallon (16-quart) cooler. Add enough ice water to measure as close to 3-gallons as possible (see recipe notes).

orange-beer brine

Dunk the prepared duck into the brine solution. You may need to hold the duck down until the body cavity fills with brine to ensure that it is submerged in the brine solution completely. 

Refrigerate the duck in the brine for 24-hours, stirring about halfway through. 

If you have a large enough refrigerator and a big enough container, by all means, do so to ensure proper refrigeration. However, if you are using a cooler, store it in the coolest place possible. You will need to add more ice about halfway through the brining. To maintain the salt-to-liquid ratio, add the ice to a plastic bag and seal before putting it in the brine.

piercing the duck breast with skewer

Prepare the Duck For Smoking

After 24-hours (a little more time won’t hurt), remove the duck from the brine and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Place the duck on a clean workspace. Blot the duck dry with paper towels and allow it to come to room temperature; about 20 to 30 minutes.

Trim the neck skin off, leaving a 1-inch flap. Fold the flap down, closing up the neck hole.

Ducks have more fat than other types of birds, especially when it comes to game birds. This smoked duck recipe will provide you with crispy skin and meat so moist it practically falls off the bone. So this next step is crucial. 

Using a sharp skewer, pinch the skin of the breast of the duck and pierce all along the surface of the breast, without piercing the meat underneath. This is an important step because it helps release and render the fat. The fat on top of the breast meat renders out of the skin and the duck will practically baste itself as it smokes. 

brown sugar soy glaze with duck

Make the Brown Sugar Soy Glaze

Whisk together the brown sugar, soy sauce, and salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Set aside until needed.

Fire Up The Smoker!

Soak a few handfuls of applewood chips for about 30 minutes in water before placing on the coals.

Meanwhile, preheat the grill to 200-275 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)

Add the wood chips to get the smoke going. Place a water pan below the smoker’s cooking grate to create a humid environment, and to catch any drips.

brushing the brown sugar glaze on the duck

Smoke the Duck

Give the brown sugar soy glaze a final whisk, then brush the duck all over. Place the duck in the center of the smoking grate and insert the temperature probes (if using a digital probe thermometer). 

Bring the temperature up to 225 degrees F, using the vents and wet and dry wood chips to regulate the temperature. You will need to add fresh coals and more wood chips almost every hour for at least the first 4 hours.

smoking duck over water bath

Low and Slow

Check the temperature of the smoker every hour, staying as close to 225 degrees F as possible. Resist the temptation to open the lid unless you need to add more charcoal or soaked wood chips to maintain the temperature and smoke.

Knowing the temp in your grill is crucial, so if your grill doesn’t have a temperature gauge, purchase a digital BBQ thermometer. David uses a top of the line Thermoworks Smoke™ thermometer (affiliate link). Smoke™ has 2 channels, one for the meat and one for the smoker, with a remote receiver. He loves it. Having the remote receiver saves him a lot of worrying about the smoker temperature. The alarm sounds each time it goes above or falls below the ideal smoking temperature. If you are a serious pit master, we highly recommend getting yourself one!

probed duck on smoker

Testing For Doneness

Smoke the duck until the breast is about half the size it was when you laid it on the smoker and the skin is an amber mahogany color. The internal temperature of the meat should be 165 degrees F, about 5 to 6 hours. At this point, the drumsticks should wiggle freely.

checking temperature with instant-read thermometer

If you don’t use a probe thermometer, use an instant-read meat thermometer, such as the Thermoworks Thermapen Mk4 (affiliate link), to test for doneness. Make sure the probe doesn’t touch any of the bones when taking the reading.

We use both types of thermometers to make sure the temperature is perfect.

resting duck with mountain view

Resting & Carryover Heat

Once you verify the done temperature of 165 degrees F, pull the duck from the smoker and transfer it to a cutting board. Allow the duck to rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before carving. The temperature should go up slightly from the carryover heat. This is normal and perfectly fine. 

Carving & Serving Smoked Duck

Perfectly smoked duck meat is tender and incredibly juicy. Serve cooled to room temperature or chill and serve as an appetizer or cold cut on a sandwich. 

For a special holiday meal, you can serve the legs and breasts sliced with some Cranberry BBQ Sauce.

Recipe Notes:

Wild mallard can also be used instead of Peking duck.

Adding Brine Solution To The Cooler: Make sure you keep the salt-to-water ratio correct. The salt does not evaporate when the brine is boiled. You may need to add more ice water to the brine depending on how much liquid boils out. Measure the amount of brine solution you pour into the cooler then add enough ice water to make 3 gallons.

Alternatively, it may be easier to test how much brine solution and ice water needs to be added to the cooler. Do this by pouring exactly 3 gallons of water into the cooler, then marking the inside of the cooler with a pen or some tape, so you know about how much ice water to add. Then dump the water out and go from there.

If you have a large enough refrigerator and a big enough container, by all means, do so to ensure proper refrigeration. However, if you are using a cooler, you will want to add a little more ice about halfway through the brining.

Recipe adapted from SouthernLiving.com

duck leg with mountain view

Normally with poultry David and I go straight for the legs and thighs. Smoking this duck made us change our tune. The breast meat sliced super thing was our favorite part. Although the leg meat was a close second!

If you decide to smoke a duck using this recipe, please let us know how it turns out. We’d love to hear from you. Please leave your comments below!

Smoked Duck

Perfectly smoked duck meat is tender, incredibly juicy and packs serious flavor! Learn how to smoke duck with applewood & charcoal using this How-To-Guide!
Course Main Course
Cuisine American, BBQ
Keyword duck, poultrty, smoked
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 5 hours 30 minutes
Brining Time 1 day
Total Time 1 day 5 hours 45 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

Orange-Beer Brine:

  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 cups kosher salt
  • ¼ cup whole black peppercorns toasted
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 4 large navel oranges zest and juice from each
  • 24 ounces beer 2 (12-ounce) bottles amber-style
  • 3 quarts water
  • 21 cups ice water
  • 5 ½ pound Pekin duck (5-6 pound range) cleaned
  • 1 tablespoon finely ground black pepper

Brown Sugar Soy Glaze:

  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar divided
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt

Instructions

Prepare the Duck for Brine

  • Remove the duck from the packaging. Then remove the giblets from inside the duck and; discard. Rinse the duck inside and out under cold running water, pulling out any extra fat or cut bits from the body cavity.

Brine the Duck

  • Combine the brown sugar, salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, orange zest and juice, beer and water in a 6-quart stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. When the brine comes to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow it to cool completely.
  • Transfer the brine into a large 16-quart cooler. Add enough ice water to measure as close to 3-gallons as possible (see recipe notes).
  • Dunk the prepared duck into the brine solution. You may need to hold the duck down until the body cavity fills with brine to ensure that it is submerged in the brine solution completely.
  • Refrigerate the duck in the brine for 24-hours, stirring about halfway through.
  • If you have a large enough refrigerator and a big enough container, by all means, do so to ensure proper refrigeration. However, if you are using a cooler, store it in the coolest place possible. You will need to add more ice about halfway through the brining. To maintain the salt-to-liquid ratio, add the ice to a plastic bag and seal before putting it in the brine.

Prepare the Duck For Smoking:

  • After 24-hours (a little more time won’t hurt), remove the duck from the brine and pat dry inside and out with paper towels. Place the duck on a clean workspace. Blot the duck dry with paper towels and allow it to come to room temperature; about 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Trim the neck skin off, leaving a 1-inch flap. Fold the flap down, closing up the neck hole.
  • Ducks have more fat than other types of birds, especially when it comes to game birds. This smoked duck recipe will provide you with a crispy skin and meat so moist it practically falls off the bone. So this next step is crucial.
  • Using a sharp skewer, pinch the skin of the breast of the duck and pierce all along the surface of the breast, without piercing the meat underneath. This is an important step, because it helps release and render the fat. The fat on top of the breast meat renders out of the skin and the duck will practically baste itself as it smokes.

Make the Brown Sugar Soy Glaze

  • Whisk together the brown sugar, soy sauce and salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Set aside until needed.

Fire Up The Smoker!

  • Soak a few handfuls of applewood chips for about 30 minutes in water before placing on the coals.
  • Meanwhile, preheat the grill to 200-275 degrees F. To maintain this low temperature, use only half as much charcoal as usual. (A half chimney-full.)
  • Add the wood chips to get the smoke going. Place a water pan below the smoker’s cooking grate to create a humid environment, and to catch any drips.

Smoke the Duck

  • Give the brown sugar soy glaze a final whisk, then brush the duck all over. Place the duck in the center of the smoking grate and insert the temperature probes (if using a digital probe thermometer).
  • Bring the temperature up to 225 degrees F, using the vents and wet and dry wood chips to regulate the temperature. You will need to add fresh coals and more wood chips almost every hour for at least the first 4 hours.

Low and Slow

  • Check the temperature of the smoker every hour, staying as close to 225 degrees F as possible. Resist the temptation to open the lid unless you need to add more charcoal or soaked wood chips to maintain the temperature and smoke.

Testing For Doneness

  • Smoke the duck until the breast is about half the size it was when you laid it on the smoker and the skin is an amber mahogany color. The internal temperature of the meat should be 165 degrees F, about 5 to 6 hours. At this point, the drumsticks should wiggle freely.

Resting & Carryover Heat

  • Once you verify the done temperature of 165 degrees F, pull the duck from the smoker and transfer it to a cutting board. Allow the duck to rest for at least 15 to 20 minutes before carving. The temperature should go up slightly from the carryover heat. This is normal and perfectly fine.

Carving & Serving

  • Perfectly smoked duck meat is tender and incredibly juicy. Serve cooled to room temperature or chill and serve as an appetizer or cold cut on a sandwich.

Notes

Wild mallard can also be used instead of Peking duck.
White Pekin is the most common variety of duck and can be found at any average grocery store. Most ducks are commercially raised and weigh between 3 to 6 pounds. 
This recipe for the smoked duck was developed with a whole Pekin duck. For tender juicy results, shop for a whole, USDA Grade A, fresh white Pekin duck that weighs about 5 pounds. The breast meat should be plump and firm and light in color. Avoid any duck that has been plumped or comes in brine. They are way too salty! 
If you cannot find fresh duck you can purchase a frozen one, just make sure it has all of the characteristics as described above. If you find a smaller bird, you can cut back on the amount of brine solution and glaze accordingly. Keep in mind that ducks have heavier bone density than most birds, so take that into consideration with the weight.
How To Thaw A Frozen Duck:
To best way to thaw a frozen duck is to thaw the bird in the refrigerator. For a whole bird, this can take up to a couple of days.
If you don’t have time to allow the duck to thaw in the refrigerator, place the duck is inside a leak-proof bag and submerge it into cold water, changing the water every 30 minutes. A 3 to 4-pound duck can take 2 to 3 hours to defrost, whereas a 4 to 6-pound bird can take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours.
The most important take-away is to make sure the duck has defrosted completely.
Adding Brine Solution To The Cooler: Make sure you keep the salt-to-water ratio correct. The salt does not evaporate when the brine is boiled. You may need to add more ice water to the brine depending on how much liquid boils out. Measure the amount of brine solution you pour into the cooler then add enough ice water to make 3 gallons.
Alternatively, it may be easier to test how much brine solution and ice water needs to be added to the cooler. Do this by pouring exactly 3 gallons of water into the cooler, then marking the inside of the cooler with a pen or some tape, so you know about how much ice water to add. Then dump the water out and go from there.
If you have a large enough refrigerator and a big enough container, by all means, do so to ensure proper refrigeration. However, if you are using a cooler, you will want to add a little more ice about halfway through brining.
Recipe adapted from SouthernLiving.com
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Hi, my name is Debbie, Author and Photographer at The Mountain Kitchen, a blog that shares delicious homemade recipes using clean food ingredients, and stories about mountain life.
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