Duck bacon is a thing, and it is a thing that you might want to have in your life.
It is easy to make, tastes wonderful, and while not as glorious as, say, the finest pork belly bacon, it is damn good nonetheless. Here’s how to make it at home.
OK, for starters, I need to say that duck bacon is not the same thing as duck prosciutto, and it’s definitely not the same thing as goose leg ham. Duck prosciutto and duck bacon are both done with breasts, and both are cured. But duck prosciutto is then dry aged, where duck bacon is smoked and not aged.
You will want to use very fat duck breasts for this, either farmed or wild. Pretty much any farmed duck breast will work, but I would try to get moulard duck breasts if I were you. The finest source I know of for them is D’Artagnan meats.
For wild birds, this is what you want to do with those morbidly obese ducks you were lucky enough to get during the season. Any bird can get this fat, but in a perfect world you would use mallards, pintail, gadwall, canvasbacks, redheads, or, for smaller bacon, wigeon or wood ducks. (I used a pintail in the photos.)
I’ve occasionally seen geese with enough breast fat to make bacon, but honestly, I prefer them as prosciutto.
Another difference between duck bacon and duck prosciutto is the cure. You need cure no. 2, which has sodium nitrate, for duck prosciutto because it dry ages for up to a couple months. Duck bacon only requires cure no. 1, which has sodium nitrite. This cure is for smoked meats.
Do you need nitrate? Yes, in some form. If you want to get it from celery powder, that’s fine, but I don’t like the stuff because it is not as precise as the standardized cures. And no, nitrate is not bad for you in the amounts used in curing meats. You get more eating celery.
The only people who get a pass on this are those allergic. In your case, you can skip it and make something kinda-sorta like duck bacon, without the cure. I’ll get into that in a moment.
The procedure is easy. Measure the weight of the meat, then weigh out 2% to 2.5% salt by weight (your choice), and 0.25% cure no. 1 by weight. Note that that is one quarter of one percent. Massage this into the meat, vacuum seal it, put it in the fridge for a week to cure.
Take it out, rinse briefly and pat dry, then smoke as long as you can stand it. Now I will tell you that cold smoking is the way to go here. If you can swing this, do it.
Why? Because hot smoking duck bacon tends to make the skin and fat want to fall off. It’s still tasty, to be sure, but the goal here is to have a slice you can fry like bacon. That won’t work with duck breast that has been hot smoked, or at least I’ve had trouble with it.
If you want to give this a go without nitrite, cure with 2.5% salt by weight, then hot smoke it at about 180°F for about 3 hours. It is vital here to start the meat very cold, so that it has a chance to build a good smoke ring while it cooks. It won’t look or taste the same, but it will be OK.
Once you have your duck bacon, slice it thinly, skin side down — this helps everything stick together. You can eat it cooked or uncooked. I prefer hot smoked duck bacon as-is, and cold smoked duck bacon cooked.
It will keep a few weeks in the fridge, and freezes well.
- Kitchen scale
- 2 duck breasts
- Salt (See headnotes for how much)
- Curing salt (See headnotes for how much)
- Weigh each duck breast in grams. Now weigh out 2 to 2.5 percent of that weight in salt; I use Diamond Crystal kosher salt. Sea salt is good, but you want a fine grained salt with no iodide. Weigh out 0.25 percent of the breast's weight in curing salt no. 1. Massage that into the meat. Repeat for the next breast, and so on if you are doing many.
- Vacuum seal the breasts with any excess salt. Set them in the fridge for at least 3 days, and up to 10 days. This cure will not make them too salty. I generally go 5 days to make sure the cure has reached the center of the meat.
- Rinse and pat dry. Cold smoke the breasts for at least 8 hours, and you can repeat this process every day for several days if you want a very smoky product. Slice with the skin side down. Use like regular bacon.