How to Make Smoked Duck

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Slices of smoked duck with a green salad
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Smoked duck is my favorite way to save our hunting season’s bounty for the warmer months.

Holly and I spend most of our winter days hunting ducks and geese, and we eat them several times a week over the winter months. In that time I do a lot of preserving: Mostly confit, salami, cured goose “prosciutto.” But I will also smoke duck and goose and freeze them for the rest of the year.

Those who know their way around a smoker know that fat is a critical element in the process. Fat absorbs the smoke’s flavor better than the meat itself. This is why you see lots of recipes for smoked pork and salmon; both are fatty animals. So are waterfowl. Domestic ducks and geese are essentially avian pigs, and even wild ducks will have enough fat on them to make it worth some smoke time.

I smoked a flock of ducks and geese to get to this post, so here are my thoughts on what to do, and what to avoid.

For starters, if you are using domestic ducks and geese you will want to remove as much of the fat inside the body cavity and around the neck as you can. Save it, though, and render the duck fat for cooking later.

You will want to prick the skin of a domestic duck or goose all over with a needle — be careful not to pierce the meat, though. This helps rendered fat escape. I’ve even done this on fat wild ducks such as pintail and gadwall that had been gorging themselves on rice.

If you have wild waterfowl, follow these guidelines:

  • Don’t smoke sea ducks, divers or shovelers you think might be fishy. Smoking will not help you. Skin these birds and do something else with them.
  • Avoid smoking snow geese or any other wild bird that is über-lean; you need some fat to make this work. Even a little is OK.
  • Only smoke plucked birds. Remember, the smoky flavor lingers in skin and fat far more than meat. If you smoke a skinned duck it will be more like jerky and less like a proper smoked duck.
  • Smoking whole birds give you better results than pieces. Smoking a whole goose or duck will keep the meat more tender and juicy.
  • Big ducks smoke better than small ducks, although there is no reason you can’t smoke a teal.

To brine or not to brine? I’ve done both. If you want to eat the smoked duck for a Sunday dinner or whatnot, you can skip the brining — unless your duck is pretty lean, in which case the brine can help the meat stay moist. But brining a duck, especially if you use pink salt, will help preserve the bird longer in the fridge and will let you smoke it longer without drying out the meat.

So, if you choose to brine, do this:

  • Mix 1/4 cup kosher salt with 4 cups water and submerge your duck in the fridge overnight.
  • If you want to cold-smoke (below 90°F) or smoke for a very long time or if you want that pretty pink color, add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of pink salt, sodium nitrite, a/k/a Instacure No. 1.
  • When your duck is nicely brined, take it out of the water and pat it dry. Set it in a cool, drafty place for a few hours to dry out a bit. If you want to go the extra mile, put a fan on the ducks. After it is dry, then you can smoke it. if you skip this step and put a wet duck in the smoker, the smoke will not adhere as well to the skin or meat of the bird.

If you are skipping the brine, simply pat the duck or goose dry, let it dry out for a few hours and salt it well before smoking.

As for flavors, I am in love with the combination of smoke, duck, salt and maple. And not just any maple: I prefer the thick, super-premium maple syrup from Blis, which you can buy online. If you don’t want to bother with fancy syrup, boil down regular maple syrup by half; it’s close, but not the same. I need no other flavors in my life, but honey would be good, as would a Cajun rub, something vaguely Indian, chiles, French quatre epices, etc. Use your imagination.

two smoked ducks right out of the smoker
Photo by Hank Shaw

Wood is another choice you will need to make. I am a big fan of fruit or nut woods, like apple, pecan or walnut. Oak is OK, mesquite too weird.

How you place your duck in the smoker doesn’t really matter. I’ve stood them on end like a beer can chicken, with a glass jar jammed up its butt, and it worked well. But I’ve also just set the duck down on the rack, breast side up, and it went fine, too. You will always need a drip pan under the birds, as they will drip fat.

Your final issues are temperature and time.

If you plan on serving the smoked duck for dinner, go with a hotter temperature, between 250 to 275°F. This renders fat pretty well and gets you closer to a crispy skin. As for time, I prefer 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours at this temperature.

To crisp the skin, get your grill or oven ripping hot — 500°F or so — and put the ducks in with a drip pan underneath for a few minutes, until the skin crisps. Check after 5 minutes, and in no circumstances let the ducks or geese sit in this temperature more than 15 minutes.

If you want to have a traditional smoked duck, served cold as a luncheon meat or as an appetizer, keep the temperature closer to 200°F, and not hotter than 225°F. This will still render some fat, but will not crisp the skin — duck skin will lose its crispiness anyway once you put the cooled duck in the fridge. As for time, at least 3 hours and up to 6 hours. If you go to the long end of this scale, you will need the pink salt.

Allow the duck to cool before carving. Sliced thin and on the diagonal, smoked duck is fantastic as part of an appetizer plate or in a sandwich. You can also carve a whole breast, sear the skin side in a frying pan until it crisps again, and serve it with lentils or polenta. Again, use your imagination.

And for God’s sake save that carcass! It becomes the base of some of my all-time favorite soups, from smoked duck soup, to classic North Dakota knoephla soup, to a German duck broth with dumplings.

finished smoked duck recipe
4.89 from 76 votes

Smoked Duck or Goose

While there are lots of ways to smoke a duck or goose, this is what I prefer. This recipe is designed for wild ducks or geese, but it does work with domestic birds as well. Once your birds have been smoked, they will keep in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks. What to do with the leftover carcasses? Make this smoked duck soup. You will not be sorry!
Course: Appetizer, Cured Meat, Main Course, Snack
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 3 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients 

  • 1 large duck or small wild goose
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup thick maple syrup

Instructions 

  • Salt the duck well inside the cavity, then paint the outside of the bird with the maple syrup. Salt the outside well.
  • Set the bird in your smoker with a drip pan underneath. Smoke between 200 and 225 degrees over apple wood for 4 hours. Baste the ducks with the maple syrup every hour. When smoked, allow to cool completely, then carve. Serve cool or at room temperature as a cold cut or appetizer, or carve the breast whole and sear in a pan. Slice and serve with lentils.

Nutrition

Calories: 551kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 15g | Fat: 50g | Saturated Fat: 17g | Cholesterol: 97mg | Sodium: 81mg | Potassium: 296mg | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 214IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 29mg | Iron: 3mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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208 Comments

    1. Michael: It’s in the recipe. I shoot for 145F in the breast, tops. I prefer 140F. This undercooks the legs a bit, but gives you fantastic smoked duck breast.

  1. How do you like your duck? Medium Rare? With that, what internal temp are you trying to reach when smoking 3-6 hours?

  2. Going to become a family classic. Everyone ate it, most came back for seconds. The 4 other ducks in the freezer may have future appointments with the smoker.

  3. This worked great with a super fat Canada goose over the holidays. I let it get a little hot (~155F in the breast) but still was delicious.

  4. Hank when smoking the duck does the internal temp matter? I don’t want to over cook. When I roast duck I go to about 135 internal temp. I will be smoking wild birds.

  5. A neighbor has generously given us a huge bag of wild duck breasts (he’s a hunter). Should they be removed from the bone before smoking?

  6. I’ve used this recipe many times as a base for my experimentations and following some of the additional prompts. I only went wrong once by over salting the skin in my prep – now I lightly salt and let the duck sit over night then rub/glaze prior to smoking. I’ve had good luck with adding pecans and orange peel to the rub and the same woods for smoke. The part about removing the extra fat – do it! One year the fat drippings overspilled and torched my ducks, luckily it only meant crisper skin and a warped smoker, the meat was still good but it could have been really bad. Anyway, thanks for the recipe Hank!

  7. Earlier in your explanations, you suggest cooking at a higher temperature if cooking for dinner. This differs from the temperature suggested in the “recipe card.” Which temp should I go with?

  8. Hank, I put a 5 lb domestic duck on the smoker yesterda using your recipe. I stuffed the duck with a quartered orange and onion to keep the breast from collapsing. Followed the instructions to a tee and the duck turned out great. Everyone ate it up. Thanks!

  9. Hank
    Curious, why the maple syrup? Is it to help retain moisture, add flavor, or something else? Thanks for the great article!

  10. “To crisp the skin, get your grill or oven ripping hot — 500°F or so — and put the ducks in with a drip pan underneath for a few minutes, until the skin crisps.” Should this be done before or after the duck is cooked? Thanks for sharing, I’m looking forward to giving this a try!

  11. “Sliced thin and on the diagonal, smoked duck is fantastic as part of an appetizer plate or in a sandwich”

    1.) Would you remove the (cold) cooked breasts from the bird prior to slicing?

    2) I’m not sure where the ‘diagonal’ is.

    1. Lou: Yes, you cut off the whole breast before slicing. And on the diagonal means not straight up and down on the breast, but on a bias, so your slices are wider. But you can slice it thinly however you want.

  12. Awesome recipe. We opted out of maple syrup and used herbs de Provence. Very nice. We are new to smoking food so thanks for the tips.

  13. Hank, I love your book! I’d like to smoke some skin-on wild duck breasts I have for a thanksgiving appetizer – it’s not the whole bird and I saw your note above. My question is, how much better are the results? Is the smoked breast still good just not as good? Or is it difficult to make it taste good when it’s just the breast alone?

    1. Jason: It can be tricky to not have the meat dry out before you get a nice smoke on the breast. You will need to brine the meat for no more than 8 hours or so, then dry overnight in the fridge. Get your smoker as cold as it will go so you don’t overcook the meat before you can get at least a couple hours’ worth of smoke on there.