Duck isn't chicken. Of course it isn't but it is important to point this out if you are roasting or smoking a whole duck for the first time. What are the differences beside one can fly and the other only dreams of it? First ducks don't yield as much meat as chickens. Well at least not like the steroid infused chickens you find at your local grocer these days. A duck's bones are heavier and ducks have a thick layer of fat just underneath the skin. So a 6 pound duck feeds about 4 while a 6 pound chicken can feed 6 or even 8 in some cases.
The other main difference is that ducks are all dark meat. This along with that layer of fat help to make their meat more resilient to drying out when cooked for long periods of time at low temperatures. Perfect for smoking. The fat slowly renders and continually baste the bird, leaving you with tender moist meat. Even after 6 hours of smoking.
It's relatively easy to cook a duck until done but the real challenge is to get the skin crispy and one way to do that is by cooking it low and slow. The other is the tea smoked or Peking style but those methods, done correctly, can take twice as long with marginally better results. This post is more about the techniques than anything so don't skip any steps but feel free to experiment with the basting sauce. Duck takes well to anything zesty and sweet.
- 1 6 lb duck, cleaned and washed
- 1 orange, halved
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1/2 onion
- 5 tablespoons honey
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons rice wine (mirin) or sherry
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1. Mix the juice of 1/2 of the orange with everything else (except for the duck of course) in a saucepan and bring to a boil then immediately remove from the burner. Watch out, it will easily boil over. Not that mine did or anything. Wink. Now set aside.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile pierce the skin of the duck with a small sharp knife, making several small slits all over breast side of the duck. Be careful to not cut into the meat layer, only as deep as the skin and the fat but not into the meat. Now place the duck in your sink and slowly and carefully pour the boiling water over the breast side (pierced side) of the duck. Dry the duck and set aside. This step plays a big part in achieving crispy skin so don't skip it but do be careful.
3. If you have a smoker then set it up according to the manufacturer's instructions and preheat to 275°F. If, like me, you are using a grill, set it for indirect grilling and smoking with a drip pan beneath the duck. Half fill the drip pan with water as this will even further help ward off drying out the duck. I used apple or cherry wood chips and a smoker box on my gas grill but you can use charcoal and chips or hardwood coals. Either why get the temp up to 275°F and maintain.
4. I made setting up the grill / smoker its own step because it is important to the outcome of the bird. Tie the duck together with cooking twine, like you do when roasting a turkey. Now baste the duck with the seasoning mixture and smoke it for 4 - 6 hours, turning and basting the duck every hour. The internal temperature will need to be between 165 - 175°F, the skin should be a nice mahogany color and hopefully nice and crispy. The crisp means that the fat has rendered away. If you are nearing 175°F and the skin still isn't crisp, you can transfer the duck to a 500°F oven for just a few minutes. But keep an eye on it as the baste mixture can burn within minutes.
5. Allow it to cool and carve by removing legs and wings then slicing the two breast off whole, then sliced into smaller portions and fanned out onto a serving platter. We served this duck alongside fried Asian style green beans and vegetable lo mein with great success. Smoked duck? Check!
Photo courtesy of Bob Rudis via Creative Commons