Holidays and special occasions are more memorable with an exceptional meal. If you’d like to try something a little different yet still elegant, consider a smoked duck! Rich, flavorful duck slow-cooked on a smoker is an out-of-the-ordinary main dish that is sure to please. We have all the thermal secrets you need for smoked duck success.
What Makes Duck Meat Different?
Ducks have the ability to fly hundreds of miles a day, and their muscles are rich in myoglobin because of all the activity. Not only do ducks fly, but they swim. They have a thick layer of fat over their breasts for buoyancy. Duck meat is dark, moist, and full of rich flavor. If the dark turkey meat is your favorite at Thanksgiving, give duck a try. You’ll be in for a treat!
Only One Type of Meat on the Bird
The tricky thing about cooking a whole chicken or turkey is balancing the doneness of the dark leg meat and the lean white meat of the breasts (see our post, White vs. Dark Turkey Cooking Methods). But duck is ALL dark meat, making it less finicky to cook. You just need the right cooking temperature to properly dissolve the fat.
➤ Duck Cooking Temperature
Traditional smoking temperatures are quite low—200-275°F (93-135°C). But duck needs a higher temperature to render the fat well. A cooking temperature of 300-325°F (149°C-163°C) is recommended.
➤ Duck Doneness Temperature
Duck has the same minimum doneness temperature as other poultry—165°F (74°C). Tracking the duck’s temperature during the cook, and verifying its pull temperature are important steps in the quality of the cooked meat and its safety.
Is Cooked Duck Safe Even if It’s Pink?
If fresh duck or goose has reached a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) as measured with a food thermometer, even though it may still be pink in the center, it should be safe. The pink color can be due to the cooking method or added ingredients. —Duck and Goose From Farm to Table, USDA.gov
Dark poultry meat can still look pink when it has been cooked to a safe internal temperature, but especially when it has been smoked. If you’ve been able to verify the duck’s internal temperature with an accurate thermometer, then rest assured it’s safe to eat.
Quick Smoking Project
Ducks are small (5-1/2–6 lbs.), so this bird doesn’t take nearly as long to smoke as a turkey. It’ll be ready for your holiday dinner in 2-3 hours. Our duck was perfectly cooked in 2-1/2 hours.
Recommended Temperature Tools
➤ Dual-Channel Alarm Thermometer
We love using Smoke™ with its dual channels to track both the temperature of the meat and the temperature of your cooker at the same time. The wireless receiver is a lifesaver when it’s cold outside—you can keep an eye on both temperatures while keeping warm indoors!
➤ 4″ Straight High Temp Probe
Duck breasts are a bit smaller than chicken breasts, and you need a smaller probe to track the thermal center’s internal temperature. We used the 4″ Pro-Series® High Temp Straight Penetration Probe. It stays in place in the duck’s thermal center more easily than the standard 6″ High Temp Cooking Probe.
➤ Digital Instant-Read
It’s important to always verify that your target temperature is the lowest temperature inside the meat. When you’re smoking meat it’s important to only open the lid as little as possible to maintain an even smoking temperature. The speed and accuracy of a Thermapen® Mk4 can’t be beat, and will keep your temperature spot-checking time down to a minimum.
Smoked Duck Recipe
- 5–6 lb. whole duck
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 small onion, quartered
- 2 small mandarin oranges, quartered
- Salt and pepper as needed to season the duck
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon molasses
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- Zest of one orange
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Smoker setup
- Smoke dual channel alarm thermometer with wireless receiver
- Pro-Series High Temp Straight Penetration Probe
- Thermapen Mk4
- Apple (or cherry) wood chips or chunks
Prep Day Before
- Trim the skin around the neck leaving about a 1″ flap, and remove the tips of the wings.
- Remove giblets from the duck’s cavity, and pat the duck dry with paper towels.
- Pierce or slash skin all the way through the fat layer without going through to the meat in about 1″ intervals to help the fat render out.
- Brush with 2 tablespoons honey and 1 tablespoon soy sauce.
- Season with salt and pepper on all sides
- Stuff the duck’s cavity with a quartered mandarin orange and onion.
- Place onto metal cooling grate set over a rimmed baking sheet.
- Refrigerate overnight, uncovered, to dry brine.
The dry brining may seem like extra work – and it is – but it has two big advantages. The time in the refrigerator air dries the skin, helping it crisp up in the grill. The salt has time to penetrate deep into the meat, seasoning the duck all the way through. Take the time to dry brine. You won’t regret it. —Dad Cooks Dinner, Mike Vrobel
Fire up Your Smoker
- Prepare your smoker to cook at 300-325°F (149-163°C). Add wood chips or chunks.
- Place a water pan below the smoker’s cooking grate to create a humid environment, and to catch any drips.
- Set cooking grate in place and secure the air probe with a grate clip.
- Close the smoker lid and let smoke develop for about 20 minutes.
Glaze the Duck
- While your smoker is heating, make the glaze. In a small bowl combine the honey, molasses, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, orange zest, and salt and pepper. Liberally brush the glaze all over the duck.
Cook the Bird
- Set Smoke’s high alarm to 157°F (69°C) on the channel monitoring the meat. Set the high alarm to 330°F (166°C) on the channel monitoring the smoker’s temperature, and the low alarm to 295°F (146°C).
- Place your Pro-Series High Temp Straight Penetration Probe in the thermal center of the breast meat.
- Set the duck onto the cooking grate, close the smoker lid, and attach the pit and meat probes to your Smoke thermometer.
- Keep Smoke’s receiver around your neck and go back inside to warm up! You’ll never have to wonder what’s going on with your smoker or the meat. The receiver will alert you if the cooker’s temperature is too high or low, and when the meat has reached its target temperature. Easy! Our duck took about 2-1/2 hours to smoke.
- When the meat’s high alarm sounds, verify its internal temperature by spot-checking it with your Thermapen Mk4 in multiple areas. If a lower temperature than 157°F (69°C) is found, replace the Pro-Series probe, close your smoker’s lid and keep cooking the duck until the target temperature is reached.
Resting and Carryover
- Pull the duck from your smoker when the pull temperature is verified and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.
- Keep the probe in the meat so you can track the thermal center’s rise in temperature with carryover cooking. In the upper left-hand corner of each channel’s reading on Smoke are the recorded Max and Min temperatures reached. This is an easy way to be sure your duck has reached 165°F (74°C).
What if My Duck Never Reaches 165°F?
According to the USDA’s Time-Temperature Pasteurization Tables, poultry only needs to be held at a temperature of 157°F (69°C) for 50.4 seconds to be considered pasteurized and safe to eat (with a 7-log reduction of pathogens). At 160°F (71°C), the temperature only needs to be maintained for 26.9 seconds.
Once your beautiful smoked duck has rested, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for—time to carve and serve. The perfectly cooked meat is tender and incredibly juicy. This smoked duck is packed with so much rich flavor, it’s an ideal choice as the centerpiece of any holiday dinner.
Pro-Series High Temp Straight Penetration Probe