Duck breast is not difficult to prepare. However, it can create quite a mess because of the fat cap that is essential for keeping the meat juicy and flavorful. Cooking on a stove top often causes the fat to pop and splatter.
The same will happen in a conventional oven. Grilling over an open flame almost always results in flares of hot fire from the dripping fat as it hits the coals resulting in a charred exterior and often undercooked interior.
Duck breast is not an inexpensive cut of protein. Ruining it is not an option. A good way around this is to smoke the breast at a lower temperature in your Masterbuilt Smoker. Placing a disposable pan on the rack beneath the duck will catch the fat drippings and keep the smoker a bit cleaner.
Those drippings can make for some excellent cooking fat to use for other dishes. I always keep a mason jar of duck fat in my refrigerator to add some intense flavor to anything sautéing.
Types of Duck Breast
There are a few popular varieties of duck that you can smoke. Each has a unique texture and flavor. The difference depends on what the duck eats and what the climate is like. Since duck is a water fowl is makes sense that the meat may taste a little like the saltwater or freshwater habitats they live in.
A natural, omnivorous diet for wild ducks can include small fish, snails, worms, aquatic plants, insects, grasses, seeds, and berries. Domesticated or farmed ducks are often raised on leafy greens, cut weeds and grass, fresh peas, corn kernels, wheat, soy, and alfalfa. All varieties of ducks tend to eat dirt and small gravel or sand. This assists in digestion.
Wild ducks spend a good amount of time flying, swimming, and foraging. Their muscle is dense, lean, and generally the color of pork or beef. They tend to have a thick protective layer of fat just beneath their feathers to keep them warm in cool waters. Domesticated ducks are not bred to fly or to spend a lot of time swimming. Their muscle mass is softer and the meat is lighter in color and flavor.
Long Island or Pekin Duck
Long Island duck or duckling is likely the most popular duck to eat. It is easy to find in the supermarket and is almost always domesticated. It is harvested young while the flesh is still mild in flavor and there isn’t too much fat. It is often roasted whole. Your meat purveyor can cut a whole duck and remove the breasts for you.
Muscovy duck is thin-skinned, lower in fat, and has mildly gamey, deep red meat, similar to beef or veal. The breast is larger than that of Pekin and it has about 40% less fat. You do get more meat for your money when buying Muscovy duck.
The Moulard variety of duck is a personal favorite. The breed is a cross between a Muscovy male or drake and a Pekin female or hen. It is a fairly large bird with a well-developed breast that has a good layer of tasty fat. You can almost always find the boneless breast portions pre-packaged at the market. It will often be labeled Magret Duck Breast. This is a good choice for smoking.
About the Recipes
The recipes here are just for boneless breasts. That is a good starting place if you are smoking duck for the first time. It is absolutely possible to smoke duck legs or a whole duck. The duck breast meat is so lean that it can benefit from either an overnight brine or a wet marinade for a few hours.
The brined recipe is fairly straight forward and not terribly difficult. It just takes some time. The marinated duck breast recipe imparts a lot of different flavors and the ingredients can be switched up depending on what you have on hand. This particular marinade has fresh orange juice as the base with a few classic herbs and spices. It also has some honey. Feel free to replace the orange juice with apple cider or pineapple juice. If you don’t have honey on hand, brown sugar or maple syrup is fine.
While most recipes for smoked duck breast do not call for scoring the layer of fat, these do. Just lightly score the fat into 1” slices in a diamond pattern without cutting all the way into the flesh. This really helps the fat to render while the breasts are smoking. A thick layer of flabby duck fat is not always a pleasant texture. The more the fat renders, the crisper it becomes. Alternatively, you can prick the fat several times with a sharp fork.
These recipes are for 2 duck breasts. Double quantities for 4 breast portions.
Apple Brined Smoked Duck Breast
- 2 duck breasts, approximately 2 pounds
- 2 cups apple cider
- 2 cups filtered water
- 1/4 cup course sea salt
- 1 tsp coarsely ground pepper
- 1 clove of garlic, smashed
- 1 bay leaf
- Apple wood chips
- Apple cider and water
- Disposable foil pan
- In a container large enough to hold the brine and duck breasts, combine the cider, water, salt, pepper, garlic, and bay leaf. Stir well to dissolve all of the salt.
- Using a sharp knife, score just the fat, not the flesh, of the duck in a 1” diamond pattern. Submerge the breasts in the brine to cover. You can add more cider if needed. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.
- Remove the duck from the brine and rinse under cold water. Pat the duck dry with plenty of clean paper towels. Take a rack from the smoker and place the duck, fat side up, on the rack. Set the breasts aside to come to room temperature while you prepare your smoker. Discard the brine.
- Prepare your smoker by filling the side tray with apple wood chips. Fill the water bowl 1/2 way with equal parts plain water and apple cider. Preheat the smoker to between 225°F and 250°F with the top vent open.
- Place the rack in the middle of the smoker. On an empty rack below place a disposable foil pan to catch any fat drippings. Smoke for 60 minutes and check the internal temperature with a reliable meat thermometer. For medium rare, the temperature should read 145°F. Continue smoking for approximately 60 to 90 minutes longer if the temperature is below that. Remember to check the wood chips and liquid supply every 45 minutes and replenish as necessary.
- Remove the duck breasts to a cutting board and tent with foil. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before slicing to ensure they remain moist.
- Slice and serve the duck with seasonal side dishes. Some recipe ideas are included below.
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 608Total Fat: 27gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 18gCholesterol: 308mgSodium: 7316mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 2gSugar: 23gProtein: 56g
Orange Marinated and Smoked Duck Breast
- 2 boneless duck breasts, approximately 2 pounds
- 1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 TBS sea salt
- 1 TBS honey
- 1 TBS soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
- Maple or cherry wood chips
- Disposable foil pan
Total time: 2 hour 40 min – Prep time: 10 min – Smoke time: 2 hour 30 min – Serves: 4 people
1. Using a sharp knife, score just the fat, not the flesh, of the duck in a 1” diamond pattern. Place the duck in a glass baking dish.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the citrus juice, wine, salt, honey, soy sauce, paprika, garlic, thyme, and pepper. Pour the marinade over the duck and cover with plastic wrap or a lid. Place this in the refrigerator for 4 hours. Every hour, turn over the breasts to make sure all the meat is well marinated.
3. Take a rack from the smoker and place it on a counter covered with paper towels to catch drips. Place the duck, fat side up, on the rack. Set the breasts aside to come to room temperature while you prepare your smoker.
4. Prepare your smoker by filling the side tray with wood chips. Fill the water bowl 1/2 way. Preheat the smoker to between 225°F and 250°F with the top vent open.
5. Place the rack in the middle of the smoker. On an empty rack below place a disposable foil pan to catch any fat drippings. Smoke for 60 minutes and check the internal temperature with a reliable meat thermometer. For medium rare, the temperature should read 145°F. Continue smoking for approximately 60 to 90 minutes longer if the temperature is below that. Remember to check the wood chips and liquid supply every 45 minutes and replenish as necessary.
6. Remove the duck breasts to a cutting board and tent with foil. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before slicing to ensure they remain moist.
7. Slice and serve the duck with seasonal side dishes. Some recipe ideas are included below.
Wild Rice Pilaf with Pecans and Cranberries
- 2 TBS unsalted butter, divided
- 1/3 cup chopped yellow onion
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1-1/2 cups pure wild rice
- 3-1/2 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
- 3 TBS dried cranberries
- 3 TBS toasted, unsalted, coarsely chopped pecans
- 1 finely chopped scallion, white and green parts
- 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
- A pinch or 2 of sea salt to taste
Total time: 1 hour 20 min – Prep time: 10 min – Cook time: 1 hour 10 min – Serves: 4 people
1. Rinse the rice in a strainer under cool running water until the water runs clear. Set this aside to drain.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt 1 TBS of the butter over medium-low heat. Add the onion and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes until translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter and onions. Pour the broth in and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a low simmer and cover the pot.
3. Check the rice at 45 minutes. It should be slightly chewy with much of it blossomed, or opened up. If it is still crunchy, cover and continue to cook for and additional 5 to 15 minutes until the rice is tender. Drain off all the excess broth from the pot.
4. Place the drained rice in a bowl. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, scallions, cranberries, toasted pecans, and pepper. Fluff gently with a fork to combine all the ingredients well. Taste for salt and add a pinch or so if needed. Serve warm with your sliced duck breast.
Smoked Brussels Sprouts
Another good side dish for duck breast and wild rice is smoked Brussels sprouts. You can use the top rack of the smoker so that the sprouts are above the duck and don’t catch any raw drippings. Place the sprouts in the smoker when there is approximately 45 minutes of smoking time left for the duck. You can find the recipe in the mrecipes.com vegetables and fruits category.