November 14, 2021
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The sight of crispy skin on a perfectly roasted duck is almost guaranteed to get any mouth watering, and that includes hunters and non-hunters alike. However, any waterfowl hunter who’s attempted roasting a duck or goose whole knows it’s no easy task and is often a matter of compromise, as breasts taste best at 135 degrees Fahrenheit and with an internal temperature and legs at 180. But rarely, if ever, do we hit those marks on both if cooking whole. So, what is our goal? Striking the best balance possible, which requires a bit of give and take.
For starters, I recommend brining all your birds prior to cooking. What brining does: It can cut moisture loss in half, meaning even if you overcook your fowl, it will still taste juicier than it would have if not brined. Brining is basically a “Get out of jail free” card for bird roasters, to a certain extent.
Next is the issue of fat. A late-migration mallard will contain far more fat than, say, this 14-ounce resident mallard from south-central Kansas. Fat is an insulator and will obviously affect both your cooking temps and time.
Year after year, it seems pellet grills become more and more popular and chances are if you own one, you’ve been wanting to try it out on ducks and geese or have already attempted such with varying results. For fattier ducks, low and slow works better, while thin-skinned ducks benefit more from hot and fast oven temps. However, pellet grills don’t excel at “hot and fast.”
For almost any duck roasted whole, I do recommend running a couple meat probes or thermometer to keep tabs on both the internal temps of a leg and breast. Once that breast reaches 130, it’s decision time. About this time, the legs start winning the foot race in terms of climbing temps. Whereas both may have been around 110 after searing in cast iron, at around 125 the legs start to climb quicker in this recipe. What this means: You can carve out those breasts at 130/135 and finish off legs at higher heat, or allow the duck to continue to cook whole until legs reach near 180, though by this time, your breasts will likely be closer to 160.
How to Make Pellet-Grilled Duck with Fried Rice
Yield: 2 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes (plus overnight)
Cook time: 75 minutes
- One plucked (skin-on) whole duck (weight will vary)
- Zest from one orange to garnish duck while roasting/smoking
- 1 gallon cold water
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup whole black peppercorns
- 1/2 bulb fresh garlic, smashed
- 8 ounces fresh ginger, smashed
- Zest from one orange
- 1 -1/2 cups jasmine or basmati rice
- 2 cup cold water
- (Feel welcome to add frozen peas and carrots when cooking or other ingredients)
- Bring half gallon water to simmer and stir in brine ingredients.
- Stir until all sugar and salt dissolves.
- Add half gallon of very cold water and ice cubes to cool brine.
- Add thawed duck to brine once brine is cool.
- Let duck brine overnight in fridge, for no longer than 18 hours.
- Remove duck and thoroughly rinse off brine.
- Pat dry and place duck back in fridge for at least 3 hours to dry skin. Make sure there is ample airflow around duck so skin can indeed dry.
- Pre-heat pellet grill or oven to 160.
- In a cold (preferably cast-iron) skillet, heat on medium and gradually turn duck over with tongs in pan until all sides are brown. Make sure to extra-brown legs and wings, cooking them in skillet when it’s hottest for twice as long as other parts of duck.
- Put duck on its back and leave in skillet and place in grill or oven at 160. Check temp of both breast and leg or leave probes in both. You may be around 110 for breasts and higher for legs when setting in to roast.
- Adjust smoke to your preferred level. On my Camp Chef Woodwind, I ran this one on 10 with pecan pellets.
- Take one orange and zest it over the top of the duck.
- Let the duck stay at 160 for 30 minutes, then turn up heat to 300.
- At this point, the breasts will likely hit 135 in 10 minutes (or quicker).
- You need to decide: Allow duck to continue to roast whole until legs are closer to 180 (which will put breasts closer to 160) or cut out breasts, lightly tent with aluminum foil, and turn up heat to 400 to finish off legs.
- Do note: If using leave-in meat probes, you may need to remove since most are not safe to leave in with temps over 350. Legs are best removed when innermost portion of thigh (not touching bone) reads 180.
- When duck is roasted/smoked to your desired crispness and internal temps, remove and lightly tent with aluminum foil on a plate.
- In same skillet, with all rendered fat, add cooked rice and cook on medium until rice takes on brown color. (Feel welcome to add whatever else you want to rice: frozen carrots and peas, perhaps an egg, soy sauce, Sambal chili paste, etc.)
- Regardless of when and whether you pull duck whole or breasts and legs separately, make sure to allow meat to rest, lightly tented with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes prior to cutting and serving.
- With duck cooking, in a medium saucepan add 1-1/2 cups jasmine or basmati rice along with 2 cups cold water.
- Cover saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn heat to low and turn heat off once all water is absorbed.
Whole Roast Tips:
- Brine overnight and rinse thoroughly, allow skin to dry for at least few hours in fridge. Dry skin is the first step toward crispy skin.
- For crisp skin, start with a cold (preferably cast-iron) pan and heat on medium. Turn duck with tongs to gradually brown all sides as fat renders, making sure to “extra-sear” the legs and wings, meaning they get far more attention cooking in pan prior to roast.
- Use two meat probes or one meat thermometer to check both: inner most portion of breast and thigh. Ideal temps: 135 for breasts, 180 for legs.
- Fat ducks cook better at low temps for longer, whereas barely fat ducks benefit from higher temps and shorter cook times.
- If concerned about breasts overcooking, once they hit 130, cut out and turn up the heat to finish off legs and wings.
- Before cutting and serving, it’s best to allow meat to rest for 10 minutes after removing from grill.
Any questions or comments, please reach out on Instagam @WildGameJack