Smoked duck breast is a gorgeous addition to so many picnic menu ideas. Smoking duck breasts is also a very simple (and less messy) way to cook duck and a great way to bring out the best of the ducks natural flavours.
How to Smoke Duck Breast
Smoking Duck Breast for the Best Flavour
Slow smoked duck breast should have subtle smokey flavour without overwhelming or competing with the ducks own unique flavour. Some think because duck is quite a strong meat, it needs to be heavily marinated and smoked with strong flavours. We don’t believe this is the case at all.
Duck pairs well with robust flavours – think hoisin sauce, goats cheese and heavily sweet fruits such as cranberry and fig. We want the duck’s natural flavours to shine through, not compete with the flavours duck works best with. Which is why the cooking process should accentuate the flavour of the meat, not overwhelm it.
With this in mind, smoking a delicious, tender and juicy duck breast is incredibly simple and requires less time and effort than you may think. You don’t need to create complicated marinades and brines nor have expensive smoking equipment. All you need is some quality duck breast, a gas bbq, and some wood chips.
Tips for Cooking Duck Breast
So many people think cooking duck is best left to experienced chefs. This couldn’t be further than the truth. Some say it’s harder to poach an egg than cook a perfect duck breast.
The only thing that can go wrong with duck is overcooking it and making it tough. A problem that is so easy to avoid. Once you understand how simple it is to cook duck, you can explore and enjoy the versatility of a simple yet well-cooked duck breast. These tips will help you cook a perfectly tender and juicy duck breast every time.
Is Duck Breast Supposed to be Rare?
Properly cooked duck breast is served medium rare which will be pink in the middle. Any more than this can cause the meat to dry out and become tough. Unlike chicken, duck meat is more akin to red meat so is safe to eat medium-rare. A well-cooked duck breast will be juicy and pink in the middle with a crispy skin.
How Long to Smoke a Duck Breast
Using a gas BBQ at 132℃ | 270℉, it will take 30 – 50 minutes to properly cook the duck breast to medium rare as per the internal temperatures listed below. The time will depend on the size and thickness of the breast but should not take longer than an hour.
How do You Know When A Duck Breast is Cooked?
The most foolproof way of knowing if your duck breast is cooked to a perfect medium-rare is to use a basic meat thermometer. They are a cheap and very handy kitchen investment.
Using a meat thermometer, the internal temperature of the duck breast should read:
- Rare: 54℃ | 129℉
- Medium Rare: 61℃ |141℉
- Medium – Well Done: 65℃ | 149℉.
I don’t recommend aiming for medium-well done internal temperature even if that is your desired finish (some are squeamish about pink duck meat). The duck breast will continue to cook after being removed from the heat and left to rest for 10 minutes, which could leave you with a tough, well-done result. I would always aim for medium-rare or slightly less for a perfectly tender end result.
How to Know if Your Duck Breast Is Cooked Without a Thermometer?
The duck breast will take between 30 minutes to an hour to cook depending on the size. Press the breast with your finger and the texture should still be a little soft but should spring back as you touch it.
A way to get a feel for this is to use the palm test to know what it should feel like. Press your thumb to the tip of your second finger and press the part of your palm below the thumb. This is how your duck should feel when pressed. You can find a comprehensive guide to this method of testing when meat is cooked here. It is a good method to get familiar with for cooking all types of meat.
You can also take a small slice from the breast and return to the heat if too pink. Don’t forget, the meat will continue to cook a little after you remove it from the heat as it rests.
Tip for Crispy Skin: I like to rub a decent amount of ground pepper into the skin after scoring it to help crisp the skin. You would be surprised at how the finished breast doesn’t taste peppery after cooking. Also, if you render the remaining fat off in a pan, the pepper will aid the crisping and any remaining strong pepper taste will cook-off. But this is entirely optional. If you don’t like pepper, do nothing to the skin. It will still cook nicely without any additives.
Depending on the thickness of the fat layer, I may undercook the duck breast slightly to further render the fat in a pan and crisp the skin after smoking.
Simply place the duck breast on a hot pan skin down on medium to high heat. Cook, being careful to crisp, not burn the skin until the fat renders out. Keep your cooking times in mind here so as not to overcook the meat. You may want to use a grease splatter screen as it will splatter a lot and make a mess.
If the fat is very thick, some people like to cut the fat layer off after smoking, slice into strips and place the fat pieces in the oven to make crispy duck bits which can be sprinkled on a salad.
Ideally, it is always nice to leave the crispy skin intact on the meat if possible.
Should You Score a Duck Breast?
Scoring the duck breast will help the fat to render more efficiently and give you crispier skin. Score the duck breast straight from the fridge when the fat is cold and firm. Be careful not to score too deeply and cut into the flesh. Some duck breasts will have a thick layer of fat and others can be very thin, so go easy when scoring.
What are the Best Woods for Smoking Duck?
Like we talked about earlier, I don’t see the value in overwhelming the natural duck flavour. Try to lean towards milder woods, especially fruit woods with a sweeter smoke which pairs so well with duck.
We have smoked duck breast with a combination of cherry and beech which produced a smokier flavour. Whereas cherry on its own gives the duck a subtle smoky finish without overwhelming the duck’s natural flavours. Apple and maple would also be a great match for duck.
Do You Need a Proper Smoker?
No. You do not need any expensive equipment to smoke duck. A simple gas bbq and some wood chips do the trick perfectly. We use a basic 2 burner gas bbq with a lid and an inexpensive smoker box. You can even place the wood chips in a foil packet with a hole punched in the top if you don’t want to invest in a smoking box.
How to Serve Smoked Duck Breast
If you keep the smoking and cooking of the duck breast simple – no heavy marinades, there are a myriad of ways you can use your smoked duck breast, especially if you want to include smoked duck in your picnic menu. There are a load of gorgeous picnic menu ideas to include duck.
Thinly sliced, it makes a great addition to a charcuterie plate for a wine and cheese picnic. Add it, again, thinly sliced to your picnic salad. You could go Asian style salads, think thin slices on top of an Asian coleslaw or try a smoked duck, fig and grilled pear salad with goats cheese for a very simple yet elegant picnic salad.
Add it to picnic sandwiches – duck breast slices with arugula, sweet chilli jam and a strong cheese such as goats cheese or Roquefort.
Want an Asian spin, try duck in a Vietnamese style banh mi roll or fresh rice paper rolls with slices of smoked duck and a hoisin dipping sauce.