Put an extra delicious touch to your holiday dinner with this juicy smoked duck! Finished with a spiced pomegranate-maple glaze for a festive spin, this duck features the most tender, succulent meat to make one memorable meal that's sure to impress. Don't be surprised if this smoked whole duck becomes a new family tradition.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
Made for dark meat lovers: While duck is in the poultry family and classified as white meat, it sure doesn’t taste that way. Duck is much richer and fattier than turkey and chicken, which makes for ultra juicy meat with more robust flavor. If you’re the type of person to grab a drumstick, you will fall in love with this duck.
Frees up your oven space: Duck is most commonly served during the holidays when oven space is at a premium. By relying on our trusty smoker instead, we can give our oven a break so that it can accommodate all those favorite side dishes.
Simpler than you’d think: Preparing a whole bird can seem intimidating, but we’ll walk through the process to show you how simple it truly is. Whether you’re new to smoking meat or cooking a whole bird, you’ve got this.
That festive glaze: Oh, boy. Smoked duck is certainly flavorful on its own, but you’ll just love how the warm spices, fruity pomegranate and rich maple syrup complement that luscious meat. After one taste, you’ll want to slather this pomegranate glaze on all your smoked and roasted poultry, whether it’s this duck or your favorite chicken or turkey recipe.
Whole duck: Before smoking, remove any innards and giblets from the body cavity. Often, whole ducks will come with the liver, which you can save to make a wonderful pâté for the perfect appetizer.
Dry rub: We use this to coat the entire duck before smoking. This rub includes smoked paprika, black pepper, garlic powder, brown sugar and chili powder. We also use plenty of salt prior to the dry rub.
Pomegranate juice: The pomegranate adds a lovely holiday touch, but you can also substitute it for cranberry juice or cherry juice for a different twist.
Maple syrup: Make sure you use real maple syrup, not pancake syrup. We want the real thing here for the best flavor.
Spice mixture: The spice mixture here is for our glaze and includes salt, ground cinnamon, cloves, allspice and a pinch of cayenne pepper.
Cornstarch: This is what thickens our glaze. Without it, the glaze will be too thin, so don’t skip this important ingredient.
How to Thaw Duck
Typically, the duck you’ll find at the grocery store or butcher will be frozen, so we need to completely thaw the duck before jumping into the smoking process. Otherwise, it will take much longer to smoke and cook unevenly, which can throw off the entire recipe.
The simplest way is to plan ahead and allow the duck to thaw in the refrigerator for two to three days. Once thawed, you should use the defrosted duck within two days.
If you need to speed up the process, fully submerge the duck in cold water in a large pot with a light stream of water constantly running, changing out the water every 30 minutes, or place the duck in cold water in the refrigerator.
Just make sure you do not thaw the duck by simply placing it on the countertop at room temperature or using warm water. This creates a breeding ground for bacteria.
How to Dry Brine and Smoke
For a quick overview on what to expect, we will first prepare the whole duck, dry brine and then smoke. Properly preparing the duck and dry brining are crucial to getting that crispy skin.
Dry brining is the process of salting the bird and then letting it rest uncovered in the refrigerator. The salt draws out the moisture from the skin and meat. As it sits, the moisture dissolves the salt, which the duck meat then reabsorbs. Not only does this result in a more flavorful meat but it dries the skin for better browning.
Step 1: Your duck will likely have extra flaps of skin by the neck and cavity, so our first step is to trim off those excess pieces (photo 1).
Step 2: Now we cut slits into the duck skin without piercing the meat (photo 2). Duck skin has a thick layer of fat, so cutting these slits gives the fat a place to escape to create that crisp skin. Essentially, we cut slits across the whole duck breast at an angle in one direction and then cut again at a criss-cross angle, making a diamond shape.
Step 3: We’re now ready to dry brine. For the step, we blot the duck with paper towels until it’s as dry as possible and then sprinkle salt all over the skin of the duck. We fill the cavity of the duck with an onion and orange and place it in the refrigerator for 24 hours. After brining, the skin will dry out and tighten like so (photo 3).
Step 4: From here, we mix together the spices and rub it all over the duck (photo 4). Make sure you also rub some spices onto the skin where possible and inside the cavity. Once covered, we let the duck sit at room temperature for 30-60 minutes. This takes the chill off the meat and encourages more even cooking.
Step 5: Now we place the duck directly on the grill grates of the smoker with a water pan and drip pan underneath the duck to catch any rendered fat (photo 5). We start off smoking the bird at a low temperature of 225 degrees F.
Step 6: When the duck reaches an internal temperature of about 130 degrees F in the thickest part of the thigh, we brush it with the pomegranate glaze (photo 6). We let it continue to smoke until the internal meat temperature reaches about 145 degrees F. At that point, we brush it again and then turn the smoker to a higher temperature of 400 degrees F to help crisp the skin.
Step 7: Once the internal temperature of the duck reaches 165 degrees F, we remove the bird from the smoker, brush it one more time with the glaze and allow it to rest for 10 minutes before carving (photo 7). This gives the juices time to redistribute throughout the meat to ensure every bite is perfectly moist.
Note: This smoked duck recipe was tested on a vertical pellet grill. However, you can use this technique and recipe on any type of smoker.
How to Make the Glaze
Step 1: For the glaze, we whisk together pomegranate juice, orange juice, maple syrup, grated ginger and the spices in a small skillet and bring the mixture to a boil (photo 8).
Step 2: In a small glass, we whisk together cornstarch with a splash of water to make a slurry and pour it into the pomegranate mixture. We allow it to simmer until it thickens to a glaze-like consistency (photo 9).
Step 3: As our final step, we turn off the heat and stir in some fresh orange zest (photo 10).
You’ll notice you have more than enough glaze to coat the duck. That way, you have additional glaze if you’d like to serve some on the side.
All that’s left is to serve this succulent duck with some smoked mac and cheese, and you have yourself the perfect family dinner for the holidays. Now enjoy every tender, juicy bite.
Bonus: For more holiday dinner ideas, try these maple-braised turkey legs and thighs.
When cooking duck breasts on their own, many chefs prefer to serve them medium rare with a 135-degree F internal temperature. Yes, duck is poultry, but it’s not nearly as common for it to carry salmonella like chicken or turkey, so you can get away with a lower internal temperature.
However, this is a bit trickier when cooking the whole duck. The duck legs and thighs benefit from a higher internal temperature to help break down some of that connective tissue, so we want to cook the meat until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
But don’t worry. This will not dry out the duck breast meat. With all that fat under the skin, you’ll be left with the juiciest, most tender meat.
We want a mild wood that will infuse a nice smoke flavor without overwhelming the meat. Cherry wood is my favorite, but apple wood, maple wood and pecan are nice options as well.
With smoking, we generally don’t have exact smoking times as so many factors can affect it. That said, you can estimate that it will take about two to two and a half hours to reach 145 degrees and then another 20 minutes or so to reach 165 degrees with a high cooking temperature. You also need to account for the time it takes to heat the smoker and allow the meat to rest, so plan for about three hours.
If any side dishes finish before the duck, simply keep them warm in the oven or cover the dishes with heavy-duty aluminum foil. You always want to have some flexibility on serving time when smoking.
For proper storage, keep the duck in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can also freeze it for up to six months. After six months, the duck will still be safe to consume, but it won’t taste quite as good once thawed.
Don’t rely on color to check for doneness: Even when fully cooked, duck will retain a bit of pinkness. Use a probe thermometer to constantly monitor the temperature and rely on that measurement to tell you when the duck is ready.
Plan accordingly: If you figure one smoked whole duck has two breasts and two leg quarters, that’s enough to feed four people, especially during the holidays when you have loads of appetizers, side dishes and desserts. That makes duck great for smaller gatherings, but if you’re feeding more than four people or want leftovers, you can smoke additional ducks as needed.
Save that duck carcass, excess skin and rendered fat: The duck carcass is perfect for making a homemade stock, and you can use that excess skin to render additional duck fat. You can then use the duck fat to drizzle on french fries or make the best roasted potatoes.
Replace old spices: After six months, spices start to lose their potency. For the most flavorful meat and glaze, make sure your spices are fresh.
Slice the duck skin while cold: It’s much easier to slice through cold duck skin, so take care of this step as soon as you remove the meat from the refrigerator.
A Belgian strong dark ale and duck are always wonderful together. This is a big, bold beer that can stand up to rich meat. We also get some lovely dried fruit notes with a sweet malt backbone to counter the smoky flavor while complementing that delightful spiced pomegranate glaze.
For the ultimate wine pairing, you’ll love a full-bodied syrah. With this wine, you get warm spices and tobacco notes that match well with our cooking style along with pops of berry that meld with our pomegranate glaze. Plus, syrah is nice and acidic, which helps cut through the fatty meat to leave your palate refreshed.
When special occasions call, I hope you prepare this simple smoked duck. It’s guaranteed to make one show-stopping dinner.
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Smoked Duck With Spiced Pomegranate-Maple Glaze
- Smoker any kind
- Wood chunks or pellets preferably cherry but apple, maple and pecan are good options
- Leave-in meat thermometer
- Water pan
- Drip pan
- 1 whole duck innards and giblets removed
- 1 tablespoon salt
- ½ yellow onion cut into wedges
- ½ orange cut into wedges
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
Spiced Pomegranate Glaze
- 1 cup pomegranate juice
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup real maple syrup
- 1 garlic clove grated or minced
- 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- Splash of water
- ½ teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
- Trim off excess fat on the side opposite of the duck cavity. If there's excess fat by the cavity, you can trim that too.
- Place the duck on a sturdy cutting board and score the breast skin using a sharp knife. Cut the skin in a criss-cross pattern but make sure you don't pierce the meat to avoid drying it out.
- Pat the duck dry with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible and sprinkle salt all over the bird. It will seem like a lot of salt, but that's normal for dry brining. Fill the cavity with the onion and orange wedges. Place in a large bowl and refrigerate uncovered for 24 hours to dry brine.
- Remove the duck from the refrigerator 30-60 minutes before smoking. Heat the smoker to 225 degrees F. Stir together the smoked paprika, brown sugar, black pepper, garlic powder and chili powder. Rub all over the duck.
- Place the duck directly on the grates of the smoker breast-side up with a water pan and drip pan underneath the duck to catch any rendered fat. Insert a leave-in meat thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh without touching the bone. Close the lid.
- Smoke until the duck reaches 130 degrees F and brush with the glaze. Continue smoking until the meat reaches 145 degrees F, about two to two and a half hours. Crank up the heat to 400 degrees F, brush with glaze again and smoke until the internal meat temperature reaches 165 degrees F, about another 20 minutes or so.
- Remove the duck from the smoker and place on a cutting board. Brush with the glaze one more time and allow the duck to rest for 10 minutes to allow the juice to redistribute to the meat before carving. Serve with additional glaze on the side. Enjoy!
Spiced Pomegranate-Maple Glaze
- In a small skillet or saucepan, stir together the pomegranate juice, orange juice, maple syrup, garlic, ginger, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice and cayenne pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and then simmer until it slightly reduces.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and a little bit of cold water until it becomes a smooth slurry. Whisk into the sauce to avoid any clumps forming and bring to a boil. Keep whisking and allow the mixture to boil for about a minute until it thickens.
- Turn off heat and stir in orange zest. Use to glaze the duck. You'll also have additional glaze leftover to serve on the side. Enjoy!
- The smoking time is just an estimate. A lot of factors, such as weather, can affect the cooking time.
- Don’t rely on color to check for doneness. Even when fully cooked, duck will retain a bit of pinkness. Use a probe thermometer to constantly monitor the temperature and rely on that measurement to tell you when the duck is ready.
- Slice the duck skin while cold: It’s much easier to slice through cold duck skin, so take care of this step as soon as you remove the meat from the refrigerator.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for three to four days. You can also freeze it for up to six months.
- Nutritional information is only an estimate. The accuracy of the nutritional information for any recipe on this site is not guaranteed.