How to Cook a Duck

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Pekin and Muscovy ducks are commonly used for roast duck.
Pekin and Muscovy ducks are commonly used for roast duck. (Image: bozhdb/iStock/Getty Images)

Don't let cooking a whole duck intimidate you -- it's not as difficult as you might think and there is more than one way to prepare it. When served whole, this naturally rich, fatty bird is often roasted, but can also be grilled or even deep-fried in a turkey fryer. However you choose to cook the duck, prep the skin so that it releases fat easily for a crispy texture and use moderate heat levels to avoid overcooking the meat.

Things You'll Need

  • Cutting board
  • Sharp knife
  • Kosher salt
  • Pepper
  • Additional seasonings, optional
  • Meat thermometer

Crisp Roast Duck

Trim the excess fat from the neck and tail end of the duck, using a sharp chef's knife and a clean cutting board. Remove the giblets packet from the cavity.

Prick the duck skin all over with the tip of a sharp knife, which will allow the excess duck fat to release for a crispier skin. Pierce only through the skin and not the duck flesh; poking holes through the flesh can make it dry out in the oven.

Season the duck generously, inside and out, with kosher salt, freshly cracked black pepper and any other seasonings and aromatics you prefer, such as fresh herbs, orange zest and paprika. You can stuff the cavity with aromatics such as garlic, orange slices and herb sprigs.

Place the seasoned duck on a large platter in the refrigerator overnight, uncovered, which helps dry out the skin for a crispier result. Remove it from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you are ready to cook.

Preheat the oven to between 400 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Set the duck on a roasting rack inside the roasting pan, breast side up. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350 F.

Baste the duck with its own juices from the bottom of the pan and flip the duck every 30 minutes as it continues to roast. An average 4- to 6-pound duck needs roughly 22 minutes per pound to fully cook. Use a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of each thigh to check for done-ness. The thighs should be between 165 and 175 degrees F and wiggle easily when done. Let the duck rest for about 15 minutes before carving.

Grilled Duck

Prepare your grill for indirect heat. On a charcoal grill, place a drip pan in the bottom center of the grill and pour charcoal on either side of it. Light the coals and burn them until they are covered in ash. On a gas grill, set a drip pan in the center underneath the grates. Turn all the burners to high and close the lid to preheat the grill. After 15 minutes, reduce the burners to medium-low.

Prick the duck skin all over with a sharp knife tip, being careful not to pierce the flesh. Season inside and out with salt and pepper, or any dry spice rub of your choice. You can stuff the cavity with any aromatics you prefer.

Place the duck breast side up on the grill, directly over the drip pan. Cover the grill and allow the duck to cook for about 90 minutes. Flip the duck after 90 minutes and pour off the excess fat and juices from the drip pan.

Continue cooking the duck for another 30 minutes to an hour, until the skin is deep brown and crisp. Flip it over again in the last 10 minutes to crisp the breast side. Use a meat thermometer to check for done-ness before removing from the grill.

Deep-Fried Duck

Set up a gas or electric turkey fryer pot outside, at least 10 feet away from your home or any other building. Add an amount of peanut oil sufficient to cover the duck and turn the heat to 325 F.

Dry the duck as much as you can with paper towels, then season with salt, pepper and any seasoning combination or spices you prefer. Tie the duck legs together tightly using butcher's string.

Place the duck into the fryer's basket, or load it onto a spindle, if your fryer has one. Refer to your turkey fryer's instruction manual on which way to load the bird, either legs up or legs down, on the spindle. If you are using a fryer basket, lay the duck flat, breast side up in the basket.

Lower the basket or spindle carefully and slowly into the hot oil, wearing heavy-duty cooking gloves to protect your skin from popping oil. Cover the fryer with its lid.

Fry the duck for roughly 9 minutes per pound. Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature. Turn off the heat and lift the basket or spindle holding the duck very slowly from the fryer and onto a large, heat-proof pan. The skin should be a deep golden brown and very crispy.

Transfer the duck to a platter and let it rest for up to 15 minutes before carving and serving.

Tips & Warnings

  • Cover the duck roast loosely with aluminum foil if the skin is getting too dark but the meat is not done cooking.
  • Use a large metal spoon to remove the fat drippings periodically from the roasting pan while the duck is roasting to prevent too much smoking. You can use the drippings to create gravy for the duck.
  • Reserve the duck fat trimmings to render later to make duck fat you can cook with.
  • To cook duck faster on the grill, use kitchen shears to remove the backbone and flatten the duck like an open book before placing on the grill.
  • Deep-frying a whole duck, or any bird in a pot of piping hot oil, can be dangerous if you don't take safety precautions. Wear long sleeves and pants to protect your skin and keep children well away from the fryer. Make sure you are setting up the fryer on flat ground and that your duck is dry and fully thawed. Have a fire extinguisher nearby in case the oil catches on fire.

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