Smoked Whole Duck with Maple Bourbon Glaze

This smoked whole duck is the perfect centerpiece for your holiday meal.

Duck is tender and juicy when prepared properly, and it’s got more of ‘occasion’ about it than chicken. 

Duck is traditionally roasted in the oven, but this recipe for smoked whole duck really takes the flavors to the next level with a smoky finish, and a maple bourbon glaze that complements the smoke flavor perfectly.

How to choose your duck

Like chicken, duck is sold both whole or in cuts like breast, wings, and legs. You will most commonly find whole duck and duck breast sold in stores.

For this recipe, we used a Pekin duck from Maple Leaf Farms. Their ducks are raised in a free-to-roam, cage-free environment and they don’t use growth hormones or antibiotics. They have a mild flavor and are quite meaty which makes them great for roasting or smoking.

I recommend finding one between 4-6lbs, with meaty breasts, and firm skin.

If you buy a duck that is frozen, you want to ensure that you give it a bit of time to defrost in the fridge prior to cooking.

Similar to a turkey, you should anticipate about 4 hours for every pound of meat – so if you have a 6lb duck, expect it to take around 24 hours to fully defrost in the fridge. 

How to cook a smoked whole duck

1. Prick the skin

The first step to preparing your duck for smoking is to puncture the skin on the breast.

Puncturing the skin will help the fat render and allow the skin to cook more evenly. We simply used a toothpick to prick wholes all over the breast.

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2. Dry brine

Dry brining is the process of salting food and allowing it to rest prior to cooking. Dry brining can yield the same results as traditional wet brine and uses up less room in the fridge.

While traditional wet brines are still very popular, there are definitely some downsides to the process. You can run the risk of waterlogging your meat and it’s difficult to control the amount of salt that penetrates the meat.

Dry-brining uses the moisture that is already present in the muscle to create a brine. The salt will draw out the moisture from the meat, then over the course of brining the moisture will dissolve the salt and become a brine. With a dry brine you do have more control over the process.

For this recipe, we coated the duck in Kosher salt which is perfect for dry-brining because of its thick texture. It won’t clump together like table salt or other fine salts and it is easy to sprinkle evenly on your bird.

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The amount of salt that you use really depends on the size of the meat you are brining. It’s difficult to give a precise measurement, but you essentially want to coat the bird in a thin, even layer of salt.

Then, simply place your duck on a wire rack and store it in the fridge overnight (8 to 12 hours) to brine.

After the duck has brined, remove it from the fridge, brush off any excess salt and pat it dry. There is no need to rinse the duck in water.

Before smoking, I like to chop a couple of apples and oranges into quarters and stuff them into the cavity of the duck.

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Once the cavity is stuffed with fruit, simply tie the legs together with a bit of twine.

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3. Fire up the smoker to 275°F

For this recipe, the duck was smoked at 275°F on the Pitboss Pro Series 1600. We used apple wood for this cook, but any fruit or nut wood would work just fine, you just don’t want anything too overpowering.

Place your duck directly on the grates in the smoker. You can put a drip pan beneath the duck on the smoker while it was cooking to catch all that liquid gold fat. Duck fat can be used to make the best roast potatoes you’ve ever eaten.

Let the duck smoke at 275°F for about 30 minutes per pound, so anticipate 2 to 3 hours for the whole cook. You want to want to take the duck to 160°F in the breast, but you’ll increase the smoker temp once you hit 140°F.

4. Make the glaze

After about 1-½ hours, you want to prepare your Maple Bourbon Glaze.

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Grab a small pot and combine the ingredients for the glaze. Let it come to a simmer to make sure they are well incorporated and allow to reduce slightly. 

5. Crank the temperature

Once the internal temperature of the duck reaches around 140°F, around the 2-hour mark, kick the temperature of your smoker up to about 350°F to make sure all of the fat renders. 

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At this point, you are going to start coating the duck in your Maple Bourbon glaze.

You should baste it with the glaze every 15 minutes or so through the last part of the cook until the duck reaches an internal temperature of 160°F.

Once it hits 160°F, place the whole duck under your broiler to get the skin nice and crispy on all sides.

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It will make a really nice centerpiece at your next celebration.

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