By Scott Leysath – thesportingchef.com
If you can grill, you can smoke. Smoke cooking and smoke flavoring takes a little longer than dropping a few ducks on a white-hot grill, but the end result is meat that's moist and super flavorful. Eventually, you may want to look into buying a smoker, but don't go out and spend your next paycheck on a fancy piece of equipment just yet. Garages and backyards are full of barely used smoke cookers.
There are a couple of ways to add smoky flavor to your meat. Cold smoking takes the longest time and requires controlled temperatures of 100 degrees or less. If you're new to smoking game, start with hot smoking. Ideally, hot smoking temperatures are around 170 degrees, give or take 10 degrees or so. Duck breast fillets typically take about 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours to reach the desired internal temperature of 135 degrees (medium-rare). Whole or split ducks will take 2 to 3 hours, depending on the size of the ducks.
You'll find that most smokers have hot spots or areas that cook faster than others. For that reason, it's best to rotate the racks about halfway through the cooking process so the duck meat is cooked more evenly. Of course, given the inconsistencies within most smokers, rarely will the different meats be finished at precisely the same time. In other words, when each piece is done, take it out. If it's not done, leave it in until it is done.
Smoke-cooked ducks will be moist and juicy, provided that you don't cook them too long. You'll know if your ducks are overcooked when they shrink up, turn grey in the center, and become tough and dry. If that happens, don't blame the duck. You smoked it too long.
Smoked Duck Breast Fillets
This brine formula works for whole or halved waterfowl. For larger birds, allow extra time in the brine to penetrate the meat.
Preparation Time: about 15 minutes
Brining Time: 6-24 hours
Smoking Time: 1 1/2 - 2 hours
- 12–16 duck breast fillets, skin on or off
- Olive oil
- 3 quarts water
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Italian seasoning
- 1/4 cup garlic powder
- 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 4 bay leaves, crushed
- 1 1/2 quarts ice
- Heat 1 quart of water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add kosher salt and next 6 ingredients and stir until dissolved. Reduce temperature to low and simmer brine 15 to 20 minutes to blend flavors. Transfer brine to a large container, add remaining 2 quarts of water, and allow to cool. Add ice.
- Place duck breast fillets in brine and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours. Rinse fillets with cold water, pat dry, and rub with a thin coating of olive oil.
- Place fillets in a 170-degree smoker for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until internal temperature reaches 135 degrees for medium-rare.
Slice smoked fillets thinly and serve with fruit, cheese, and your favorite dipping sauce, or serve them in soft rolls with mustard and mayonnaise. Use smoked duck as you would any other smoked meat.
Smoker in a Pinch
If you don't have access to a real smoker, you can make one out of an ordinary charcoal or wood-burning grill. Heat coals until they are white hot, and then spread them either to one side or to the outer edges of the bottom. If possible, place a foil pan with an inch or two of water on a rack above the coals. Place the meat as far away from the hot coals as possible. Place the lid over the grill and adjust the air flow so that the temperature is warm, not hot.