Fire It Up!

Where there's smoke, there's great-tasting game meat

© Holly Heyser

The time-honored tradition of smoking meats was once mostly limited to southern smokehouses and Texas barbecues, but this low and slow cooking technique is now literally on fire across the rest of the United States. There's no denying that lean game meats taste great when flavored with smoke. When done properly, smoked duck and goose will be crispy on the outside and tender and delicious on the inside.

The best results will come from fattier puddle ducks like mallards and pintails. Smoking whole birds takes more time, and it's easier to smoke breast fillets or fillets with legs attached. If the legs aren't tender when the breasts are done, separate the legs from the breasts, wrap them in foil, and return them to the smoker for another hour or two until the meat easily pulls away from the bone.

Pellet smokers, water smokers, grills with indirect heat, and homemade units made out of 50-gallon drums or old refrigerators will all get the job done. The key is to keep smoking temperatures below 225 degrees and have a thermometer handy. If the desired internal temperature is reached and the skin is not crisp, simply place the duck or goose breast skin-side down on a hot grill or skillet after smoking.

Here's my foolproof method for smoking any kind of waterfowl.

THE BRINE

Brining is an essential part of the process. The salty solution penetrates the meat and adds moisture and flavor. 

Ingredients

  • 3 quarts water
  • 1 cup kosher salt (or any coarse salt)
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
  • 4 crushed bay leaves
  • 1 quart ice cubes

Directions

Heat one quart of the water in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add kosher salt and the next five ingredients and stir until dissolved. Transfer brine to a large container, add remaining two quarts of water and ice cubes, and allow to cool completely. Place meat in brine and refrigerate. Soak whole or split ducks and geese for 12 to 24 hours. Breast fillets should be brined for six to 12 hours.

THE SMOKE

Photo © Holly Heyser

Once brined, rinse the meat with cold water, pat it dry, and add your favorite rub to the outside, but reduce the amount of salt in the rub recipe since the brine adds salty flavor to the meat. Fire up the smoker to 225 degrees and place the meat away from the heat source. Cooking time will depend on the smoker and the size of whatever it is you're smoking. Figure on roughly 2 1/2 to 3 hours for whole ducks and 1 1/2 to 2 hours for breast fillets or halved birds. For medium-rare, smoke until the internal temperature at the center of the breast reaches 130 to 135 degrees.

Related