By Scott Leysath -

If your grilled ducks are dry, bland, and perhaps a bit livery, don't blame the birds. Lean meats like waterfowl make much better table fare when seasoned with more than salt and pepper. Marinades and rubs are a surefire way to add flavor to any grilled meats. Whether you choose to go wet or dry, your waterfowl will always benefit from a good soak or seasoning.


Rubs can be any mixture of seasonings and herbs. In addition to enhancing flavor, rubs add a crispy crust to the outside of grilled game. Start with a coarse salt, like kosher or sea salt. If you like a touch of sweetness, add some sugar-but note that sugar burns easily over direct flames. Spicy heat from cayenne pepper or dry mustard will liven up flavors and balance the sweetness from the sugar. Garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, and dry herbs can be added to the mix to suit your own taste. If the skin is intact, the rub should also be applied between the skin and the meat or you'll end up with really tasty skin and bland meat. Once rubbed, refrigerate the meat from 1 to 24 hours before grilling.

Any dry rub can be made "wet" by mixing in a splash of olive oil or other liquid. Wet rubs will stick to the meat more readily than dry. Apply both wet and dry rubs liberally because most of the rub will fall off during grilling.

All-purpose Game Rub

Makes about 2 cups
This waterfowl rub also works well on beef, pork, or antlered game.


  • 1/4 cup each coarse salt, garlic powder, and paprika
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons each black pepper, onion powder, dried rosemary
  • 1 tablespoon each dry mustard, ground sage, cayenne pepper

Combine all the ingredients and store in a tight-fitting jar till you're ready to grill.

Citrus Herb Wet Rub

Makes about 2 cups
This zesty rub can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.


  • 1/4 cup each coarse salt and granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon each dried basil, oregano, thyme, and white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lime zest
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Combine all the ingredients at least 30 minutes before applying them to the meat.


When soaked in a marinade for several hours, low-fat ducks and geese will be more moist, tender, and delicious. Bathing meat for several hours in a combination of liquids and any vegetable oil will add fat and moisture. Meat is tenderized when acidic components like wine, vinegar, and fruit juices begin the cooking process by breaking down meat proteins. Making your own marinade is quick and easy, but your favorite bottled vinaigrette or Italian-style dressing will work fine in a pinch. Whole ducks should be marinated for 3 to 12 hours. Duck parts need only 3 to 4 hours of marinating.

Everyday Meat Marinade

Makes about 6 cups

Any meat will do, but this marinade is especially good on waterfowl. Set some aside for basting the meat while grilling, and brush on a generous coating just before removing the game from the flame. Unused marinade can be stored in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks.


  • 1/2 cup each lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and honey
  • 2 cups dry red wine
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients except the olive oil. Continue to whisk while adding the oil in a thin stream until emulsified.