Learn to make a delicious smoked duck breast using the smoke and reverse sear method. It’s the perfect way to amplify the flavors of a traditional duck breast recipe to share with friends and family.
Have you ever cooked duck breast at home? While this is not a standard recipe to make on a busy weeknight, it is one of those cool and showstopping dishes you can break out when the occasion fits (bring the fancy restaurant style dinner to your home table instead).
Whether you’re celebrating something special, enjoying the holidays, or simply flexing your culinary skills, this recipe is fairly uncomplicated. That being said, it’s one of those dishes I highly recommend you don’t go into blindly and know what goes into preparing this dish to get a truly delicious end result.
This recipe will break down into a few key parts, the buttermilk brine, dry brining (dry skin = crispy skin), smoking on indirect heat, and then finally searing the duck breast for that delicious and iconic crispy skin we all love.
Why This Recipe Works:
- Buttermilk is used to gently brine and marinade the duck making it tender and less gamey in taste.
- Dry brining allows the skin to get crispy and is nicely seasoned for the perfect taste.
- Using a combination of indirect and direct heat for the cooking process allows us to watch the temperature of the duck breast without overcooking it. Because we can cook duck like a steak, this smoke and reverse sear method is perfect.
- The gentle flavors of smoke compliment the natural flavors of the duck and make for a unique approach to this classic dish.
- Glass Container (for wet brining)
- Small Baking Sheet
- Wire Rack
- High Quality Meat Thermometer
- Sharp Knife
- Cast Iron Skillet (for searing)
- Paper Towel
Welcome to my virtual classroom! Use the guided notes below where I often answer commonly asked questions I get from readers and cooks just like you.
This information is meant to help you have a stronger understanding of this recipe and the process so you can find success all on your own.
Ready to begin cooking? Simply jump to the recipe card below and begin.
Marinating the duck breast in a buttermilk mixture prior to smoking does make a difference in the overall taste and texture of the duck. This works because the PH levels in buttermilk help naturally tenderize the meat and also can balance out some of the slightly gamey flavors in the duck meat.
For this marinade you need:
- Cultured Buttermilk
- Cold Water
- Juniper Berries (whole)
- Black Pepper
- Whole Fennel
- Kosher Salt
- Bay Leaves
In a pot, heat the water to a simmer and add all the spices and bring it to a boil This helps release the aromatics of the dried herbs and spices without having to heat the buttermilk. Let the spices sit in the water until the water cools to room temperature.
Next, combine the water, spices, and buttermilk together in a glass container (something large enough to hold the duck breasts). Remove the duck breast from the packaging and pat it dry with paper towels and place it into the buttermilk mixture and into the fridge.
You can marinate the duck breast for 2+ hours and up to a day in advance. I usually prepare my marinade the evening before and allow it to soak overnight. Then allow it dry to brine before smoking. Alternatively, you can also try my apple cider brine recipe as well.
In most situations where you are wet brining (marinating) you wouldn’t also dry brine. However, the duck breast is coated in a thick layer of fat and then a layer of duck skin. Because of this, we need that skin and fat to airdry before scoring the skin and smoking.
If you plan to skip the marinade, you can cut the prep time and just dry the brine instead. Do not skip this step in order to achieve optimal crisp skin on your final product.
To dry brine the duck breast:
- Remove it from the marinade, rinse, and pat dry again with paper towels.
- Line a wire rack over a baking sheet.
- Lightly oil the duck and season it with salt and pepper or a dry rub of choice.
- Place it onto the wire rack (this allows air to circulate) and into the fridge uncovered for at least 12 hours to dry out the skin.
How To Smoked And Sear Duck Breast:
- Remove the duck breast from the fridge and place it onto a cutting board. Score the skin in a fine diamond pattern by lightly slicing it into the top of the duck skin but only cutting it down into the main layer of duck fat. If you see the duck breast meat, you have cut too far. This allows that thicker layer of fat to render better. Keep the duck cold in the fridge before adding it to the smoker.
- Preheat the smoker to 225 F. Set it for indirect heat. Use fruit wood or wood chips for a sweeter smoke flavor (I used cherry wood).
- Place the cold duck breast skin side up onto the grill grate. Smoke the meat until the internal temperature of the breast is about 125 degrees F. Remove it from indirect heat and let it rest for 15 minutes.
- To sear the skin and finish rendering the fat on the breast, you can either do this in a cast iron pan on the grill or on the stove. While the duck is resting briefly, you can bring the grill or stove up to a high heat. Using a cast iron pan will be easier to ensure you have an even sear (I do not recommend searing directly on the grill grates with this recipe).
- Once the pan is hot, add a thin coating of olive oil to the pan and place duck breasts into the pan, skin side down. You only need to sear the skin side of the duck breast to help get it crispy and to finish rendering the fat.
- Remove the duck breast when the final internal temperature reaches 135 F-140 F. Allow the duck breast to rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing on an angle and serving.
- Don’t have a grill? Use the reverse sear method with the oven and stovetop following the same instructions (just with no smoky flavor).
- Duck breast doesn’t have to cook as long as chicken breast (even though they are both poultry). You can cook duck breast fillets to a medium or medium rare like a steak (but use a high quality meat supplier).
- Cooking times may vary depending on the thickness of your duck breast. Be sure to use a probe thermometer to accurately know the internal temperature.
- The skin of the duck breast can be hard to work with when slicing and crosshatching. My friend, Chef Josh gave me the tip of using a kitchen torch to the skin briefly allowing it to shrink up a bit and can make it easier to slice into.
- Serve this duck recipe with my maple syrup and bourbon cranberry sauce or even this cranberry chimichurri recipe for a nice sweet and tart flavor combination.
- Pair this with side dishes like
Smoked Duck Breast Recipe
Smoked Duck Breast
- 4 Duck Breasts
- 4 tbsp. Olive Oil
- 4 tbsp. Dry Rub
- 2 cups Buttermilk
- 1 cup Water
- 3 tbsp. Sugar
- 1 tsp. Black Pepper
- 2 tbsp. Kosher Salt
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 2 tbsp. Dried Juniper Berries
- 1 tsp. Dried Fennel whole seeds
Preparation and Brining:
- In a pot, bring the water, sugar, salt, pepper, bay leaves, juniper berries and fennel to a boil. Once boiling remove it from the heat and fully cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
- Add in the buttermilk and combine.
- Remove the duck breast from the packaging and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a container that can be sealed.
- Pour the buttermilk brine over the duck breasts and cover. Place in the fridge and allow it to marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Remove from the brine and rinse the duck breasts. Pat them dry again as much as possible. Discard the brine.
- Place the duck breasts onto a wire rack over a plate or baking sheet. Place each piece of duck onto the wire rack and back into the fridge uncovered for at least 12 hours to remove moisture from the skin (this is crucial for getting the skin crispy).
- Preheat the smoker to 225 F. Set for indirect heat.
- Lightly score the duck breast skin with a diamond pattern using a sharp knife. Cut into the skin but not through the fat layer (you should not see any of the duck breast meat when slicing). Make very thin slices for a better end result.
- Place the duck breasts back onto the wire rack, this helps with moving the ducks breast on and off the grill easier.
- Smoke the duck breasts to an internal temperature of 125 degrees F. Remove from the smoker and let rest briefly.
- While the duck breast is resting you can prepare your grill for high, direct heat of at least 500 F. (highly recommend a cast iron pan for an even all over sear). Alternatively, use a stovetop and cast iron pan that is preheated over high heat.
- Add a small amount of oil to the cast iron pan and place the duck breast into the pan skin side down.
- Sear the duck skin until crispy and the internal temperature reaches 135-140 F. Remove from the smoker or stove and set aside to rest.
- Let the duck breast rest 5-10 minutes before slicing the meat on a slight bias and serve with maple bourbon cranberry sauce and browned butter.