Smoked Duck Breast with Cherry Orange Sauce

Succulent duck breast smoked over charcoal and served with cherry orange reduction and grilled asparagus.
smoked duck breast on a wooden board

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Duck sometimes gets overlooked in the BBQ world in favor of big, powerful, rich meats like brisket – but, like lamb, lends itself really well to smokey flavors.

If you’ve never tried what I consider to be the Rolls Royce of fowl, then you’re missing out!

In this recipe, I’ll show you how to serve the smoked duck breast with a cherry and orange reduction which cuts through the rich smokiness of the duck perfectly

How to smoke duck

Duck breast can easily be overdone and can be dry, and I think it scares people sometimes because of that. But if done right, you can get beautiful moist, pink, smokey duck breasts. 

I use a method very similar to a reverse sear, with a higher than usual indirect heat smoke, followed by a quick sear over high heat to render some fat and crisp up the skin.

What you’ll need:

  • A smoker capable of both indirect and direct heat, such as a kettle-style grill
  • An instant-read thermometer or method of measuring internal temp
  • Smoking wood chunks, cherry or pecan are perfect
  • Charcoal or heat beads as a heat source
  • A cast-iron or heavy bottom skillet
  • A sharp knife

Selecting and preparing your duck breasts

You could buy a whole duck and debone it (Duck leg confit is absolutely amazing, and the broth you can make from a duck carcass is just amazing in an Asian style soup like Pho), but most good butchers and stores will sell duck breasts prepacked.

duck breasts on a wooden board
Duck breasts are usually easy to find in most stores

Ideally, look for duck that is free-range and ethically sourced. I keep poultry (including ducks) and the difference between meat that has free ranged and factory-farmed is incredible.

If you have a farmers market or a farm store close by, speak to them or source there. You’ll thank me later. However, if you cant get farm-raised duck, duck from your local market will still taste incredible.

If that fails, you can get high quality duck delivered from online butchers like Crowd Cow.

If you are looking to cook wild duck you’ve hunted I would suggest checking out this guide which goes into more detail on what to do.

Once you’ve got your breasts, they need just a little prep before putting them on the smoker.

Firstly, trim all extra fat that may be left on the duck breast.

Duck is a fatty bird as it is, so it’s fine here to trim any extra (see photo for guidance). You can render that leftover fat to use to make the most amazing roast potatoes later.

duck breasts with trimmed fat on a wooden board
Trim the extra fat from the duck breasts and use it to flavor other dishes

Next, score the skin and fat diagonally across the breast at about 1/2″ intervals, taking care to just cut through the fat, and not to cut through the meat at all. You shouldn’t be able to see the pink meat under the fat.

Next, we need to season the duck breasts. Importantly, make sure to pat dry the skin before applying your rub.

seasoned duck breasts on a plate
Score the skin of the duck breast diagonally and season with a BBQ rub of choice

You can use salt and pepper, or your favorite BBQ rub, but I find Chinese Five Spice works brilliantly with duck, and pairs nicely with the sauce I use too.

You only need a light dusting of the 5 spice, as it can be a big strong if you go too heavy on it.

Prepare your smoker or grill

You’ll want to set your BBQ to a temp of around 375°F-400°F. I tend to find that around a half chimney of heat beads is sufficient, as the cook time for these is fairly short.

charcoal chimney with burning charcoal
A half chimney of heat beads is sufficient to set your BBQ to around 375°F-400°F

Once you’re ready to put the duck on, you can use your smoking wood chunks. I used pecan this time, but cherry is great too.

Put your wood on at the same time as your duck breasts. The cook time is quite short, so you’ll want to make sure you get maximum smoke flavor into them without overpowering them.

If you like, put your smoking wood chunk on the grill indirect from the heat source to warm it up, and to ensure it ignites cleanly when you put it on the coals, rather than smoldering and causing acrid white smoke.

Smoking your duck

When your BBQ is up to temp, it’s time to smoke your duck. Place the breasts on the grill away from direct heat, and add your wood chunk. The breasts should be fat side up.

We will render the fat a little and crisp up the skin later.

smoked duck breasts on a grill
Place the duck breasts on a grill fat side up and away from direct heat

Now, unlike a brisket or other low and slow meats, your duck will be done fairly quickly – around 20-30 mins to reach a perfect internal temperature of 150°F for medium.

Unlike chicken, which needs to be done to at least 165°F, you can eat duck medium perfectly safely. In fact, it benefits being cooked medium as any more can dry it out.

Check your breasts after around 15 mins, and remove from the heat at around 150°F.

Let them rest for a few minutes, and in the meantime, put a seasoned cast iron skillet or heavy-bottomed frypan over the heat with a drizzle of oil.

duck breasts in a cast iron skillet
Let the duck breast skin crisp up in a cast-iron skillet for a few minutes

Once the oil is hot, place the duck breasts skin side down into the pan, and cook for a further couple of minutes until the fat has rendered a little and the skin has crisped up. Be careful, as the fat may smoke quite a lot.

smoked duck breast on a wooden board
Remove the breasts from the pan once you are happy with the color of the skin

Once you’ve got some color on the skin, remove from the pan and put aside on a plate, and cover with foil to keep warm.

Making the Cherry Orange Sauce

I use tinned cherries in syrup (I know, I know), but hear me out – using tinned cherries means you don’t have to spend as long cooking them down and reducing the liquid.

Once you’ve taken the duck out from the pan, drain the fat and wipe out the pan with a paper towel. Put back on the heat and add your cherries, with around half of the syrup.

Cherry orange sauce in a frying pan
Add the sauce ingredients into a frying pan and reduce until a thick texture is achieved

Add half a teaspoon of ginger powder, a teaspoon of brown sugar, half a tablespoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar, and one and a half tablespoons of orange marmalade, and around 1/4 of a cup of port or red wine at a pinch.

Cook this down until it’s thick and syrupy – this should only take a few minutes, but keep stirring to ensure it doesn’t scorch or burn – if you need to take it off the heat, then do so and stir a lot, before it gets sticky.

Serve the duck

Remove the foil from the duck, slice thickly, lay on a plate, and drizzle your reduced sauce over the top of your duck breasts.

asparagus on a grill
Grilled asparagus is paired perfectly with the succulent smoked duck breast

I like to serve this with asparagus cooked directly over coals, and buttery mashed potatoes if I can be bothered. 

smoked duck breast with cherry orange sauce and asparagus
Slice the duck breast and serve with a drizzle of cherry orange sauce and grilled asparagus

Serve with a deep, dark red wine such as an Australian Shiraz grenache. 

Cheers, mate.

smoked duck breast on a wooden board

Smoked Duck Breast with Cherry Orange Sauce

Succulent duck breast smoked over charcoal and served with cherry orange reduction and grilled asparagus.
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Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Author: Mat Cotton

Ingredients

For the duck:

  • 2 duck breasts
  • 1 tbsp Chinese 5 Spice

For the sauce:

  • 1 can cherries in syrup
  • 1 ½ tbsp orange marmalade
  • ¼ cup port
  • ½ tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • ½ tsp ginger powder

Instructions

  • Trim your duck breast of excess fat.
  • Score breast in diagonal pattern approx 1/2" wide.
  • Pat dry skin.
  • Dust duck breast with chinese 5 spice.
  • Set up BBQ for indirect heat to 400°F.
  • Smoke duck breast using pecan or cherry until internal temp of 150°F, approx 20-30 mins.
  • Rest duck for 2 mins.
  • Place cast-iron skillet onto direct heat with a drizzle of oil.
  • Cook duck breasts skin side down for 1-2 mins to render fat and crisp skin.
  • Remove from the pan and cover with foil.
  • Wipe out the skillet and return to heat.
  • Pour in cherries with half the syrup, port, marmalade and all sauce ingredients.
  • Reduce until thick and syrupy.
  • Slice the duck breast thickly.
  • Serve the duck with sauce, greens and mash.

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