Cooking duck for beginners

I was listening to the public radio show The Splendid Table the weekend before Thanksgiving, when they were discussing tips on making a smaller Thanksgiving meal. One of the guests suggested preparing a duck rather than the traditional turkey if you’re having a smaller gathering.

By that point I’d already purchased a bird for Thanksgiving, but the seed was planted in my brain. So now I’m toying with the idea of preparing a duck as a Christmas meal this year. Unfortunately the recipe they mentioned on the show is now behind a paywall (apparently they only made it free for Thanksgiving week). But from what I gathered from the show since duck is a fattier bird, simply roasting it in the same manner as a chicken doesn’t necessarily work so well. This other recipe on their site says to carve off the breasts part way through and finish them in a pan. So that’s one idea, but I am open to other tips or recipes.

If I didn’t love it so much, I wouldn’t take the time to type it out for you, so here’s my favorite whole duck from 400 slow cooker and One-pot Recipes by Catherine Atkinson and Jenni Fleetwood. I have given away several copies of this cookbook to friends and family and always recommend it.

Roast Farmyard Duck with Apples and Cider

2kg oven ready duck or duckling
1/ 1/4 cups dry hard cider
4 tbsp heavy cream
Salt and pepper


6 tbsp butter
2 cups fresh white breadcrumbs
1 lb cooking apples, peeled, cored, diced
1 tbsp sugar (more or less to taste)
fresh grated nutmeg

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F (Personal note, do not trust your oven if it’s like mine, preheat and then wait at least an add’l 20 minutes to make sure the temp is established, not just hot air).
  2. While preheating, prep stuffing, melt the butter and gently fry the breadcrumbs until golden brown, add apples, salt pepper sugar and a pinch of nutmeg, stir well.
  3. Wipe the duck with a clean, damp cloth until totally dry, inside and out. Rub skin generously with sea salt. Stuff the duck with the prepared mixture then secure the vent with a small skewer.
  4. Verify duck weight, and allow cooking time 20 minutes per lb. Prick the skin all over with a fork to allow the fat to run out during the cooking time (Personal note, this is a key point if you don’t want your duck to be oily, so be careful to get the whole bird, with careful attention to the breasts and thighs). Lay on top of a a wire rack in a roasting pan, sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and put into the preheated over to roast. (More personal notes, this is also critical, you don’t have to buy a fancy duck rack, but you need a rack high enough to keep the bird out of the fat and cooked meat juices).
  5. about 20 minutes before the end of the estimated cooking time, remove the duck from the oven and pour off all the fat that has accumulated (this is good stuff, fry some hand cut fries in this sometime). While out of the oven, pour cider over entire surface of duck, prior to returning it to the oven to finish cooking, basting occasionally.
  6. When the duck is cooked, remove it from the pan and keep warm while you make the sauce. Set the roasting pan over a medium heat and boil the cider to reduce it by half, stir in the cream, heat through and season with salt and pepper to taste. Meanwhile, remove stuffing from the duck, quarter the duck with poultry shears, and serve!

This is the best option if you want to (for example) present the bird as a centerpiece before quartering, a la a traditional thanksgiving, but to be honest, carving a duck is hard with my meager carving skills, which is why I suggest quartering for serving. And to be doubly honest, I only do that one when I want to show off the whole duck - normally, my go too for cooking duck is Alton Brown’s two stage cooking, because I looooooove crispy duck skin.

We had roast duck for Thanksgiving. It was terrific, and very easy. We just seasoned the skin and roasted at 375 (IIRC) for about 30 minutes per pound. It was juicy with crispy skin, and delicious.

EDIT: May have been 350. Can’t remember for sure.

Never cooked a duck myself, but from videos, apparently, one of the most important things is to collect the massive drippings of fat that will come from roasting the bird. It will be useful for all sorts of subsequent cooking activities.

For both goose and duck, a trick to get the fat to render faster is to pierce the skin and fat (NOT the meat) with a skewer a bunch of times, then parboil the bird for about ten minutes. Dry the bird off, season with salt and pepper, then put uncovered on a rack in a baking sheet in the fridge for 1-3 days. Continue with your chosen recipe.

I’m bumping this thread for the sake of newbie duck chefs like me, this Thanksgiving. Thanks so much to ParallelLines for your recipe.

For one thing, I had already bought a box of Stovetop Turkey Dressing, and plan to add some chopped apple and stuff the duck with that.

I made it many years ago and really liked it. You might look for a duck a l’orange recipe…I was a rank amateur in the kitchen at the time and it turned out great.

But note that if you start with a 6 lb duck you’ll end up with about 3 lbs of cooked duck. There’s a lot of fat. I’ve heard of people toothpicking a duck atop a turkey so the fat from the duck bastes the turkey as they cook. Anyway, quoting from the source cited below…

Tip: Most ducks sold in city markets and butcher shops are Long Island ducks, also called Pekin. These typically weigh 4 to 5 pounds and after cooked, will produce 2 or 3 servings.

I cooked duck twice in my life. There really wasn’t that much meat (which was all dark) on it, it was the crisp skin we liked. You must put the duck on a rack and be prepared to empty the pan beneath of massive amounts of melted fat…Both times I cooked, the smoke detectors went off and the kitchen filled with smoke from spilled grease in the oven. I seriously was worried about a fire at one point and filled up a pot with baking soda to throw in there. But the duck was good! Won’t do it again, though.

We’ve made it very frequently and just followed the instructions on the wrapping. It came out great almost every time – crispy skin and moist meat.

Thanks for the shoutout panache45, although I’ll take credit for typing it in, it wasn’t created by me though, which is why I cited the source.

Duck is still a great holiday meal for smaller groups, and hope yours goes well. Just remember the careful punctures to let the fat out, the hot oven, and the rig to keep it all out of the luxurious rendered fat and juice (and save the latter!).

Regarding @lobotomyboy63’s serving points, it isn’t incorrect either. Your average duckling runs right around 4-5 lbs precooked. Once you discount the bones (save for duck stock!), the neck and other organs and the cooked off fluid and fat, you are generally about half that or less. So once cooked its generally either 2 large servings (the traditional half duck you see offered in some sit down restaurants), or 4 small servings (quartered).

The first is a great dish, served with lighter sides (a green salad, maybe with candied pecans and cranberries), and some crusty bread for absorbing the sauce, not much more.

The quarters are going to be a bit light, so you can get more ambitious with sides, such as roast acorn squash, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, or other hearty seasonal dishes to offset the smaller portion.

If you are going to roast a duck then make sure you collect the fat and use it for roast potatoes. They are epic.

My duck was delicious! It came with a packet of orange gravy, which I poured over the duck for the last half hour. And giblets galore, which I diced and added to the stuffing. Today I made duck soup with the carcass.


Duck soup is just so nice and rich compared to the average chicken or even turkey stock. I love it with an Asian flair, a dash of ponzu, a touch of mirin, a bit of dark soy sauce, and some cooked shitake mushrooms as well as blanched baby bok choy.

I hope you enjoy yours as much as I enjoy mine!