By Chef Eileen Clarke

Waterfowl. We love to hunt them. But for many people, eating wild duck isn’t something they’re very fond of. For one thing, there are two basic kinds of wild duck: dabblers and divers. Divers are problematic when it comes to the dinner table because of their fish-eating habits.

Most of us prefer dabblers for their milder taste, and even then find cooking them a bit of a trial. Wild birds are low in fat—yes, even wild ducks. (It’s the fat that provides a bit of moisture when cooking birds but it’s a small bit of moisture. Cook the meat past an internal temperature of 165-170⁰F and you’re going to end up with a dryer, stronger tasting bird.)

In this recipe, Chef Eileen gives you the basis for grilling duck that is full of moisture and flavor thanks to a 4-day brine and a gentle cooking method that transforms even drumsticks on your wild duck. And it’s quick. The timing in this recipe is for pintails and mallards. Teal will take less time on the grill, so keep that thermometer handy.

Serves 1-2

The Brine Ingredients

NOTE: Do this step 4-5 days ahead of grilling

1 duck, parted out (leave the skin on if you wish)

1 cup apple juice

¼ cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon chili powder

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons brown sugar

½ teaspoon onion powder

½ teaspoon salt (non-iodized)

½ teaspoon black pepper

Combine the apple juice, cider vinegar, chili powder, cumin, brown sugar, onion powder, salt and black pepper in a re-sealable plastic bag. Seal and shake to combine. Add the duck pieces and store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days rotating the bag each day.

Grilling the Duck

  1. Place a drip pan under the cooking rack on one side of your grill and preheat the other side– propane or coals–to medium-low heat, 300⁰F. When the cooking surface is hot, give it a good scraping with your grill brush, then wipe it with oil to prevent sticking.
  2. If your duck breasts have skin on, place them skin side down over the open fire for about 3 minutes so they get grill marks. Place the legs—thighs and drumsticks–over the drip pan. After 3 minutes, move the breasts over the drip pan and place skin-side up. Turn the legs. Continue cooking about 10 to 12 minutes until the legs reach 165 to 170ºF on a meat thermometer. The breasts will take 1 to 2 minutes longer. Serve hot with a bit of Sun Luck© Plum Sauce or your favorite sweet and sour sauce.

Tip: Unlike pale-meated birds like pheasant, waterfowl juices don’t run clear when the birds are done. Use a digital thermometer and when you check the bird while cooking (testing the thighs and drumsticks) try not to touch the sensor to bone. Doing so will yield an inaccurate reading.


Tips From the Chef:

Taking a bird apart:

To remove the leg, press it out from the body, and laying your blade against the side of the carcass, slice through the skin holding the leg to the hip bone. Use that same angle to cut though the meat at the top of the thigh. Twist the leg, cutting through the tendons that hold the top of the femur in the hip socket. That will free the leg.

Chef Eileen Clarke demonstrates basic steps to take your bird apart.










Chef Eileen Clarke demonstrates how to fillet the breast meat on waterfowl.


To filet the breast meat: With the breastbone facing up, slide your knife down one side of the sternum. (It’s an upside down T-shaped wall separating the two lobes.) Start in the middle, then slice down to the tail, and run your knife under the thinner breast meat at the tail end—forming a flap. Lifting that flap as you go forward, filet the rest of the breast from its bony T-wall, leaving the wing attached if you can.




About the Chef: Eileen Clarke has authored several wild game cookbooks, including “Tenderize the Wild: Marinades, brines and rubs for wild game” which has 112 choices for everything from board sauces to recipes for brines and long marinades. Available at  or 406-521-0273.

Categories: Featured, Game Birds & Waterfowl

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