This grilled duck recipe has all the succulence of traditional whole roast duck, with the added flavor and bronzed color from the charcoal grill.
Did you ever have that one dish you always ordered out at a restaurant but never thought you could recreate at home? For me it was Chinese style roast duck. I would always order it whenever I found it on a menu, but never dreamed of recreating it in my own kitchen. Or to be more precise, my own outdoor kitchen. Figuring out how to re-create spectacular roast duck using my grill was an incredible moment for my cooking confidence, but even moreso for my tastebuds.
I discovered there were a few steps to successful home-grill-roasting of whole ducks. First, the duck itself. If you buy a tough old duck you will be pushing the cart uphill the entire time trying to get it to be tender. I have had to most success using young whole ducks which I buy online from D’Artagnan. I used Rohan duck for this recipe, but I would definitely recommend trying the traditional Pekin duck, too. The Pekin is slightly leaner, which can make it easier to achieve crispy skin (since there is less fat to render out).
Though the duck is going to be cooked on the grill, there is another cooking step required for ultimate crisping. I set up a large stock pot of boiling salted water, and lowered the bird in for 3-5 minutes, then flipped it over and boiled a further 3-5 minutes. This step does two things – first, it shocks and shrinks the skin up against the meat, and also starts to soften and render away some of the fat, giving it a head start. I know I keep talking about getting “rid” of fat, and obviously a huge part of what makes duck so delicious. BUT: for the same reasons we trim down the fat cap of a brisket, too much subcutaneous fat will not “melt” properly. And in duck, this is even more significant, because having that fat layer be too thick will stop the skin from getting crispy. And, let’s be honest, you chose this recipe because it makes crispy skin!
The tightening of the skin also allows you to pull out any loose feathers which may have been left behind – it’s not a huge deal, but I managed to pluck 5-7 larger ones. After the quick boil, you can also stuff the cavity before tying up the legs. I used some super juicy oranges and lemons which definitely added a citrus note to the finished meat. You could also add some herbs and aromatics like garlic, too. Tying the legs up using butchers twice is an optional but recommended step. It helps to create a more streamline shape for the heat to waft over. At this stage I also used a scalpel-like knife to pierce the skin in the fattiest areas. I take extra care not to pierce the flesh, and using this particular knife helps tremendously because I can just press it in parallel to the skin without worrying about cutting the meat.
Next up – the grill set up. Another make or break to getting this recipe right. You want to set your grill up for two zone cooking. I have a detailed instruction on it here, but basically, it’s where you set your coals or heat up to one side only. This means we can cook the duck in indirect but hot heat, so it can truly roast without burning. I love using my PK grill for this set up, because the rectangular shape really lends itself to this type of cooking. I definitely suggest you also place a water pan underneath where you will be cooking the duck – it’s important for two reasons – it’ll help regulate the heat and stop it from being too harsh, but more importantly it’ll collect the copious amounts of fat which will drip off the bird.
The recipe takes about 2 hours of active grilling time, but really since the heat is indirect it doesn’t need much babysitting at all. You may need to add additional coals once or twice to keep the high heat level, but I think you’ll be surprised about how easy it is to actually roast this duck to perfection.