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Grilled Duck Breast

When duck breast is cooked and sliced correctly, it is magnificent. When it’s not however, it’s nothing short of disappointing. Here’s how to do it right.

This Grilled Duck Breast recipe was written and created for SABER®Infrared Grills by Chef Chris Koetke.

Over two decades ago, I had a chance encounter in my restaurant kitchen with a duck farmer. He was watching me cook duck breast the way that I had learned to do it in France, and shaking his head with disapproval the whole time. After watching me, he suggested that he show me how to do it his way. What I learned that day completely changed the way that I cook duck breast to this day—and now has been taught to literally thousands of culinary students all over the world.

grilled duck breast on saber grill

Duck breast is one of my favorite meats. When it is cooked – and sliced – correctly, it is magnificent. When it is not prepared correctly however, it is nothing short of disappointing. And yet, it’s amazing how many restaurants don’t know how to cook duck breast to get a great result. Perhaps they need a lesson from a duck farmer!

Properly cooked duck breast should have medium-cooked flesh, a crispy skin, and minimal fat in the skin. This provides optimal flavor, juiciness and textural contrast. When the duck breast is sliced as thinly as possible after cooking, it literally melts in your mouth. Yet in most restaurants, the duck you get is often too rare or overdone, a layer of fat that is too thick and unappealingly chewy, and a total lack of crispness. And yes, the duck breast is often cut into thick slices unable to be chewed. (Can you tell how much this irritates me?)

grilling duck breast on saber

While duck breast is often cooked in a sauté pan, it’s also great on the grill. The basic tenant of the technique I learned from my duck farmer is a low and slow approach for most of the cooking, during which the skin is facing down toward the heat. This extended cooking time allows the fat to slowly render out of the skin. This accomplishes two things: it shrinks the thickness of the fatty skin and allows the exterior of the skin to crisp. During this extended time, the meat cooks most of the way through, although it is not obvious due to the simple fact that the meat (which is facing up) still looks completely raw. Once the skin has rendered, flip the duck breast over and on to a higher heat portion of the SABER® grill to brown the meat side of the duck breast. At this point it will cook fast, so be careful not to overcook it! (More on this below.)

Once the duck breast is off the grill, allow it to rest for 5 minutes. This is where my French culinary training takes over. I learned years ago from a prominent French chef that a duck breast needs to be sliced as thinly as possible to tenderize it. Trust me—this makes all the difference in the world. So, grab a sharp knife and take your time to slice it well.

Slicing grilled duck breast thinly

Here are a more detailed step-by-step instructions for grilling the perfect duck breast—the Indiana duck farmer/French chef way.

Ingredients

  • Duck breasts
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Optional: Seasoning or rub of your choice

Directions

  • There is often a small piece of tough membrane (it has a silver/white appearance) on one end of the duck breast. Using a sharp boning or paring knife, remove it by cutting underneath it.
  • Turn the breast over so that the skin is up. Carefully score the skin with a sharp knife. Scoring means cutting about 2/3-3/4 the way through the skin without cutting through to the meat. I like to cut a criss-cross pattern with cuts about ½-inch wide. Scoring is not 100 percent necessary, but helps to render more fat from the skin during cooking.
  • Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper (and any other external seasonings/rubs that you want to experiment with).
  • Place the duck breasts skin-side down on a portion of the grill that is on low heat. Cook for about 15 minutes, moving the breasts periodically to be sure that the skin is rendering its fat without browning too much. It is also important not to close the grill lid. The point here is to cook the breast skin-side down for as long as possible to best extract the maximum amount of fat.
  • When the fat has rendered sufficiently (the skin will be much thinner than when you started and should be crispy), move the duck breast to a different zone on the grill that is heated to high heat. Turn over the breast and cook for only a few minutes on the meat side. You want to cook it to an internal temperature of 135°F. (An important word on cooking temps here: The USDA recommends that all poultry to cooked to 165°F. This will completely dry out a duck breast. Most chefs recognize that duck is different from other poultry and behaves more like red meat. Still, if you are serving the duck to children, elderly or people with compromised immune systems, you may want to heed the USDA’s temperature recommendations.) Remember that the breast will cook fast now, as it is essentially almost cooked through before flipping it.
  • Remove the duck breast and let it rest in a warm place for 5 minutes, skin-side up.
  • Place the breast skin-side down on the cutting board. Slice as thinly as possible. Flip the sliced duck breast over as soon as it is sliced (you can use a knife or spatula). Serve immediately.

grilled duck breast

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