Facts & Comparison to Chicken
- Size: While chickens come in a wide range of sizes for
different purposes, ducks are nearly all sold between 4 and 5-1/2 pounds.
This is, however, a convenient size for most recipes.
- Fat: Ducks carry a very large amount of fat compared to
chickens, but unlike chicken nearly all the fat is firmly attached to
the skin and comes off with it. On the plus side, duck fat is considered
one of the finest cooking fats, so render it all out for cooking.
Caution: duck fat will turn rancid fairly quickly even if
frozen, so do not keep frozen duck or duck fat more than a couple
- Meat: It's all dark meat - there's no pale dry
cardboard-like breast meat like on chicken. The meat is also relatively
tough, making for longer cooking times, and it's relatively oily, so you
don't have to worry about it drying out - but you may have to skim fat
out of recipes.
- Breast: Duck breasts are wide and flat, and not nearly as
thick as chicken. The breastbone is very wide and has only a low keel.
The skin over the breasts has a very thick layer of fat. Breasts are almost
always used skin-on, the fat becoming part of the recipe. Breasts are
very scarce in markets because almost all are sold to the restaurant
trade. You'll usually have to buy a whole duck and have a plan to use
the rest of the bird.
- Legs & Thighs: Duck legs are shorter than chicken
legs and the thighs aren't large enough to sell as a separate product,
so they're packaged together. They are harder to skin than chicken
because the skin doesn't just peel off, you have to carefully cut it off,
and they're harder to disjoint.
- Wings: These are similar to chicken wings but larger
and with a deeper flavor. The tip joint is longer and without meat so
it's used for making stock.
- Skin: It's relatively tough compared to chicken skin and
remains a bit chewy if fried or roasted. It has a relatively thick layer
of fat under it, particularly at the breasts, but almost none on wings and
legs. It adheres much more strongly than chicken skin so has to be
carefully cut away with a sharp knife rather than just being pulled
- Giblets: Neck, gizzard, heart and liver should be included
in any whole duck, but don't count on it - what you actually get can be
pretty random - and there may be some unexpected parts in there too. Duck
gizzards differ in both flavor and texture from chicken gizzards and are
highly prized in France and Asia. They can be purchased in trays in Asian
markets - see my Duck Gizzard page for
details. Duck livers are prized by food processors for making
pâtés so are very scarce in the markets. Necks are also sold
separately in trays and are excellent for making duck soup stock.
- Bones & Cartilage: Duck bones are very hard, they
practically ring if you drop them on a hard surface. There is very
little cartilage even in the joints.
- Oil Gland: Ducks have an oil gland at the top of the tail
which has a bad flavor. Commercial ducks have this removed but if you're
doing your own duck be sure to cut it off thoroughly.
- Cooking Time: Duck meat takes a much longer cooking time
than chicken - for thin slices of meat an hour. For whole wing joints,
about 2 hours at a slow simmer, 2-1/2 hours for legs.
- Stock: Duck bones and offcuts make an excellent flavorful
stock, but it won't be as clear as chicken stock. You need to simmer duck
a whole lot longer - use beef timing rather than chicken timing. In Asian
markets you can often find trays of duck necks which make excellent stock.
Weights given are for raw meat. After simmering to tenderness meat will
be about 58% of the raw weight, which is a little lower than for
chicken. The lost weight becomes part of, and flavors, the cooking liquid.
|Breast Meat||Leg/Thigh Meat
||Total Meat||Skin & Fat||Rendered Fat|
|Duck 4.5#||9.2 oz - 15%||7.2 oz - 11%
||18.3 oz - 29%||23.8 oz - 37%||13.3 oz - 21%|
|Duck 4.7#||13.6 oz||15.9 oz
||7.3 oz||1.5 oz||2.1 oz||4.5 oz|
Leg & Thigh - as sold in trays
||Skin & Fat||Rendered Fat|
|Leg/Thigh||8.5 oz||6.3 oz - 74%
||4.5 - 53%||2.3 oz - 27%||1.1 oz - 13%|
Breast - as cut from 4-1/2 # duck
Notes & Safety
||Skin & Fat||Rendered Fat|
|Breast||13.6 oz||9.1 oz - 67%
||9.1 oz - 67%||4.5 oz - 33%||2.52 oz - 18%|
- Thawing: Yes, all the books, recipes, cooking articles
and "experts" scream "Never Do This!" but even the
rabid bacteriophobes at the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) say it's
OK. Actual research has proven a cool countertop or cold running water thaw
is less risky (on multiple counts) than thawing in the refrigerator, and far
easier to time. The "Never Do This" recommendation is based on an FDA decree
that has no research whatever to support it. If you find you just won't be
ready by time it's thawed, put it back in the fridge before it is
- Final Temperature: Yes your thermometers
and many of your books and recipes say fowl must go to 180°F/82°C -
based on a USDA recommendation. That recommendation was reviewed in 2006 and
the USDA could find no supporting data whatever, not even scribbled notes,
to support the 180°F recommendation and now says 165°F/74°C is
- Be prepared to handle dangerous quantities of very hot oil. The roasting
pan must always be handled with great care lest it spill. Safe and proper
basting tools should be used.
- Observe cooking temperatures given above and take them seriously. Harmful
bacteria multiply very rapidly at temperatures between 40°F and
140°F, a range your duck will be in for most of the cooking time.
- Do not let an uncooked duck come in contact with or drip on any other
- When handling an uncooked duck, do not handle any other food until you
have cleaned up all surfaces, tools and your hands, preferably using a little
bleach or a mildly disinfecting cleanser.
- The USDA recommends that leftovers should be in the refrigerator within
2 hours of coming out of the oven. In general that's just not going to
happen, but try to keep close. If there are large amounts store in
multiple smaller batches so the temperature will drop quickly.