Episode 306: Where's the Smoke

Cherry-Smoked Duck Breasts with Fresh Cherry Salsa

Cherry-Smoked Duck Breasts with Fresh Cherry Salsa

If poultry could channel steak, it would be a duck breast. It’s blood-red like steak, and meaty like steak. Duck also has a natural affinity for cherries. There’s something about the dark, gamey quality of duck meat and the dark, rich fruity flavor of cherries.

In this dish, we actually looked to China for the seasonings. The rub is flavored with five-spice powder — that aromatic Chinese blend. We smoked the duck with cherry wood and serve it with a cherry salsa. It’s a perfect trifecta of flavor.

You can direct grill the duck breast, or use a plancha or cast iron skillet for a crisper skin.

Serve the duck breasts medium rare, with an internal temperature of 135° F.


More Duck Recipes:



Cherry-Smoked Duck Breasts with Fresh Cherry Salsa

Recipe Notes

  • Yield: Serves 4 as a main course
  • Method: Smoking / direct grilling
  • Equipment: Cherry wood chunks or chips, the latter soaked for 30 minutes in water, then drained


  • 4 boneless duck breasts, each 7 to 8 ounces

For the rub:

  • 2 tablespoons coarse salt (sea or kosher)
  • 2 tablespoons turbinado sugar, such as Sugar in the Raw
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil

Recipe Steps

Step 1: Trim any tendons off the duck breasts with a sharp knife. Score the skin on each breast in a diamond pattern about 1/4 inch deep, taking care not to nick the flesh.

Step 2: Make the rub: Combine the salt, sugar, five-spice powder, and pepper in a small bowl and stir to mix. Generously sprinkle the rub on both sides of each duck breast. Drizzle with sesame oil, turning to coat both sides.

Step 3: Set up your smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions, preferably using cherry wood. Preheat to 150 degrees. (If your smoker will go lower, that’s fine, too.)

Step 4: Arrange the duck breasts, skin side up, on the smoker rack(s) and smoke for 1 hour, or until the internal temperature of the breasts is 100 degrees when read on an instant-read meat thermometer.

Step 5: In the meantime, set up your grill for direct grilling and preheat to medium-high (400 to 450 degrees). Be sure to leave about 1/3 of the grill fire-free for a safety zone. (The fat in duck skin makes it prone to flare-ups.) Brush and oil the grill grate.

Step 6: Arrange the duck breasts on the grill grate skin side down. Sear until the skin is nicely browned and has begun to render its fat. (If flare-ups occur, move the meat to the safety zone). Cook, turning as needed with tongs, until the internal temperature of the breast is 130 to 135 degrees for medium-rare. (Higher if you prefer your duck cooked medium or medium-well.)

Step 7: Transfer to a cutting board and let rest for 3 minutes. Thinly slice the duck breast on a diagonal and fan out on plates. Serve with the Fresh Cherry Salsa.

Recipe Tips

Our thanks to the sponsors of Project Smoke Season 3:

Steven Raichlen’s Project Smoke is a production of Maryland Public Television, Barbacoa, Inc., and Resolution Pictures. © 2017 Barbacoa, Inc.