This Honey Roast Duck recipe makes a beautiful holiday main dish but is easy enough for any special occasion or Sunday dinner. With crispy skin and tender, juicy meat, this post will show you how to cook duck to get that beautiful roasted look and amazing flavor!

We love serving this roast duck with homemade green bean casserole (it's from-scratch and so delicious!), cranberry jello salad, and slow cooker creamed corn. And since we are usually serving this while entertaining, I always make a fabulous dessert to go with it! 

honey roasted duck on a bed of spinach with a broken open pomegrante to the side

It's time for another installment in the Historically Hungry series I do with my friend Jenni from The Gingered Whisk. And since it's November and Thanksgiving is right around the corner, this time it's the Pilgrim Edition!

What was eaten at the first Thanksgiving?

Everybody knows that basically none of what we currently eat as "traditional" Thanksgiving favorites were served at the first Thanksgiving, right?

We aren't even sure if turkey was on the menu for that first Thanksgiving. What we do know about that first Thanksgiving meal is available from just a couple snippets from surviving documents from that time and historical research.

Like this snippet of a letter from Edward Winslow, one of the original Plymouth colonists, who wrote home to a friend about the feast that later became the basis for our Thanksgiving celebration:

“Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others.” - cited from an article on Smithsonian.com.

That whole article is really interesting reading if you want to learn more about what the Pilgrims and Wampanoag really ate on the first Thanksgiving.

My Historically Hungry cohort and I decided to each contribute a recipe that is a closer nod to the original offerings than the sweet potato casserole or cranberry sauce that we eat today.

Jenni has a recipe for Nasaump (sort of a cornmeal porridge with berries and nuts) for the Wampanoag side of the meal and I'm sharing this Honey Roast Duck recipe for the Pilgrim side of things.

An image of a whole roasted duck on a serving platter for an alternative Thanksgiving dinner.

Now, in all honesty, I have never made duck prior to this one! I've eaten it, but never thought to roast one myself at home. But it was so easy and delicious!

If you can make a whole roast chicken, you can easily make a whole roast duck. So basically, you can do this.

A typical duck will serve 3-4 adults, and our family of four was easily able to finish off this entire bird in one sitting.

Roast duck is perfect for any special occasion, and is a great idea for a smaller Thanksgiving or for a Christmas or New Year’s Eve dinner.

And even though there is honey brushed over the duck during the last part of the roasting process, it does not make a sweet duck and isn't heavy or overpowering like the orange sauce that is so often served with duck.

The honey just helps crisp up the skin and give that beautiful dark color to the finished bird, but the overall flavor was very savory from the garlic and onion that I stuffed inside the duck cavity before roasting.

An image of a honey roast duck served whole on a platter.

I'm including detailed instructions with step-by-step photos below to show how to prepare and cook a duck, since I know many people (like me) have never cooked duck before.

How to Cook Duck

It's likely that the duck prepared by the Pilgrims for the first Thanksgiving were spit-roasted or boiled, which were typically methods of preparation back then. But these days it's just much easier to grill, smoke, or roast a duck instead.

I opted to roast our duck in the oven so I could easily save the duck fat for use in other cooking.

One big consideration when roasting a whole duck is how to deal with the layer of fat under the skin that adds tons of flavor but can be tricky to cook with properly given it's thickness. They key is to score the skin with a sharp knife so that the fat can escape (a process called "rendering") while the duck slow roasts in the oven.

There is no need to rub a duck with butter or oil before roasting like you do with chicken or turkey because the duck is going to naturally have plenty of fat to keep it juicy and moist on it's own.

This way of preparing and slow roasting ducks (and geese, for that matter, which are also likely to have been served at the first Thanksgiving) is how waterfowl has been prepared for centuries.

Then only downside to the slow roasted method to cooking duck is that the breast meat will be fully cooked. Some people, myself included, prefer medium-rare breast meat when it comes to duck, and that's just not really achievable when roasting an entire duck.

That said, even the breast meat is still moist and the legs and thighs are perfect when prepared this way. I just wanted to clear up any expectations that this preparation isn't the same as sauteeing duck breasts in a pan for that perfect medium-rare.

Step-by-Step Photos for How to Roast Duck

Be sure to completely defrost your duck in the refrigerator for 2-3 days if using a frozen duck, then remove giblets and neck from inside the duck.

Let the duck sit out on the counter for 30 minutes before roasting to allow it to come up in temperature a bit rather than putting a completely cold bird in the oven.

An image of a whole duck on a wire rack after being patted dry.

Using a very sharp knife, score the skin on the duck's breast in a diamond pattern, trying to only cut the skin without actually reaching the breast meat below. This is going to allow the fat to render from the duck and baste the bird for you while it roasts.

An image of a whole duck with the skin scored in preparation for roasting it in the oven.

If there are other fatty areas like where the duck legs connect to the body, give those a poke or slash as well. Stuff the cavity of the duck with garlic cloves, a quartered onion, and a couple sprigs of rosemary. You could also use lemon slices or a quartered apple.

The stuffing should be discarded after cooking, but the aromatics add flavor to the meat.

An image of hands stuffing a whole duck with aromatic herbs, onions, and apples for roasting in the oven.

Fold in the loose skin on both ends of the duck to hold everything inside and tie the duck legs with butcher's twine or string to truss it. This is done by tying a loop around one duck leg, then crossing it over the other leg and wrapping the twine around both legs a time or two, then tying it off.

I don't actually know if it affects how the duck cooks, but it makes for a prettier presentation.

An image showing a whole duck being trussed for roasting in the oven.

Then rub the duck all over with a mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.

An image of a scored duck breast on a whole duck, rubbed with a spice rub for roasting in the oven.

Place the duck with the scored breast side up on a wire cooling rack over a baking sheet if you are like me and don't have a large roasting pan with a rack.

If you do have a roasting pan, even better! You just don't want the duck sitting on the bottom of the pan because really, you will be surprised how much fat will cook out of the duck and you don't want it sitting in that while it cooks.

Lots of people like to put potatoes under their duck to roast in the duck fat at the same time, but I didn't try that this time around.

How long does it take to roast a duck?

It will take around 2 hours to roast a whole duck in the oven, including resting time after removing the duck from the oven.

You can tell the duck is done when the juices from the fattest part of the thigh or drumstick are still just barely rosy pink when the duck is pricked. At the risk of stating the obvious, duck is poultry, so the USDA recommends cooking it to 165 degrees F, but since duck is not a common salmonella carrier like other poultry, many people prefer duck breasts to be more around 135 degrees F.

Although I typically prefer using a meat thermometer, this is one situation where I find sticking to a roasting time and using the prick test to be the better choice since we are going to go higher than the 135 degrees F that I would want if I was cooking only the duck breasts in a saute pan.

Start making this honey roast duck recipe by roasting it at a higher temperature of 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then decrease the oven temp to 350 degrees and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the juices are still running pink, let it roast another 15 minutes before pulling it out of the oven and tenting with foil for 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute before carving.

Depending on the size of your duck and the temperature it was at when you put it in the oven, this might take a little less time or maybe even a little longer.

Start checking around the 60 minute mark when you brush on half of the honey onto the duck, and again ten minutes later when you do the final brushing of honey to finish it off and get this beautiful dark roasted skin.

How do you make duck skin crispy?

The real tips for getting crispy duck skin have been mentioned but they are worth repeating so you know why you are doing them.

Start by patting the duck dry with paper towels. Then score to help release some of the fat during the cooking process. Season the duck well with a rub that includes salt which helps dry out the skin too and get it crispy.

Start the duck at a higher oven temperature, decreasing it partway through. And finally brush the duck with a little honey a couple of times towards the end of roasting. This will sort of caramelize with the rub and the fat coming off the duck, which you can use to baste it a couple of times if you like.

An image of a honey roast duck recipe after being pulled out of the oven.

Tips for Roasting a Whole Duck

  1. Present the whole honey roast duck at the table by putting it on a large platter with brightly colored greens or fruit under or around it. I used fresh spinach leaves and a segmented pomegranate for color. But you could surround a roast duck with roasted potatoes or root vegetables or use rosemary sprigs as well for a pretty presentation.
  2. If you have more than 3 adults you are feeding or want to have any leftovers, you will need to roast more than one whole duck.
  3. Don't just discard the duck fat. Save it in the refrigerator to use just like you would with leftover bacon grease.
An image of a whole honey roast duck on a bed of spinach leaves on a white serving platter, with pomegranate seeds around it for presentation.

What to Serve with Honey Roast Duck

Did you make this recipe?

Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.

Stay in the know

Honey Roast Duck Recipe

4.88 from 71 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 2 hrs
Total Time 2 hrs 10 mins
Course Dinner
Cuisine American
Servings 4 servings
This Honey Roast Duck recipe makes a beautiful holiday main dish but is easy enough for any special occasion or Sunday dinner.  With crispy skin and tender, juicy meat, this post will show you how to cook duck to get that beautiful roasted look and amazing flavor!

Ingredients
  

  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ¼ cup honey
  • 5 pounds whole duck

Instructions
 

  • Completely defrost the duck in the refrigerator for 2-3 days if using a frozen duck, then remove giblets and neck.  Rinse well, inside and out, with cold water and pat completely dry using paper towels.  Let the duck sit out on the counter for 30 minutes to come up in temperature a bit.
  • Use a sharp knife to score the skin on the duck's breast in a diamond pattern, trying to cut only the skin without reaching the breast meat below.  If there are other fatty areas like where the duck legs connect to the body, give those a poke or slash as well.
  • Stuff the cavity of the duck with garlic cloves, a quartered onion, and a couple sprigs of rosemary.  You could also use lemon slices or a quartered apple.  
  • Fold the loose skin on both ends of the duck to hold everything inside and tie the duck legs with butcher's twine or string to truss it by tying a loop around one duck leg, then crossing it over the other leg and wrapping the twine around both legs a time or two, then tying it off.  
  • In a small bowl, combine the salt, paprika, garlic powder, and pepper, then rub over all over the duck.
  • Place the duck with the scored breast side up on a wire cooling rack over a baking sheet or on the rack of a large roasting pan. 
  • Start the duck by roasting it at a higher temperature of 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then decrease the oven temp to 350 degrees and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes.  At the 60 minute mark, brush half of the honey over the duck, then cook for 10 minutes before brushing the duck with the remaining honey.  
  • If the juices are still running pink after a total of 1 ½ hours, let it roast another 15 minutes before pulling it out of the oven and tenting with foil for 15 minutes to let the juices redistribute before carving.  The duck will be done with the juice running from the thigh after poking it are just barely a rosy pink color.

Nutrition

Calories: 2362kcal | Carbohydrates: 19g | Protein: 66g | Fat: 223g | Saturated Fat: 75g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 29g | Monounsaturated Fat: 106g | Cholesterol: 431mg | Sodium: 1522mg | Potassium: 1235mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 18g | Vitamin A: 1448IU | Vitamin C: 16mg | Calcium: 69mg | Iron: 14mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

  1. Thanks for this recipe.  I have done duck and goose for Thanksgiving and Christmas for over a decade (we are not much for turkey!) THIS recipe is great for walking through the essentials.  I agree, its best not to over do the duck.  

    For the stuffing, I used an apple, onion and garlic, but instead of Rosemary, I poured in 1/4 cup of Sesame Teriyaki Marinade & sauce and rolled it around the cavity before stuffing the bird.

    And rather than roasting, I put it in the rotisserie that we have.  Perfecto!

    PS: the honey glaze is a stroke of genius!

  2. Added some ginger to the rub and included lemon, etc, etc to the stuffing => Delicious. A picture, which I cannot post on comments looks exactly like the recipe photo. Finished off with raw honey from our hive. Never made duck previously, Spouse says "the best" and make iit again!

  3. Used your recipe to the letter for Christmas dinner. Our duck was 7 lbs. so I added the 15 minutes. It was perfect, brown and crispy and 165 degrees

    1. 5 stars
      Made this a few weeks ago and it was so good I had to make it again for Thanksgiving! We raise Muscovy ducks on our farm and we do skin them bc it's so much easier than plucking but this recipe still works great!

  4. Is this calorie count right? One lb of roasted duck on most sites is 583 calories. Times that by 5 is 2,915. Add the honey (258 calories). 3,173 divided by 4 is 793 per serving, not 1026.

    1. I just use a tool that is supposed to automatically calculate nutrition and maybe it isn't working quite right for this recipe. Sorry!

  5. I will be making the Honey Roast Duck tonight and wanted to know if you would recommend making a gravy with some of the rendered fat, and if so how would you prepare it?

  6. Thanks for this recipe! Made it last night and was amazing. My husband just adored it, as well. The meat was very juicy and melting-in-your-mouth. I didn’t have paprika, but I used 1 1/2 tsp smoked paprika + 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper. Just right amount of spicy without being hot.

  7. Cooked per directions and duck was perfect. Timing was less due to my oven cooking temp running high. Delicious! 8 year old and husband ate every last bite. Honey adds glaze and flavor, but not sweet at all. Brilliant!

  8. Tried this recipe today and it came out awesome! I love how the honey compliments the duck. Made a simple salad and some rosemary potatoes too and everyone loved it. Definitely doing this again soon, good evening.

  9. This is by far the worst recipe article I've ever seen! I didn't thing there was a recipe at all! Just paragraph after paragraph of long bodies of text. It wasn't until I hard to search for the word "honey" to find that it was strangely described only briefly in the middle of the article that I managed to find the actual ingredients list and recipe details HALF WAY down the page. Honestly, the worst article I've seen by far. Recommendation: at least provide a link at the top that takes you past the your life story directly to the recipe. This page is otherwise useless to most people who just want to get on with the cooking. Don't worry, we'll come back if the recipe is worth its salt.

    1. I'm sorry you feel that way. You must have missed the "jump to recipe" button at the top of the page which would have taken you straight to the recipe itself. I always try to provide additional helpful tips and explanation in the post itself, but know that not everyone wants that, which is why I have the link at the top of the page to take you straight to the ingredients and instructions.

      1. You must have a lot of bottled up anger that needs addressing ASAP. There was no need to be so nasty about someone else's content. Do like the layout, find another blog/recipe. Keep the negative energy.

    2. Seriously, google another recipe! Or was it just a way to vent your anger on somebody? Then maybe go for a run! Nobody needs your negative comments!
      Thanks to Amy for taking the time to answer you and for her wonderful recipe that i am trying tonight.
      Peace!

    3. I kind of agree. Recipe was long and nobody gives a crap about your husband and kid etc.....
      Just tell us the recipe and move on.

      Turned out good though!! 🙂

  10. I'm still trying to figure out how to rate this because it is 5 stars and my family loved it the 1st time I made it. Making it again today and trying roasting potatoes under it. It is so delicious!

  11. Thank you! Very helpful. Making duck tomorrow for dinner for the first time. Your recipe is clear and simple. Great pix 🙂

    1. You absolutely could brine the duck for 24 hours! It's a great way to do chicken and turkey, so it would work well with duck also!

  12. Perfect! I used smoked paprika and stuffed with apple, lemon, garlic, thyme and onion. It was my first time cooking duck and it came out amazing! I’ll definitely use this recipe again next time.

  13. This duck turned out amazing! I did, however add one step to keep the skin crispy.
    I brought a pot of boiling water to pour over the duck before scoring it to tighten up the skin. I then scored it as the recipe recommended and left it in the fridge for 24 hours to further dry out the skin.

  14. Absolutely loved it! Cooked it for my family 2 years ago on Christmas Eve and what a treat. Definitely a family tradition for now on

  15. I followed this recipe and the temperature was 165 when removed from the vein but the duck was very tough and hard to separate from the bones. The meat had a good taste just very hard to serve. Do you think I  got a bad duck. It was bought a HEB and was not cheap!

    1. That is a strange result! I haven't heard of that before! I wish I had a better explanation for you of why that might happen!

  16. I followed this recipe exactly and the duck came out perfect. After the second applicable of honey I left the duck in for another 15 minutes and then took it out when it hit 150 degrees so after it sat for 15 minutes on the counter, it was a perfect medium. (Duck was in the oven for 1 hr and 40 mins total). I use an electronic thermometer to track the temp, which I highly suggest. (I used a Rohan duck from D'Artagnan (online/delivery). I found a recipe for a sweet/tart cranberry sauce and it was a fabulous accompaniment to this duck.

  17. I made this for Christmas dinner. It was delicious! Even the non-duck eater in our family enjoyed it! It was even better a couple of hours later. Thank you so much for this easy and pleasing recipe.

  18. This is my first time making duck and it was a great, easy recipe to follow. I made a couple additions and roasted brussel sprouts and bacon on the side as well as strips of bacon on top of the duck. Turned out so well I might have to do it again!

  19. I felt if someone’s gives a free recipe, the person has every right to speak of their family. A lot of people post articles like this. I happen to enjoy stories like this because if I had a child, teenager, husband, I want them to enjoy. Please keep up the great work you do with describing your family.

  20. So: Aldi had duck around Christmas and I got one. Have never cooked duck before- I knew I had come to the right place when I saw this was your first attempt too. I was a little intimidated by the scoring procedure but persevered. I've made it twice now - did potatoes the second time. It was amazing both times. I haven't mastered the crispy skin part but nobody minded. Thank you so much!

  21. This recipe does not tell how to make the honey glaze sauce to go on the duck, it just say in a bowl mix garlic powder, salt, paprika and pepper than rub on the duck, where is the rest to make the sauce

  22. I’m going to use this recipe for my first time cooking duck!  A lot of recipes I’ve looked at have you flipping the bird halfway through. Do you think that’s worth adding to this recipe?

    1. Huh, I have never tried flipping the duck halfway! I would be interested in hearing how that goes and might have to look into it. Honestly, it turns out so well without that extra hassle that I might not bother.

  23. I use this for my family of 4 every time we buy a duck around holiday time. I am now using two ducks. I generally stuff the bird with a split orange, and rub inside and out with a small amount of soy sauce and lemon juice mixed with garlic and ginger. Otherwise I baste with honey as per your recipe. It is still the best of any I have tried. I did try one recipe that called for flipping the bird half way. In my opinion it left the breast overly oily and disturbed the cooking process. Those mean-spirited (otherwise known as haters) who don’t want to hear about family in your contribution are revealing more about their own dysfunction than anything else. The social context of food preparation is entirely significant. Thanks for all you shared!
    🙂

  24. Hi,
    Love this duck recipe! My son and husband request it every holiday. I was wondering if this can work for chicken and if there are adjustments that need to be made if it does.

    Thanks,
    Teresa