From flying to dehydrating: Duck breast makes for tasty jerky

There’s something different about wild duck and how it tastes. It’s gamey, slightly tastes like liver and incredibly overwhelming if it’s not cooked right. That’s why duck makes wonderful jerky.

If it sits in the right marinade for at least a day, the overpowering taste tends to die away and gives way to the spices and juice it’s been soaking in. 

Now two batches in, I’ve found you can’t go wrong with a teriyaki based marinade. It’s as common as it comes, but besides that point, it’s flavorful enough to weigh out the gaminess of the bird. I found a basic recipe online and went off that to make my own, though it’s hard to claim a marinade as an “original” unless you spend hours, days or years refining one. 

Here’s the marinade recipe for roughly 3-4 pounds of duck breast: 

2 cups teriyaki sauce 

1 cup low sodium soy sauce 

1 cup water

1/2 bottle of an IPA (I prefer Devil Anse IPA, a local beer from West Virginia) 

1/2 cup brown sugar 

4 tbsp Worcestershire

3 tbsp tabasco 

2 tbsp sambal (red chili paste) 

2 tbsp onion powder

2 tbsp garlic powder 

2 tbsp thyme 

2 tbsp barbecue sauce 

1 tbsp fresh minced garlic

1 tbsp pepper 

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp chili powder

After marinade seasoning mix: 

3 tbsp salt

2 tbsp black pepper

1/2 tbsp red pepper flakes 

1/2 tsp white sugar

A labeled container of the cut, raw meat in the marinade. I had to reinforce the container with duct tape so it wouldn’t leak.

First, mix together all of the marinade’s ingredients. You want it to be savory but maintain some heat. Once you taste it and like it, put it in a container and let it chill for a few hours. It’s best if you prepare the duck while the marinade is chilling. 

Slice the duck breasts into 1/8- to 1/4-inch strips. If you want bigger pieces, that’s fine, but I wouldn’t go past 1/2-inch pieces. Wild duck breasts aren’t that large, about 2-2 1/2 inches in diameter, so it’s best to keep it on the small side. It’s imperative while slicing the meat to check for stray shot while also taking off any excess fat. A little won’t hurt, but too much can affect the taste. 

Once you have all of your breasts sliced, put it in the marinade and let it sit overnight. Typically, you want it to soak for 24 hours, but that’s entirely dependent on how much you want to control the original-to-marinaded taste ratio. 

Raw duck breasts, roughly 2 inches in diameter. These were taken off a sea scoter harvested in the Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Annapolis, Md.

After it soaks, pat the pieces dry with paper towels to soak up any excess marinade. If you want the pieces to be flat, bring out the meat tenderizer and flatten to your desired thickness. Flattening the meat will give you small pockets that will hold the seasoning mix, too. 

If you’re using an oven to dehydrate the meat, lay the pieces on a cooling rack over a cooking sheet in a single layer, giving each piece some room. Sprinkle with the salt, sugar, pepper and red pepper flake mixture, and put in the oven on warm/hold for 4-6 hours, depending on your oven settings. Check on it after 4-hours and use your judgment. If it has your desired level of elasticity, pull it out and let it cool. You don’t want it to be so brittle it breaks when bent, but want it to have some fight to it. If some pieces are done before others, pull them out and let the others finish dehydrating. 

Marinaded breast strips on the baking rack.

If you’re using a dehydrator, follow its instructions. 

Once the meat is done, sprinkle lightly with salt as it cools. Once cooled, put in a sealable container and keep it in the fridge unless you plan to eat it within the next few days. It should last one to two months in the fridge without preservatives.