The best wood for smoking waterfowl | What to use for duck and goose

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 27, 2022

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You know what’s sad? Being a fan of smoking waterfowl but unable to find suitable wood.

With so many wood varieties available, it’s hard to find the one that matches your ideal taste standards.

The choice becomes even more difficult when you have to choose between woods that enhance the duck‘s flavor with extra smokiness and those that focus on keeping the natural meat taste intact.

The best wood for smoking waterfowl | What to use for duck and goose

Guess what? The struggle is real! And that’s why I’ve come up with some great suggestions for you!

I recommend woods with a subtle or sweet flavor for smoking waterfowl like duck and goose, including alder, apple, cherry, pecan, and peach. However, a full-blown smoky flavor like oak would also work if you like to be adventurous. Just don’t smoke it too much, or you’ll lose the real essence of the meat.

Want to know more? Walk with me through this article as we explore the specialties of each wood and find just the right flavor to compliment your smoked duck recipe!

Which woods are best for smoking waterfowl?

If you’ve been eating smoked goose or duck (or even swan!) for quite a while now, you must know that its taste is more close to red meat than poultry meats like chicken.

It also has a lot of fat content that, when combined with its gamey flavor, makes it unsuitable for smoking with woods we often use for chicken.

Thus, the selection of woods I have made here lies more on the middle line between robust smoky and extremely sweet flavors.

With the below-given options, you get all the goodies a smoked duck offers while adding layers of extra flavors to it.

Applewood

  • Flavor: Sweet, savory
  • Intensity: Mild

Talk of making a perfectly smoked duck, and nothing beats apple wood. Unlike other hardwoods, its flavor isn’t as robust.

Instead, it adds a mellow fruitiness to the meat that perfectly balances the characteristic wild game taste without overpowering the meat’s actual flavor.

Moreover, it also keeps the meat moist and juicy when smoked perfectly and for a suitable duration.

If you have it at hand, crabapple works just as well as regular applewood for smoking

Cherry

  • Flavor: Sweet
  • Intensity: Mild

Cherry is practically the jack of all trades when it comes to smoking meats.

Whether it’s smoking waterfowl, the beef you get from your butcher, or even your favorite pork chops, cherry is one of the best smoking wood options you have at hand.

The taste is even refined when the mild flavor of cherry combines crispy duck skin fat.

It not only gives off a pleasant aroma but adds up a layer of subtle flavors to the smoked duck that you can’t help savoring.

Alder wood

  • Flavor: delicate, slightly sweet
  • Intensity: mild

Alder wood is also suitable for smoking meat, fish, poultry, pork, and wild meat.

The only thing is, it doesn’t have that solid and strong flavor to tone down the gamy taste of wild waterfowl like ducks and geese.

Therefore, you have to mix it with something like pecan wood to deepen its flavor.

The wood gives off a subtle and pleasant flavor upon burning with a slight sweetness that generally goes good with waterfowl meat.

A free tip: give your waterfowl a thin coating of orange-maple glaze after smoking for a perfect taste.

Pecan

  • Flavor: Sweet, nutty, rich
  • Intensity: mild

A simple rule of thumb is that whichever wood goes good with nuts generally goes great with poultry, even if the meat isn’t entirely white such as waterfowl.

However, this is subject to the condition that they aren’t too smoky. And one of such woods is pecan.

Unlike mesquite wood or oak, it gives off a very subtle but rich flavor, which, combined with the hickory family’s signature smokiness, adds excellent taste to the meat.

The best thing is, pecan burns very slowly compared to other woods.

So whether you are smoking a whole duck or trying some other bbq recipes that need a bit more time in the smoker, pecan is your best bet.

Plus, this extra burning duration of pecan wood also provides enough time to let the fat escape.

Oak

  • Flavor: smoky
  • Intensity: Medium

If you like to be adventurous with your recipes, you must try oak.

It’s one of those wood types with the smokiness of mesquite and the mildness of apple and cherry, just what is required for a perfectly smoked meat.

But does it go well with waterfowl? Well, that’s pretty subjective to how good of a chef you are.

You have to be careful not to over-smoke the meat as it can ruin its overall flavor with plain smokiness.

I would recommend mixing it with something sweet like apple to balance its flavor, especially if you are smoking a whole bird.

Why do these flavors work so well?

Waterfowl has more characteristics of red meat while having the fat content somewhere closer to pork.

It also has its characteristic gamy flavor that needs to be balanced out during the cooking process.

Plus, it needs to be smoked for quite a few hours for all the fat and strong notes to balance down.

This means you have only one option– to use mild-flavored woods.

Now mild-flavored woods are of two types: the smoky-mild ones like pecan and oak, and the purely sweet ones like cherry, apple, and peach wood.

Adding any of these wood chunks infuses all their unique flavors to the meat during the smoking process and keeps its natural juiciness and taste intact.

Whether you like it more smoky or fruity? That’s totally up to your personal preference. But do each of these flavors go great with a smoked duck? Hell yeah!

How long do you need to smoke waterfowl?

A waterfowl needs to be smoked for about 4 hours at temperatures between 200-225 degrees F.

You can also increase the temperature to 500 degrees to eliminate all the excess duck fat.

The internal temperature of the duck should be ideally 160 degrees F– you can also use a thermometer for precise measurement.

To make sure that the meat comes out juicy and tasteful from your electric smoker, keep basting it with maple syrup from time to time or after each hour when smoking duck.

If you smoke duck breast, marinating it in orange juice will enhance the flavor. You can also place some spare oranges inside the body cavity if you make a whole bird to infuse its flavor in the meat delicately.

Soy sauce marinade is another alternative if you like it the Chinese way!

Which woods to avoid when smoking waterfowl?

Different meats have different flavors. Where one wood would compliment the taste of one meat, it could ruin the taste of the other.

Moreover, some woods could turn your meat into a fatal health hazard.

That being said, the following are some woods you must avoid at every cost when making a waterfowl:

Mesquite

Mesquite is a wood loved by meat lovers due to its robust smoke flavor.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t go well with waterfowl, as it could potentially ruin the whole taste of the smoked duck or goose by overpowering its flavor.

However, you could still mix a tiny amount of it with sweet or mild woods like cherry or apple for an extra smoky touch, especially if you are smoking big birds.

Hickory

For the same reasons that I mentioned with mesquite, you can’t perfect your smoked duck recipe with hickory either.

It’s just too smoky for a naturally sweet for something like waterfowl.

Evergreens

Evergreens include a whole family of wood, including cedar, pine, spruce, etc.

As all of these woods contain resin, they can impart an almost disgusting flavor to the meat, especially when considering that waterfowls already have a very wild taste.

Softwoods

Softwoods aren’t dense enough and burn quicker than you can think. Besides, some of them don’t have the flavor required to make a delicious smoked duck.

It means you are not only getting a run for your money but also don’t get the taste you desire.

Greenwoods

Greenwoods burn too slow and can leave the meat with a very horrible aftertaste.

It not only increases the risk of drying out the meat from inside but also ruins its taste, two primary reasons to avoid it.

The same holds if you are thinking of smoking it with soaked wood chips.

Treated woods

As the name suggests, “treated” woods mean many toxic chemicals, including arsenic, the silent killer.

These poisonous substances can intermingle in the smoke and infuse within the meat upon burning.

What happens next? Your doctor can give you a pretty detailed lecture on that…

Conclusion

Smoked duck is one of the most delicious pieces of meat you’ll ever taste. But the condition is to prepare it the right way. And for that, choosing suitable wood is extremely necessary.

Guess what? The end product will depend on how skillfully you smoke it. Everything, from the smoker’s internal temperature to the duration of smoking and the flavor of the wood, matters.

In this article, I’ve shed light upon everything you need to know about smoking a waterfowl, including the best wood you can use, which flavor to use in what situation, and which woods to absolutely avoid.

I hope this article has been helpful for you in your quest to make a delicious duck dish. See you with another one!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.