Waterfowl as Food: How to Clean, Cook and Enjoy It Like a Pro

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 28, 2022

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Waterfowl are certain wildfowl of the order Anseriformes, especially members of the family Anatidae, which includes ducks, geese, and swans. Some definitions of the term ‘waterfowl’ include the saltwater shorebirds or waders, gulls, pelicans, and herons, as well as seabirds such as the albatross, but ‘fowl’ especially refers to birds used by humans for game. They have historically been an important food source, and continue to be hunted as game, or raised as poultry for meat and eggs and are sometimes kept as pets.

Waterfowl is a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and it’s also delicious. But how do you get from wild duck (here’s the best wood to smoke them) to the dinner table? It’s not as easy as you might think.

In this article, I’ll discuss the many aspects of eating waterfowl, from hunting to preparing and cooking, and everything in between. I’ll also share some of my favorite recipes.

What is waterfowl

What’s the Deal with Waterfowl?

Waterfowl are a type of bird that can be consumed as food. Ducks, geese, and swans are the most common types of waterfowl that are consumed. They are popular for their rich flavor and high nutritional value.

The Nutritional Value of Waterfowl

Waterfowl meat is a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. A 3-ounce serving of duck or goose meat contains around 20 grams of protein. It is also rich in calcium, vitamin B, and iron. However, it is important to note that the nutritional value of waterfowl meat can vary depending on the bird’s diet and habitat.

Feeding Waterfowl for Optimal Nutrition

To ensure that waterfowl meat is safe and nutritious, it is important to maintain a balanced diet for the birds. In the wild, waterfowl typically feed on a diet of soybean and other grains. However, to maintain optimal nutrition, it is recommended to feed them a formulated diet.

Mazuri is a popular brand of waterfowl feed that is formulated to provide a balance of nutrients. It contains ground wheat, dehulled soybean meal, fish meal, and other ingredients that provide the necessary vitamins and minerals.

Contamination and Maintaining Safety

It is important to be cautious when consuming waterfowl meat as it can be contaminated with harmful bacteria. To maintain safety, it is recommended to cook waterfowl meat to an internal temperature of at least 165°F.

Additionally, some waterfowl feed may contain added artificial colors and sodium. To avoid this, it is recommended to use a type of poultry feeder that is designed for waterfowl or to use chicken food in pellet form.

Minimizing Waste and Accumulation

When feeding waterfowl, it is important to minimize waste and accumulation of uneaten food. This can be achieved by using a type of poultry feeder that is designed for waterfowl or by using chicken food in pellet form.

Preparing Waterfowl: From Hunting to Eating

Cleaning and preparing waterfowl is an important step in the process of turning your wild game into a delicious meal. Here are some easy steps to consider when cleaning your waterfowl:

  • Start by removing the feathers. Plucking is the traditional way to remove feathers, but it can be time-consuming. If you’re short on time, you can use shears to chop off the skin and feathers in one go.
  • Once the feathers are removed, rinse the bird with cold water. Be sure to do this gently so you don’t damage the meat.
  • Remove the feet and head of the bird. This is an important step as it makes the cleaning process easier.
  • Cut around the vent and remove the organs. Be sure to remove the liver as it can be used in cooking.
  • Rinse the bird again with cold water and dry it properly. It’s important to dry the bird thoroughly to prevent bacteria growth.

Removing the Skin

Removing the skin is a personal preference, but it can make the meat less greasy. Here’s how to remove the skin:

  • Start by making a small incision in the skin at the base of the breast.
  • Use your fingers to gently pull the skin away from the meat.
  • Once the skin is loose, use a spoon or a knife to separate the skin from the meat.
  • Be sure to remove any excess fat as well.

Cutting the Meat

Cutting the meat is an important part of preparing waterfowl. Here are some tips to help you cut the meat properly:

  • Consider the size of the bird when cutting the meat. Larger birds will have larger muscles, so you’ll need to adjust your cutting accordingly.
  • Cut the breast meat away from the bone. The breast meat is the firmest and easiest to cut.
  • Cut the legs and thighs away from the body. These muscles are tougher and will require more effort to cut.
  • Be sure to remove any shot from the meat. This is an important step as it can be dangerous to eat.

Mastering the Art of Cooking Waterfowl

The key to making a delicious waterfowl dish is to use the right ingredients. Here are some ingredients that work well with waterfowl:

  • Bacon: adds a nice smoky flavor and helps keep the meat moist.
  • Starch: a good way to thicken sauces and gravies.
  • Herbs and Spices: add a unique flavor to the dish.
  • Natural Sweeteners: such as honey or maple syrup, can balance out the gamey flavor of the meat.

Roasting Duck in the Oven

Roasting is one of the most popular ways to cook duck. Here’s a simple recipe for roasting duck in the oven:


  • 1 whole duck
  • Salt and pepper
  • Herbs (such as thyme or rosemary)
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 cup of water

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Season the duck with salt, pepper, and herbs.
3. Place the sliced onion inside the duck.
4. Place the duck in a roasting pan and pour 1 cup of water into the pan.
5. Roast the duck for 2-3 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.
6. Let the duck rest for 10-15 minutes before carving.

Serving Waterfowl

When it comes to serving waterfowl, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Slice the meat against the grain to ensure it is tender.
  • Pour any excess fat or juices off the meat before serving.
  • Serve with sides that complement the flavors of the meat, such as roasted vegetables or sweet potatoes.

Testing for Doneness

It’s important to test the meat for doneness to avoid overcooking. Here are some ways to test for doneness:

  • Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature.
  • Cut into the meat and check the color. For duck, the meat should be pinkish-red for medium-rare and grayish-brown for well-done.
  • Break a small bone and inspect the color. For duck, the bone should be white for a properly cooked bird.

Impressive Waterfowl Dishes

If you’re looking to impress your dinner guests, here are some unique waterfowl dishes to try:

  • Duck Confit: a French dish where the duck is cooked in its own fat.
  • Venison and Duck Sausage: a delicious combination of two game meats.
  • Black Duck with Wild Rice: a classic waterfowl dish that includes a side of wild rice.

Lowering the Gamey Flavor

Waterfowl meat can have a strong gamey flavor, which some people may not enjoy. Here are some tips for lowering the gamey flavor:

  • Soak the meat in milk or buttermilk for a few hours before cooking.
  • Marinate the meat in a mixture of vinegar, oil, and herbs.
  • Cook the meat with sweet ingredients, such as honey or maple syrup.

The Flavorful World of Waterfowl Meat

Waterfowl meat is a highly sought-after dish in numerous countries worldwide, including Americans, Poles, and other Western countries. The meat’s unique flavor profile is due to the significant differences in fat content, body size, and protein content found in different types of waterfowl.


Ducks are known for their rich, strong flavor, which is due to their dark, fatty meat. The meat contains essential fatty acids that are highly beneficial to our diets. Preparing duck meat involves cooking it for a shorter time than other meats, allowing the fat to melt and infuse the meat with flavor. Cooking duck meat is easier than other waterfowl meats, making it a highly preferred option for many.


Geese, on the other hand, offer a slightly different flavor profile than ducks. The meat is darker and richer than duck meat, with a higher fat content. Geese are bigger than ducks, and the meat is slightly tougher, making it suitable for slow cooking methods like roasting or steaming. The meat is highly preferred in local dishes, drawing elements from the available vegetables and other local ingredients.

Other Waterfowl Meat

Other waterfowl meat, like swans and turkeys, are also highly loved for their unique flavor profiles. Swans offer a slightly lighter taste than geese, with a slightly lower fat content. Turkey meat is highly similar to chicken meat, with a slightly stronger flavor profile. The meat is highly preferred in regular diets and is considered a highly nutritious option.

Preparing Waterfowl Meat

Preparing waterfowl meat involves a slight difference in preparation, depending on the type of meat being used. Here are some tips to help you prepare waterfowl meat perfectly:

  • Marinating the meat in red wine or vinegar before cooking can help to tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavor.
  • Young waterfowl meat is highly preferred over older meat, as it is more tender and flavorful.
  • Rice and potatoes are the primary side dishes served with waterfowl meat, as they complement the meat’s rich flavor.
  • Boiled neck and vegetables are also highly preferred in local dishes, adding a unique flavor profile to the dish.

Ultimately, the type of waterfowl meat you choose to cook and eat will depend on your personal preferences. Whether you prefer the rich, strong flavor of duck meat or the slightly lighter taste of swan meat, waterfowl meat offers a unique and highly flavorful dining experience.

Waterfowl Meat: Understanding the Differences in Nutrition

Waterfowl meat is a popular dish in many cuisines around the world. Whether it’s duck, goose (here’s the best wood to smoke those), or other waterfowl, the taste and flavor of the meat can vary significantly depending on the bird’s diet, preparation, and cooking process. But did you know that there are also differences in the nutritional profile of these meats? In this section, we’ll explore the differences in nutrition between ducks, geese, and other waterfowl meat.

Protein Content

Waterfowl meat is an excellent source of protein, making it a popular choice for athletes and bodybuilders. The protein content of waterfowl meat varies depending on the bird’s age, diet, and species. Generally, duck meat contains more protein than goose meat, with a protein content of around 25-30%. Other waterfowl meats, such as swan or pheasant, contain similar protein levels to duck meat.

Fat Content

The fat content of waterfowl meat is one of the primary differences between duck and goose meat. Duck meat is known for its rich, fatty flavor, while goose meat is even fattier and has a more pronounced flavor. The fat content of duck meat can range from 5-10%, while goose meat can contain up to 30% fat. Other waterfowl meats, such as swan or pheasant, contain lower levels of fat than duck or goose meat.

Types of Fat

The type of fat found in waterfowl meat is also significant. Duck and goose meat contain a high amount of saturated fat, which can be harmful to your health if consumed in large amounts. However, they also contain essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, which are beneficial to your health. Other waterfowl meats, such as swan or pheasant, contain similar levels of essential fatty acids to duck meat.

Vitamins and Minerals

Waterfowl meat is a rich source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, iron, and zinc. Duck meat is particularly high in vitamin B12, which is essential for maintaining healthy nerve cells and red blood cells. Goose meat is also a good source of these vitamins and minerals, but in lower amounts than duck meat.

Preparation and Cooking

The way you prepare and cook waterfowl meat can also influence its nutritional profile. Here are some tips for preparing and cooking waterfowl meat:

  • Remove the skin before cooking to reduce the fat content.
  • Marinate the meat before cooking to add flavor and tenderize the meat.
  • Use a slow cooking method, such as roasting or steaming, to retain the meat’s nutrients.
  • Serve with vegetables, rice, or potatoes to add essential vitamins and minerals to your meal.


So, that’s all you need to know about waterfowl as food. They’re a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals, and can be delicious when prepared the right way. Just remember to cook them properly and to keep them safe by cleaning them properly. And don’t forget to use contractions wherever possible!

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.