Peking Duck For Thanksgiving

Peking Duck

Like many people, it looks like we are going to be a small crowd for Thanksgiving this year, but I still wanted to do something special. I came across a duck on sale at my local grocery store and I figured it would be the perfect thing. Nicer than the average chicken and small enough to feed the family without too much left over.  Peking duck has been on my list to make for a while so I figured this was the perfect excuse. Similarly to turkey, Peking duck is often carved tableside. Peking duck is named after the city it comes from, the capital of China. Peking is more commonly known as Beijing. It got the name Peking due to the translation  by postal authorities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Peking Process

Peking duck was originally considered food for royalty, and was regularly on the menu in the Chinese Imperial court. Traditionally it was was cooked over peach or pear wood. To honor this tradition I have included instructions for cooking this the duck in the smoker as well as a traditional oven. One of the key parts making Peking duck is separating the skin from the fat. This helps the fat render and the skin crisp. You can do this by sliding your fingers between the skin and the fat, but the best (and most fun) way to do this is inflate the duck with an air compressor.  Luckily, a friend recently gave me a spare compressor. (Thanks Amitai). Also, the duck really benefits from being cooked vertically. This prevents the bottom of the duck from stewing in its own juices. If you can hang your duck when cooking or use a vertical roasting rack.  In a pinch, you use an empty beer can inserted into the bottom of the cavity to prop your duck up.

Adding Thanksgiving Flavor

Most recipes for this dish call for red vinegar, but I know that can be hard to find, and even harder to find kosher. Instead of using red vinegar I used apple cider vinegar mixed with jelled cranberry sauce right out of the can.  This provided the red color, along with the added benefit of infusing some traditional Thanksgiving flavor. Also, the primary seasoning for Peking duck is Chinese five spice, which includes many traditional fall and winter holiday flavors like anise, cinnamon, and clove. 

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Peking Duck
Thanksgiving Peking Duck
Prep Time
30 mins
Cook Time
1 hr

An American twist on a Chinese classic. A great dish when you are looking for something special for the holidays and you have a small crowd.

Course: Main Course, Poultry
Cuisine: American, Asian, Chinese, Holiday
Keyword: Chinese, Duck, Peking, Peking Duck
Servings: 4 People
Author: Daniel Peikes
  • 1 Duck
  • 1/4 Cup Hoisin Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Chinese Five Spice Mix-Divided See recipe below. Store bought will work in a pinch.
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 Cup Jelled Cranberry Sauce Straight from the can.
  • 1/2 Cup Honey
  • 1 Cup Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 1 Scallion Sliced Thinly
  • 1 Cubic Inch Ginger Peeled and sliced into planks
  • Water Enough to fill a large pot or wok
  1. Remove any feathers that that remain on the duck, being carefully not to tear the skin. Trim any excess fat from both ends of the cavity. Tip: Don't throw out that fat. Render it and use it to cook potatoes (or latkes!). Duck fat is one of the tastiest fats out there.

  2. In a small bowl, combine all of the hoisin sauce, kosher salt, and half of the Chinese Five Spice mix. Spoon all of the mixture into the bottom of the cavity of the duck. Using your fingers, spread the hoisin and five spice mixture. Then add the ginger and scallions to the cavity and close the cavity up using the skewer to pin the two sides of cavity shut.

  3. Next separate the skin from the fat. You can you this by inserting your fingers between the skin and meat. Alternatively you can do this by inflating the duck with an air pump or an air compressor, inserting the air hose under the skin of the duck's neck.

  4. Fill a large pot or wok with water and two tablespoons of Chinese five spice. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Once the water is boiling, ladle it over all parts of the duck being careful not to get any in the cavity. This should cause the skin to tighten up.

  5. In a small sauce pot, combine the apple cider vinegar, honey, cranberry sauce, soy sauce, and the remainder of the Chinese five spice. Place over medium heat and stir until the cranberry sauce is dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and brush the skin of the duck with the mixture.

  6. Place the duck on a wire rack over a lined sheet pan. Place in the refrigerator, uncovered to allow the skin to dry for a minimum of 8 hours.

  7. Roast the duck vertically at 275°F for about 45 minutes. If you are using a vertical roasting rack you will need to open up the bottom of the cavity that you sewed shut with the skewer. Then raise the heat to 400°F and cook until the skin crisps up, about another 10 minutes.

    If roasting vertically is not an option put the duck back on the wire rack over the sheet pan that you used when you put the duck in the refrigerator to dry the skin. Just make sure to drain the fat out of cavity about every 15 minutes when cooking by picking it up vertically for a minute.

  8. Alternatively you can smoke the duck using the same times and temperatures stated above by hanging it by its wings with stainless steel hooks from the grates in your smoker over fruit wood. (Peach or pear wood be best but apple will work just fine and is much easier to find). Be careful not to let the the duck to get too close to fire or it will burn.

  9. Allow the the duck to rest for about 10 minutes or until it is cool enough to handle. Remove the leg quarter from the breast by cutting the joint between them. Remove the wings by cutting around the joint that attaches it to the breast. Then remove the breast meat by cutting down along the breast bone. Slice the breast meat in to 1/2" pieces and serve. Pro tip: The skin off the the back bone is delicious. Keep it a cooks treat, you've earned it. Serve alongside some plum sauce or hoisin sauce.

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Moscow Mule
Chinese Five Spice Powder
Prep Time
2 mins
Cook Time
3 mins
Course: Seasoning
Cuisine: Asian, Chinese
Keyword: Chinese, Chinese Five Spice, Chinese Five Spice Powder, Chinese Spice, Five Spice, Spice
Servings: 1 Cup
Author: Daniel Peikes
  • 4 tbsp Whole Cloves
  • 4 tbsp Fennel Seed
  • 4 Whole Star Anise
  • 1 Soft Cinnamon Stick
  • 4 tbsp Sichuan Peppercorns
  1. Put all the spices in a dry skillet over low heat. Toast the spices until fragrant, making sure to keep them moving in the skillet so they don't burn.

  2. Break up the cinnamon stick and add the spices your electric grinder or mortar and grind to a powder. Store in an airtight container.


Don’t forget to check out Rachel’s latest Thanksgiving recipe:

Chocolate Pumpkin Brownies