As you can probably imagine, researching online how best to handle duck (as in the food) is a more elaborate task than researching how best to store, say, celery.  There are at least 10 popular duck-related topics that the Internet would rather steer you toward, be it duck, the adorable (while it's still alive) fowl;  duck, the act of avoiding impact with an object; some favorite cartoon ducks; some not-so-favorite movie ducks; and so on and on. was no help; even less so. was in the ballpark, but still not quite what we needed.


But finally our crack research staff tracked down some words of wisdom on the subject of duck, the dinner, from the USDA’s fact sheet “Duck and Goose from Farm to Table.” 


Here’s what we learned:


•   Most whole ducks in the supermarket are frozen because the demand for them is rather low except at holidays.   The average American consumes only about 1/3 lb. of duck per year.


• Ducks sold in the supermarket are actually ducklings (under 16 weeks old).  The youngest are broilers or fryers (3-6½ lbs.).  The roasters usually weigh  4-7½  lbs.   The tough meat of mature ducks is used only in processed products. 


• All ducks for sale as food are federally or state inspectd.  Grading is voluntary; plants that want their ducks graded must pay for that.  The USDA Grade A duckling is the highest quality (plump, meaty, and free of blemishes). Grades B and C are not usually found in stores.


• Ducks  are pretty much chemical-free.  The FDA prohibits the use of hormones, and antibiotics are not routinely given.  If they are, a waiting period is required (for the drug to leave the bird’s body) before it can be slaughtered.  Additives are not allowed except in processed meat, and then they must be listed on the label. 


• The familiar question—Are ducks white meat or dark meat?—is answered.  Duck is considered white meat, but, because they are birds of flight, their breast meat is darker than a chicken’s or turkey’s.  This is because more oxygen and red blood cells reach the muscle of a bird that flies.


So now, you’ve got your duck home, and you’re ready to make Peking duck.  You may reconsider when you recall the age-old cliché image of duck carcasses hanging in the window of Chinese establishments.  Apparently, duck-hanging is a necessary step in preparing delicacies like Peking Duck and Roasted Cantonese Duck.  This "Gutsy Gormet" recipe, for example, instructs one to "hang duck up to dry for at least 12 hours or overnight in a draft near a window or other breezy place, spreading paper on floor to catch drippings." 


The advice gets even more bizarre:  "If no cool area is available, hang duck from back of a chair and blow a fan on it for several hours."  But that's STILL not the best part.  THIS, arguably, is:  "Insert a bicycle pump hose into the neck hole. Keep cavity closed as you pump air into the duck -- inflating it until the skin is taut, rubbing and rolling the skin as it is being inflated to distribute air evenly."  [Another source tells me that, if I have huge lungs, I can blow the duck into an inflated state by forcing my breath between the skin and body.]


Either way, there is no half-hearted (nor faint-stomached) way to make this dish.  You've REALLY got to want some home-cooked Peking Duck on the dinner table.  If so, call your spouse or roommate at work with a warning that he/she may be coming home to the sight of you inflating a duck carcass through its neck-hole with a bicycle pump.  Then await the arrival of  an ambulance and some men carrying a white jacket. 


Bon appetit!

Duck Shelf Life
Frozen Duck Parts1-2 days6-9 months
Fresh Duck1-2 days1 year
Cooked Duck2-3 days4-6 months
Uncooked, Defrosted Duck2 days- -
Handling Tips: 
It's important to cook poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees to kill harmful bacteria. For better quality, cook to 180 degrees F.
Defrost frozen duck in the refrigerator, in cold water, or in the microwave, never on the counter. If defrosted in the microwave, cook immediately.
Boyer, Renee, and Julie McKinney. "Food Storage Guidelines for Consumers." Virginia Cooperative Extension (2009): n. pag. Web. 7 Dec 2009.

"Cupboard Storage Chart." K-State Research and Extension n. pag. Web. 23 Dec 2009. <>.

Susan Brewer, Ph.D. University of Illinois, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

USDA Fact Sheets, Poultry Preparation “Duck and Goose from Farm to Table”

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