With duck season well underway, hunters are blessed with the opportunity to sample a variety of ducks. Like all animals, the dietary differences between duck species and even individual ducks can be quite different which greatly changes the flavor of the meat. Ducks also migrate at different times which means the flavor of the week is rarely the same. Unfortunately, all ducks are not created equal when it comes to table fare. Similarly, the palate and preference from one hunter to the next is equally varied.
There are people who find waterfowl disgusting and gamey, while others consider it fine dining. In all fairness, ducks can be somewhat of an acquired taste, but some hunters just taste hot sauce. All jokes aside, the flavor of a duck can change depending on the area, preparation, and condition of the bird. That being said, there are a handful of ducks that consistently come out on top and take hunters to flavor town every fall.
Teal are the real deal. These tiny birds are low-flying bullets out in the field, and exceptional on a plate. Teal are known across the country for mild flavor, modest size, and satiating fat. They can be plucked whole for a roast or breasted out and prepared in any number of ways. Whatever style you prefer, this delicate duck is delicious. If you get lucky early in the season and bag a lot of teal, don’t overlook the internal white fat on a healthy bird. Harvest the fat and use it in place of the cooking oil in your favorite recipes. It melts quickly, tastes great, and fattens up the otherwise lean meat.
Wood ducks have a distinct flavor which is likely due to their diet of acorns, rice, aquatic vegetation, and bugs. While a flavor being distinct isn’t always a good thing, in the case of wood ducks it’s tasty. While their appearance is reason enough to fall in love with these birds, the taste alone drives many hunters to specifically seek them out every year.
The classic bowling shape, unique vocalizations, and timidness toward decoy spreads make the pintail a favorite among waterfowlers everywhere. These ducks are incredibly fun to hunt but it’s their meat is a treat in its own right. Their surprisingly mild flavor secures their spot on the list of ducks too tasty to pass up. When cooking a pintail there’s no need to drown it in sauce or use strong spices. It’s hard to go wrong searing it in a hot pan or on the grill with a little salt and pepper. Simple preparations and subtle flavors are ideal for this duck and make for the perfect meal to convince skeptics.
You can’t talk about eating ducks without mentioning greenheads. Mallards have to be North America’s most popular duck. Their widespread abundance, lack of caution around decoys, and chatty personalities will excite any duck hunter. However, the appeal doesn’t stop once the decoys are pulled, greenheads also make a great meal. Mallards do have a tinge of gamey flavor to them, but letting the meat rest in a brine or marinade is an easy fix. While teal breasts make for a modest portion, mallards are one of the larger, more plump ducks. A decent size mallard can weigh two or three pounds and provide plenty of meat for a meal.
The canvasback has the propensity to be found belly-up on the dinner table. This species suffered a significant decline during the era of market hunting and did eventually recover. What was the reason for their initial decline? It’s delicious. Market hunters were paid well for canvasbacks from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. These birds were so well regarded that they often could be found in fancy New York restaurants. The canvasback has an elegant and sizable body which is how it became known as the “King of Ducks.” Similar to bears or any other migratory bird, the flavor of a canvasback will change significantly depending on its diet. If you shoot one that has been flying along the coast eating clams and mussels, it might have a flavor more commonly associated with sea duck. On the other hand, canvasbacks feeding on vegetation without access to ocean-based food sources will taste more earthy. The variety of nuanced flavors that can be found in their meat is a tasty experience and likely part of their popularity.
Updated on December 11, 2022
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