Smoked Duck and Grits

A savory hunt camp breakfast tastes like fall in the South

Photo: Kate Dearman

“This is a recipe I developed specifically for this book,” writes chef Robert St. John in his new cookbook, Mississippi Mornings: Deep South Breakfasts, Brunches, and Musings. “My brother is an avid duck hunter, and I was thinking of him when we were testing it. The grits say ‘basic,’ though they’re anything but basic. They are very rich, but so good, and perfect for this recipe. The caramelized onions are an equal player in this three-component game.”

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  • Smoked Duck and Grits (Yield: 6 servings)

  • For the brine

    • 2 cups apple juice

    • 1 cup cranberry juice

    • 1½ tbsp. kosher salt

    • 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar

    • 2 tbsp. soy sauce

    • 1½ tsp. smoked paprika

    • 1 tsp. garlic powder

    • 1½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

  • For the duck

    • 6 (5- to 6-oz.) duck breasts

  • For the caramelized onion sauce

    • 2 tbsp. bacon fat or olive oil

    • 4 cups thinly sliced yellow onions

    • 1½ tsp. kosher salt

    • ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • 1 tbsp. minced garlic

    • ¾ cup white wine

    • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth or stock

    • 2 tsp. chopped fresh thyme

    • 4 tbsp. (½ stick) cold unsalted butter, cubed

  • For the grits*

    • 2 cups water

    • 2 cups chicken broth

    • 2 cups heavy cream

    • 1½ tsp. kosher salt

    • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

    • ½ cups stone-ground grits

    • 2 tsp. hot sauce


  1. Make the brine: Place all the brine ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook just long enough for the salt and brown sugar to dissolve. Remove from the heat and cool completely. 

  2. Make the duck: The duck breasts will need to be scored before placing them in the brine. Using a very sharp knife, cut shallow slices in the duck fat in a crisscross pattern. Be careful not to cut the meat of the duck.

  3. Once the brine is cool, place the duck breasts and brine in a gallon-size Ziploc bag and refrigerate for 5 to 6 hours. Occasionally turn the bag from side to side to ensure all surfaces of the meat are marinated.

  4. At this time, you will also want to soak your wood chips. Preheat a smoker to 200°F.

  5. Place the duck in the smoker, fat side up, along with the soaked wood chips. Smoke for 35 to 45 minutes, until the duck reaches an internal temperature of 135°F.

  6. Make the grits: While the duck is smoking, prepare the grits, cover the pan, and hold it in a warm place until ready to serve.

  7. Make the caramelized onion sauce: Heat the bacon fat in a large skillet over low-medium heat. Add the onions, salt, and pepper, and cook until the onions are light brown, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Add the garlic and cook for 3 to 4 more minutes. Stir in the white wine and reduce the wine by half. Add the chicken broth and simmer until most of the liquid is gone. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the thyme and cold butter. Hold in a warm place until ready to plate.

  8. As soon as the duck reaches 135°F, place a heavy-duty skillet over medium-high heat. Place the duck breasts, fat side down, in the dry hot skillet to crisp the skin. Sear for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn the breasts over and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from the skillet and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before slicing.

  9. When you are ready to serve, divide the grits among 6 large shallow bowls. Starting at the thick side of each breast, slice on the bias into 5 or 6 pieces. Arrange the slices in a semicircle over the grits. Spoon the caramelized onion sauce on the grits next to the duck and serve.

  10. *Basic Grits (Yield: 6 to 8 servings)

    These grits are anything but basic. The recipe uses heavy cream and chicken stock. Basic grits use just water. I probably should have named this recipe Not So Basic Grits. Buy the best stone-ground grits you can find.


  12. Combine the water, chicken broth, cream, salt, and pepper in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat and cook until the mixture begins to simmer. Using a wire whisk, stir in the grits and lower the heat. Slowly simmer the grits for 18 to 20 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent sticking. Once the grits are thickened, remove them from the heat and stir in the hot sauce. Serve immediately, or store, covered, in a warm place until needed.

Excerpted from Mississippi Mornings: Deep South Breakfasts, Brunches, and Musings by Robert St. John. Copyright © 2023 by Different Drummer Publishing.