I had originally wanted to serve duck breasts for my dinner party, but after visiting Orland Meat Market & Deli, I learned there's quite a price difference between the breasts ($14.99/lb.) and the whole duck ($2.99/lb.) so I changed plans.
The owners Spyros and Helen talked me through it and gave me the confidence I needed to tackle a whole duck. I have never cooked duck, much less a whole one, so I was nervous.
I found some simple instructions online and talked it over with my brother to tackle it low-and-slow for the best results. Ducks are water fowl, so they have an extra layer of fat between their skin and the meat. This fat needs to be rendered off, so it's best to cook for a long period of time at a low temperature.
2 ducks, approximate 5 lbs. each
Begin by removing the neck and giblets from the duck's cavity. Using kitchen shears, cut off the wing tips and any large gobs of fat around the cavity openings. You can save all of these things to make stock later.
Rinse the duck in water, and then pat thoroughly dry using paper towels. The trick to crispy duck skin is starting with a dry bird. Using a very sharp paring knife, make diagonal slits all over the bird. Take special care across the breasts and thigh areas. Do not pierce the meat or it will become dried out during cooking. (I'm sorry I did not get a picture of this step!) Rub the cavity liberally with salt and pepper, and stuff with several minced cloves of garlic.
Edited to add: Video below of the process to slit the duck's skin to help render the fat.
Put the duck breast side up on a rack over a roasting pan. Place in a 300° oven for 4 hours. Every hour, remove the pan and flip the ducks over. Using a turkey baster, remove the duck fat from the pan each hour, reserving for later use. Removing the fat will help with splattering and smoking in the oven.
I opted to carve the duck traditionally, as one would with a chicken. Breasts, wings, legs, and thighs were portioned with each guest getting a piece on their place. It was phenominally juicy and tender, with a crispy, roasted skin.
I'm pretty sure this was my first time eating duck (besides stealing a bite off of Johnny or my dad's plates) and it was definitely my first time cooking it.
I have to say it was another success. It turned out better than I anticipated and most of my guests had never had duck either. Everybody seemed to like it, and one guest even named it as their favorite dish of the evening!