Vietnamese Spit-Roasted Duck with Star Anise and Honey


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves

    2 to 4

Appears in

When it comes to roast duck, China grabs the limelight. But excellent duck turns up throughout Asia—typically seasoned with the bold flavors of garlic, ginger, soy sauce, and honey and often roasted on a spit. After all, when it comes to extracting the abundant fat in a duck, nothing beats the rotisserie. The lateral heat and slow gentle rotation melt out the fat and crisp the skin, a virtue not lost on pit masters from Malaysia to Vietnam. This duck comes from a bay front resort called Ana Mandara, in the Vietnamese beach resort town of Nha Trang, and while resorts catering to Westerners don’t always dish up authentic cuisine, this one delivers the goods from charcoal-fired pits where local grill masters roast duck on hand-turned rotisseries.


  • 1 duck (about 5 pounds)
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and flattened with the side of a cleaver
  • 6 slices (¼ inch thick) peeled fresh ginger, flattened with the side of a cleaver
  • 6 large sprigs fresh cilantro, plus 3 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro, for serving
  • 3 star anise, or 1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine, sake, or dry sherry
  • 4 tablespoons Asian (dark) sesame oil, for basting


Advance Preparation

Allow 12 to 24 hours for marinating the duck and 12 to 24 hours, if possible, for drying it. You’ll also need to allow about 1½ hours for spit roasting the duck.

  1. Prick the duck skin all over with the tines of a carving fork to help release the fat. It’s important to prick only the skin, not the meat under it; pricking the meat will cause it to dry out. Place 2 cloves of garlic, 2 slices of ginger, 2 sprigs of cilantro, and 1 star anise or ¼ teaspoon of five-spice powder in the cavity of the duck. Place the duck in a large resealable plastic bag (OK, I know this is not traditional in Vietnam, but it’s a very effective way to marinate the duck).
  2. Place the remaining 4 cloves of garlic, 4 slices of ginger, 5 sprigs of cilantro, and 2 star anise or ¾ teaspoon of five-spice powder in a nonreactive mixing bowl. Add the soy sauce, honey, rice wine, and 2 tablespoons of the sesame oil and stir until well combined. Pour the marinade over the duck. Let the duck marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for 12 to 24 hours, turning the bird a couple times so it marinates evenly. The longer the duck marinates, the richer the flavor will be.
  3. Dry the duck (optional, see Note): Drain the duck well, discarding the marinade. Place the duck on a wire rack, such as a cooling rack, over a baking dish or roasting pan in the refrigerator. Let the duck dry, uncovered, for 12 to 24 hours.
  4. Set up the grill for spit roasting, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and preheat the grill to medium-high. Place a drip pan under where the duck will be positioned.
  5. When ready to cook, thread the duck onto the rotisserie spit in such a way that one set of prongs holds the legs apart. Spit roast the duck until it is a deep golden brown and the skin is very crisp, 1¼ to 1½ hours. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness, inserting it into the thickest part of a thigh, but not so that it touches the bone or the spit. The internal temperature should be about 180°F for medium-well done; 190°F for well-done (in Vietnam duck is customarily enjoyed medium-well to well done). Start basting the duck with some of the remaining 2 tablespoons of sesame oil after 30 minutes, basting it again once every 15 minutes.
  6. Transfer the grilled duck to a cutting board and let it rest for 5 minutes. Using a cleaver, cut the duck into eight 8 pieces: 2 wing-breast pieces, 2 breast pieces, 2 thighs, and 2 drumsticks. Serve the duck at once, sprinkled with the chopped cilantro.