Smoked Cornish Hen (4 Simple Steps)

Want to serve up a delicious dinner? Try serving your guests smoked Cornish hens.

Cornish hens are perfectly sized for individual portions. 

And as they are a smaller size, they’ll be ready in no time, leaving you plenty of time for pre-dinner pampering. 

Best yet, they are perfect for a barbecue beginner.

Read on to find out all there is to know about these Cornish hens.

smoking-game-hens

What Is a Cornish Hen?

Cornish hens or Cornish game hens are essentially miniature chickens.

Cornish hens came about in the 1950s. They are the result of crossbreeding two different broiler hens.

The result is a fast-maturing hen, with larger breast meat and fattier skin.

Both males and females are harvested, usually at around 4-5 weeks old or 1-2 pounds in size.

As they are smaller at harvesting, they have a distinctive flavor and texture.

Quite different from larger full-grown chickens. They have a higher ratio of dark meat to white meat, and skin to meat.

smoking-cornish-hens

What’s the Difference Between Chicken and Cornish Hens?

In short, very little.  In fact, the only difference is the age.

Cornish hens are broiler chickens – male or female – consumed when they are several weeks old.

Usually no more than two pounds in weight.

They are genetically designed to develop larger breast meat in a short space of time.

smoked-cornish-hens

Where Can I Buy Cornish Hens?

Most supermarkets will stock frozen hens. Sourcing fresh is a little more challenging.

This is where your friendly butcher comes in handy. 

Plan ahead and give your butcher a bit of time to order some fresh hens for you.

smoke-cornish-hen1

Preparing the Hens

Remove from the packaging and check for any stray giblets in the cavity. 

Chances are slim there will be anything, but it’s always best to check!

If frozen, leave to thaw completely.

Rinse with cool water and pat dry with a paper towel.

Season a couple of hours before smoking, to allow the flavors to settle in. 

You can even season it the night before and leave it overnight in the refrigerator.

Make sure to take them out of the refrigerator an hour or so before cooking, to bring them up to room temperature.

Then you want to spatchcock the hen, this allows for more even cooking. 

smoked-cornish-hen-recipe

How to Spatchcock Cornish Hens

Spatchcocking is a great way to ensure your Cornish hens cook evenly.

Using kitchen shears you cut along each side of the backbone and remove it, then flip the hen and press hard so it lays flat.

how-long-does-it-take-to-smoke-a-cornish-hen

Seasoning the Hens

You can pretty much season Cornish hens as you would standard chicken.

Try seasonings such as garlic, citrus, barbecue sauce and rubs, salt, and pepper.

These all work beautifully with the lightness of the white meat.

Season and let rest in the fridge for an hour or two before smoking for the best impact of flavor.

Don’t be shy about seasoning the cavity too!  You’ll have a flavor infusion from the inside out.

smoked-cornish-hen
rub-for-smoking-cornish-hen

To Brine or Not to Brine?

If you’ve got a little time to prep, why not brine the hens beforehand?

The reward is a juicy bird full of flavor.

For a regular-sized bird, an overnight cold water brine is usually recommended.

As Cornish game hens are smaller, they only need 5-6 hours to soak in the brine. At the very least, soak for 2 hours.

how-long-to-smoke-cornish-hens

How Long Do They Take to Smoke?

For best results, start out smoking at 225°F until the internal temperature reaches 145°F (this takes about an hour and a half).

Then raise the temp of your smoker to 350°F until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (this takes about 15-20 minutes.)

Cornish hens are quite small, so they really won’t take long in the smoker.

A couple of hours is all that you’ll need for these beauties.

This will give you nice crispy skin. While also sealing in the gorgeous natural juices and amazing smoke flavor.

smoked-cornish-hens-recipes

What Temperature to Smoke Hens At?

You should set your smoker to 225°F to cook hens.

If you’re using a Traeger enable the super smoke function.

How Do I Smoke Cornish Hens?

Treat the hens as you would a standard chicken. 

Obviously, as they are smaller, they won’t need as much time or heat to cook.

Always make sure the internal temp has reached 160-165°F though, regardless of time frames. 

Find yourself a good digital meat thermometer or temperature probe to check.

smoked-cornish-game-hen-recipe

How Do I Stop Them From Drying Out?

Brining the hens beforehand is the best way to keep the bird juicy and moist.

Make sure the birds are at room temperature before placing them on the grill. 

That way they will cook evenly and not have dry spots.

Keep the cooking temperatures even.  Remove them as soon as they hit the right internal temperatures.

smoked-cornish-game-hen

What Is the Best Position to Cook?

Place the hens in with the breast side facing down. 

That way the juices will settle into the bulk of the meat as it cooks.

How to Know When They Are Cooked?

When the internal temperature reaches 165°F, the hens are ready to eat. 

Make sure to probe with a meat thermometer in the thickest part of the breast or thigh.

You can remove it from the grill at 160°F, and let it rest covered in aluminum foil until it reaches 165°F.

temps-for-smoked-cornish-hens

What Wood Chips Are Recommended?

Sweet, subtle flavors like apple, pecan, or cherry work well with delicate white meat.

Of course, you can experiment with your favorites and see what combination you like best.

How to Spatchcock Cornish Hens

Spatchcocking is a great way to ensure you Cornish hens cook evenly. 

Using kitchen shears you cut along each side of the backbone and remove it, then flip the hen and press hard so it lays flat.

smoked-cornish-game-hens-recipe

Recipe – Smoked Cornish Game Hens 

Ingredients:

  • Cornish Hens
  • Cooking Oil
  • 1 tsp black pepper 
  • 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder 

Method:

Step 1 – Pre-heat the Grill

Preheat the grill to 225°F.

Add wood chip pellets to the hopper.

Step 2 – Prepare the Hens

Spatchcock the hens.

Coat the hens in a layer of cooking oil.

Mix the dry ingredients into a rub.

Sprinkle evenly over the hens.

Step 3 – Smoke the Hens

Place the hens breast side down on the preheated grill grates.

Close the lid.

Smoke for about 2 hours at 225°F or until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 145°F.

Then turn the grill up to 360°F and cook until 165°F internal temperature is reached

Step 4 – Serve the Hens

Remove the hens from the grill.

Cover with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes.  

Ensure the internal temp is 165°F.

Serve individually and enjoy!

Smoked Cornish Game Hens 

Cornish hens are perfectly sized for individual portions. And as they are a smaller size, they'll be ready in no time, leaving you plenty of time for pre-dinner pampering. 
Prep Time1 hr
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time3 hrs
Course: Appetizer, Dinner, lunch, main, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine: American, Barbecue, bbq, dinner, grill, lunch
Servings: 4 people
Calories: 256kcal
Author: Charlie
Cost: 16

Equipment

  • Pellet smoker

Ingredients

  • Cornish Hens
  • Cooking Oil
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder

Instructions

Step 1 – Pre-heat the Grill

  • Preheat the grill to 225°F.
  • Add wood chip pellets to the hopper.

Step 2 – Prepare the Hens

  • Spatchcock the hens.
  • Coat the hens in a layer of cooking oil.
  • Mix the dry ingredients into a rub.
  • Sprinkle evenly over the hens.

Step 3 – Smoke the Hens

  • Place the hens breast side down on the preheated grill grates.
  • Close the lid.
  • Smoke for about 2 hours at 225°F or until the internal temperature of the breast reaches 145°F.
  • Then turn the grill up to 360°F and cook until 165°F internal temperature is reached

Step 4 – Serve the Hens

  • Remove the hens from the grill.
  • Cover with foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
  • Ensure the internal temp is 165°F.
  • Serve individually and enjoy!

Smoked Cornish hens are as easy as they come.

A great way of serving up something a little different for your dinner guests.

Experiment with some flavor and smoke combinations and give them a try today!

Smoke On!

Charlie

Author: Charlie Reeves
Hi, I’m Charlie, I am head taste tester at Simply Meat Smoking! I love it grilling, smoking, and getting out in the yard with the kids! The family also love to test all my recipes (especially my EXTRA CRISPY pulled pork, smoky pork loin, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill)

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling adventures with you!

You can read more on our About Us page.

Hungry For More?

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating