Smoked Cornish Game Hens

Flavorful, smoked birds with herbs and butter.
Cornish Game Hens

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Cornish game hens are a quick and easy meal that will make any dinner time seem like a special occasion. 

These little birds take on a whole new flavor profile when prepared in a smoker, and are a nice change up to chicken or holiday turkey.

In this recipe, I’ll show you how to smoke cornish game hens that results in a tender, juicy bite every time.

What are Cornish game hens?

Cornish game hens are essentially small, mature chickens. Originally cross-bred between regular Cornish chickens and White Plymouth Rock hens in the 1950s, the subsequently dubbed “cornish game hen” matures very quickly.

uncooked cornish game hens with butter and herbs on a wooden board
Look for Cornish game hens that are between one and two pounds

Their quick maturity results in a heartier flavor with large breasts and fatty skin, giving the cornish game hens a juicy texture that can be lacking in bigger chickens. 

Cornish game hens must weigh between one and two pounds, and must be slaughtered before five weeks of age. They can be male or female. 

Where to buy Cornish game hens

Most chain grocers carry Cornish game hens in the meat section of the frozen department, but it’s more difficult to find fresh versions on an everyday basis. 

Contact your local butcher ahead of your planned cook if you’d rather use fresh birds. The grocery butcher may be able to source these for you as well.

Preparing cornish game hens

Once you’ve purchased your Cornish game hens, you’ll want to rinse them then pat them dry with a paper towel.

Most birds do not come with giblets, but there’s been a time or two you’ll find a small giblet pack stuffed into the cavity as you would a turkey, so be sure to check.

What you’ll need:

  • 4 1 ½ – 2lbs cornish game hens
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 8 tbsp dry rub, or enough to coat each hen – I used Bob Byron’s Butt Rub
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, removed from stem and chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • ½ cup BBQ sauce – optional if you want to glaze your bird. I used our Smoked BBQ Source quick and easy BBQ Sauce

Using your finger, gently pull the skin away from the breast being careful not to tear it. Put a tablespoon of butter between the skin and the meat of each bird, placing half a teaspoon on each breast side.

uncooked cornish game hens with butter on a wooden board
Once the hens are rinsed and dried, place the butter in between the skin and the meat of each bird

Put half a sprig’s worth of rosemary and a ¼ tsp of thyme in with the butter for each bird. If you have any herbs leftover, go ahead and put them in the main cavity of the bird for added aromatics during cooking.

uncooked cornish game hens seasoned with dry rub on a wooden board
Add herbs and more butter in the main cavity of the bird and cover with a dry rub of choice

Sprinkle each bird with rub to coat, cover in plastic and place in the refrigerator for one hour. 

Prepare the smoker

Prepare your smoker for indirect heat at 275°F. I’m cooking on a Z Grill 700D3 using their branded oak pellets

Z Grill 700D3 wood pellet grill
Prepare your smoker to 275°F

Cornish game hens cook relatively quickly, so you want to keep an eye on internal temperature. I check the thigh meat and deep in the breast meat as well. 

Smoking the Cornish game hens

Once the smoker is up to temperature, arrange the hens on the grates and smoke for roughly one hour, or until the internal temperature reaches 160°F.

Cornish game hens on a Z Grills 700D3 wood pellet grill
Place the birds into a smoker and cook until 160°F internal temperature at the thickest part of breast and thigh

The cooking time will depend on the size of your hens.

Glazing the hens – optional

Once the hens have reached 160°F, increase the smoker temperature to 300°F and glaze the bird with BBQ sauce. 

Continue glazing the bird every so often until they reach an internal temperature of 165°F.

glazed cornish game hens on a Z Grills 700D3 wood pellet grill
Start glazing once the birds are at 160°F internal temperature and continue glazing until they reach 165°F

Note – glazing the Cornish game hens is completely optional. The birds will have a crispy, dry rubbed skin before glazing and are fine served on their own like that.

Serving the hens

Once the Cornish game hens have reached 165°F, remove them from the smoker and tent with foil. Let them rest for 15 minutes to redistribute juices.

smoked cornish game hens on a wooden board
Rest smoked Cornish game hens for 15 minutes and serve whole or carved

The hens are small enough to serve on a plate as-is for each person, or you can carve them like a turkey

They’re the perfect size for an entree protein with a few sides, like our smoked deviled eggs.

Eat and enjoy!

Smoked Cornish game hens couldn’t be easier, and they’re a welcome alternative to the same old smoked turkey or ham

Their deep flavor and juicy meat will make you want to cook them more often, so let us know how yours turn out.

Remember to like, share or comment below!

Cornish Game Hens

Smoked Cornish Game Hens

Flavorful, smoked birds with herbs and butter.
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Course: Main Course
Author: Phen Pavelka

Ingredients

  • 4 cornish game hens (1 ½ – 2 lbs)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 8 tbsp dry rub, or enough to coat each hen – I used Bob Byron’s Butt Rub
  • 2 sprigs rosemary, removed from stem and chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • ½ cup BBQ sauce – optional if you want to glaze your bird. I used our Smoked BBQ Source quick and easy BBQ Sauce

Instructions

  • Rinse each Cornish game hen and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Pull the skin away from the breast meat using your finger, being careful not to tear it.
  • Put ½ tbsp butter on each side of breast meat in each bird.
  • Place half a sprig’s worth of rosemary in along with the butter.
  • Place ¼ tsp of thyme in along with the butter.
  • Coat each bird with a dry rub.
  • Cover with plastic and place in refrigerator for at least one hour.
  • Prepare smoker to 275°F.
  • Arrange Cornish game hens on grates and close the smoker.
  • Cook hens to 160°F internal temperature at the thickest part of breast and thigh.
  • Increase smoker temperature to 300°F.
  • Glaze each bird with BBQ sauce – optional.
  • Continue to glaze the hens until their internal temperature reaches 165°F.
  • Remove from smoker, tent with foil and let rest at least 15 minutes.
  • Serve whole or carved.

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