Cornish game hens are a quick and easy meal that will make any dinner time seem like a special occasion.
In this recipe, I’ll show you how to smoke cornish game hens that result 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.
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.
How to make smoked Cornish game hens
1. The rub
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.
For the rub, I mixed unsalted butter with our Honey Garlic rub.
Using your finger, gently pull the skin away from the breast being careful not to tear it. Put half a tablespoon of the butter mixture between the skin and the meat of each bird, on each breast side.
Slather the remaining butter all over the outside of both hens.
2. Prepare the smoker
Fire up your grill to 275°F.
I smoked it on the Burch Barrell using Fogo charcoal and cherry wood chunks.
The Burch Barrel has a cool feature where you can raise the lid with the grill grate to take what you are grilling further from the heat source so you have better control.
You can also lower and raise the basket that holds the charcoal.
Cornish game hens cook relatively quickly, so you want to keep an eye on the internal temperature. I check the thigh meat and deep in the breast meat as well.
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.
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.
Serving the hens
The hens are small enough to serve on a plate as-is for each person, or you can carve them like a turkey
Want to stick to some traditional holiday dishes?
- Twice smoked spiral ham
- Smoked Ham with hot honey bourbon glaze
- Smoked orange and herb roasted chicken
- Smoked whole turkey
Smoked Cornish Game Hens
- 2 cornish game hens 1 ½ – 2 lbs
- 1 stick butter unsalted
- 3 tbsp Smoke Kitchen Honey Garlic rub
- Pat each hen 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.
- Coat each bird with remaining butter.
- Prepare smoker to 275°F.
- Arrange hens on grates and close the smoker.
- Cook hens to 160°F internal temperature at the thickest part of breast and thigh.
- Remove from smoker, tent with foil and let rest at least 15 minutes.
- Serve whole or carved.