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 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.
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.
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.
Sprinkle each bird with rub to coat, cover in plastic and place in the refrigerator for one hour.
Prepare the smoker
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.
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.
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.
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!
Their deep flavor and juicy meat will make you want to cook them more often, so let us know how yours turn out.
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Smoked Cornish Game Hens
- 4 cornish game hens 1 ½ – 2 lbs
- 4 tbsp butter chilled
- 8 tbsp dry rub I used Bob Byron’s Butt Rub
- 2 sprigs rosemary finely 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
- 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.
- 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 hens on grates and close the smoker.
- Cook hens to 160°F internal temperature at the thickest part of breast and thigh, around 1 hour
- 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, around 20 – 30 mins.
- Remove from smoker, tent with foil and let rest at least 15 minutes.
- Serve whole or carved.