Smoked Cornish Game Hens

With their deep flavor and juicy meat, you'll want to cook these Cornish game hens more often.
Cornish Game Hen

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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 alternative to the same old chicken or holiday turkey.

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.

raw cornish hens on wooden chopping 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.

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.

two cornish hens slathered in butter on a metal tray

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.

burch barrell

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. 

3. Smoking

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.

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

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

cornish hen plated with beans and mash
Rest smoked Cornish game hens for 15 minutes and serve whole or carved

Want to stick to some traditional holiday dishes?

Cornish Game Hen

Smoked Cornish Game Hens

Flavorful, smoked birds with a honey garlic seasoning.
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Resting Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Servings: 2
Calories: 1373kcal
Author: Jordan Hanger



  • 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.


Where can I get Smoke Kitchen Honey Garlic rub from? You can buy it here along with our other rubs, sauces, and bbq tools.
What flavor wood should I use? We used cherry wood chunks.


Calories: 1373kcal | Carbohydrates: 15g | Protein: 80g | Fat: 111g | Saturated Fat: 47g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 15g | Monounsaturated Fat: 40g | Trans Fat: 2g | Cholesterol: 576mg | Sodium: 287mg | Potassium: 1227mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 2482IU | Vitamin C: 5mg | Calcium: 284mg | Iron: 11mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated and should be used as an approximation only. If you’re worried you could always add a side of kale.

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