Entree

Smoked Cornish Hens

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Smoked Cornish hens offer a delightful twist on everyday chicken dinners. Adding a touch of smokiness to these small, tender birds. This recipe transforms them into a gourmet delight, perfect for special occasions or a cozy family dinner.

Two Cornish hens on a pewter plate.Pin
Smoked Cornish Hens

What are Cornish hens?

Cornish hens, also known as Cornish game hens and Rock Cornish game hens, are a small breed of chicken typically weighing no more than two pounds, according to Wikipedia.

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They are a cross between Cornish and White Plymouth Rock chickens, resulting in a compact bird that is prized for its tender, flavorful meat. These hens are often sold whole in the freezer section of grocery stores and are popular for serving one or two people since they are small.

They are a preferred choice for elegant meals and special occasions. Their smaller size also allows quicker cooking times than larger poultry, such as roasting hens and turkeys.

These tender birds are typically oven-roasted, but the smoker adds a whole new, easy preparation method that produces a delicious result.

Why you’ll love this recipe

  1. Flavorful and Tender Meat: Cornish hens are known for their tender, succulent meat. Smoking them low and slow enhances the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor.
  2. Perfect Portion Size: Each Cornish hen is typically the right size for a single or double serving, which is perfect for smaller celebrations for the holidays.
  3. Visual Appeal: Smoked Cornish hens, with their golden-brown, crispy skin, make for an impressive presentation on the plate.
  4. Customizable: Cornish hen meat is perfect for a variety of spices and herbs. It’s easily customizable to their many taste preferences and wood choices.
  5. Easy cleanup: There is no roasting pan to wash when you smoke hens. The smoker does all of the work.
  6. Ease of cooking: Unlike roasting, these birds don’t have to be basted often. The low and slow smoking temperature makes them hands-off during the cooking process.

Ingredients

  • Cornish game hens: Buy frozen or fresh Cornish hens. Thaw them in the refrigerator for two days.
  • Paprika: Paprika adds a very mild heat from peppers.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary has a woodsy flavor with a hint of lemon and pine. It pairs well with poultry.
  • Sage: This has a floral flavor and is the quintessential spice to use with poultry.
  • Chili powder: Use this for a little punch of heat. Adjust the quantity to your liking.
  • Salt: Salt is a must. It tenderizes the meat and enhances the flavors.
  • Black pepper: Use freshly ground pepper for the best flavor.

How to make them

Step One:

Clean the birds of any leftover feathers and trim excess skin or fat.

Pat them dry with a paper towel.

Drying hens with paper towel.Pin
Dry the hens with paper towels.

Step Two:

Season the cavities with the dry rub.

Fill the cavities with a mixture of celery, onion and carrot, cut into chunks.

Season them with salt and pepper and the dry rub.

Hens stuffed with vegetables and seasoned with the dry rub.Pin
Fill the cavity with vegetables.

Step Three:

Rub the dry rub into the skin.

If the rub doesn’t seem to be sticking, baste them with a bit of olive oil. And reapply the rub.

Dry rub rubbed into the skins.Pin
Rub the dry rub into the skin.

Truss the legs with kitchen twine.

Trussed legs together.Pin
Truss up the legs together with kitchen twine.

Set up your smoker with wood and water. Preheat to 225°F /110°C. Place the hens with the breast side up onto the smoker or grill racks.

Smoke the birds for 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the hens and your smoker. Smoke them to an internal temperature of 165°F/80°C. Test the temperature with a good quality meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh. Be sure that you aren’t hitting a bone when you test the temp.

What if I don’t own a smoker?

You can still enjoy smoked meats if you don’t own a smoker. You can use your grill to smoke. Set up your grill so that the fire is only on one side. You will place the meat or vegetable on the side of the grill without a direct flame (indirect heat). This is called indirect cooking.

Add soaked wood to a metal tray (we use a disposable foil pie plate or bread pan). Add another metal tray with water. Place water and wood chips on the side of the grill with the fire. Remember to fill the water if it runs out.

You can also create a similar setup for your oven in a pinch or in the winter.

What types of wood are good?

We prefer fruit woods such as apple or cherry for poultry. The subtle smoke doesn’t overpower the mild taste of the bird. Other woods that can be used are maple, pecan or hickory, although we find hickory too heavy of a smoke.

How to store leftovers

Remove the meat from the bones. Wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in an airtight container. The extra layer of plastic will help the meat maintain moisture. Store it in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.

Freeze the meat, double wrapped for about three months, for longer storage.

What sides to serve with smoked Cornish hens

Any side that goes well with chicken or turkey will complement these Cornish hens. Including;

More recipes to make on your smoker

Smoking Cornish Hens will be your new favorite way to cook them once you try them! They are so easy and incredibly tasty. Give them a try today!

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I hope you enjoyed the recipe today.

Enjoy. And have fun cooking!

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Cornish game hen with roasted potatoes.Pin

Smoked Cornish Hens

Smoked Cornish hens offer a delightful twist on everyday chicken dinners. Adding a touch of smokiness to these small, tender birds. This recipe transforms them into a gourmet delight, perfect for special occasions or a cozy family dinner.
See Step by Step Photos Above!Most of our recipes have step by step photos and videos! Also helpful tips so that you can make it perfectly the first time and every time! Scroll up to see them!
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: entree, Main Course
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 10 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 467kcal
Author: Beth Neels
Cost: $10

Ingredients

  • 2 Cornish Game Hens
  • 2 Teaspoons coarse kosher salt or sea salt
  • 1 Teaspoon cracked black pepper
  • 2 Teaspoons paprika
  • 1 Teaspoon rosemary
  • 1 Teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 large stalk celery
  • 1 carrot
  • ½ onion

Instructions

  • Clean the birds of any leftover feathers and trim excess skin or fat. Dry with a paper towel.
    2 Cornish Game Hens
  • Season the cavities with the dry rub. Fill the cavities with a mixture of rough-chopped celery, onion, and carrot. Season them with salt and pepper and the dry rub.
    2 Teaspoons coarse kosher salt or sea salt, 1 Teaspoon cracked black pepper, 2 Teaspoons paprika, 1 Teaspoon rosemary, 1 Teaspoon dried thyme, 1 large stalk celery, 1 carrot, ½ onion
  • Rub the dry rub into the skin. If the rub doesn’t seem to be sticking, baste them with a bit of olive oil. And reapply the rub.
  • Truss the legs with kitchen twine.
  • Set up your smoker with wood and water. Preheat to 225°F /110°C. Place the hens with the breast side up onto the smoker or grill racks.
    Smoke the birds for 2-3 hours, depending on the size of the hens and your smoker. Smoke them to an internal temperature of 165°F/80°C. Test the temperature with a good quality meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of the thigh. Be sure that you aren’t hitting a bone when you test the temp.
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Notes

What types of wood to use
We prefer fruit woods such as apple or cherry for poultry. The subtle smoke doesn’t overpower the mild taste of the bird. Other woods that can be used are maple, pecan, or hickory, although we find hickory too heavy of a smoke.
How to store leftovers
Remove the meat from the bones. Wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in an airtight container. The extra layer of plastic will help the meat maintain moisture. Store it in the fridge for 3 to 4 days.
For longer storage, freeze the meat double-wrapped for about three months.
See the article above for more tips and tricks and step-by-step photos.

Nutrition

Calories: 467kcal | Carbohydrates: 4g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 32g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 6g | Monounsaturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 227mg | Sodium: 1313mg | Potassium: 634mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 3301IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 44mg | Iron: 2mg
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Originally published on December 5, 2023. Updated June 14,2024.

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