Smoked Cornish Hens
People love smoked cornish hens for their perfect size and easy cooking process! You can do a smoked cornish hen in just a few hours and they will turn out deliciously great. Follow my instructions so you get to enjoy your own cornish game hen that is tender and juicy!
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Brine Time: 1.5 hours
- Cook Time: 1.5 – 2 hours
- Smoker Temp: 230-260°F
- Meat Finish Temp: 165°F
- Recommended Wood: Pecan
What You’ll Need
- Cornish (game) hens (1 per person + a few extra for the bigger appetites)
- Brine (recipe below)
Step 1: Make Brine
If you want to “colour outside the lines” here, make a standard brine and add whatever you want.
For two birds and half a gallon of brine, I propose the following brine recipe:
- 1/2 gallon of cold water
- 1/2 cup of coarse kosher salt
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
Pour cold water into a one-gallon pitcher Stir in the salt until completely dissolved.
Stir in the brown sugar and continue to mix until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Herbs can be added to the brine by first heating a pint of the pitcher water and putting them in. After a few minutes to extract the taste, remove the herbs from the fire and let the water cool completely before adding it back to the brine.
Before adding the chickens, allow the brine to chill in the refrigerator.
Step 2: Brine the chickens
Take the chickens out of the freezer and place them in the fridge a couple of days before you plan to cook them. You should rinse them under cold water after they’ve been removed from the plastic wrap.
Simply put them into your brining container from a 1-gallon pitcher if you only created half a gallon of brine.
Make additional brine if you have more cornish chickens and use a larger container for the brining process. Even huge zip-top bags can be used for this purpose.
Pour enough brine over the birds to completely submerge them. Refrigerate the container while brining takes place.
Step 3: Rinse and Dry
When the small chickens have finished brining (typically 1.5 – 2 hours), remove them from the brine solution and thoroughly rinse them under cold water. Using a paper towel, pat them dry.
To achieve crispy skin, let the skin dry first before adding the dry rub.
Place the hens in the fridge for about 2 hours on a couple of folded paper towels to dry the skin. Dryer skin will have more “bite through” and will lack the chewy texture that is typical of smoked chicken.
Step 4: Add Seasoning
Mayonnaise is made primarily of oil and eggs, and it makes an ideal base for putting a rub on poultry. Apply a liberal amount of mayonnaise on the outside of the chicken. Onto the chicken’s top, bottom, sides, and wherever else you can get your hands on it Because of the low salt content of my own rub recipe, you can be very generous with it.
Remember that this is finger food, so use plenty of my rub. As you eat the chicken, the delicious rub will pass from your fingers to the pieces of flesh to your lips, and the world will be a happy place!
I always use a pan/rack to transport the cornish hens to the smoker. The entire rack is put out on the smoker grate, making it easy to transport the meat back into the house once it has finished cooking.
Step 5: Smoke
Unless you’re using a pellet smoker, set up your smoker for indirect cooking at around 260°F if possible. The little higher temperature will finish them faster, crisp the skin, and give them roughly 90 minutes of smoke time.
If you’re using a pellet smoker, cook them for roughly 1 hour on the smoke setting or as low as possible, then crank them up to 275 to finish. You should still be looking at a total cook time of roughly 2 hours.
If your smoker won’t go over 225°F, that’s fine; just plan on around 2 hours of cooking time.
Place the cornish game hens, breast side down, on the smoker grate. For at least an hour, keep the smoke rolling with pecan or your favourite smoking wood.
It is critical to monitor and check the chicken’s internal temperature. A decent digital meat thermometer is essential for any outdoor cook or chef. There are many decent ones on the market, but the ones I currently use are the Smoke by ThermoWorks and/or the Thermapen for a quick and final check of all meat once it’s done.
The hens are done when the thickest section of the breast and thigh reaches 165°F.
Step 6: Serve
Now, it’s time to taste your finger-licking good smoked cornish hens! Place a chicken on each platter, along with a side dish. Make an extra batch just in case someone happens to be really ravenous.
Enjoy the food!