Smoked Cornish Game Hens
Cornish Game Hens – or Rock Cornish hens as they’re sometimes called – are young (usually less than 5 weeks old) chickens.
They cost a little more than regular chicken per pound but at a 2lb average you’re still only paying around $3-4 bucks per bird.
In the grocery stores they are usually sold in the frozen meat section. It doesn’t take long for small chickens to thaw, usually overnight in the fridge does the trick. If you need them thawed in a hurry, soak them in cool water to speed the process.
For this Smoked Cornish Game Hens recipe I started with 4 Cornish hens. After an overnight thaw, open the packaging and remove any giblets or neck parts from the cavity. Rinse the birds under cool water and pat dry with a paper towel.
I’m cooking these birds whole on the smoker, and to add a little extra mass to help them cook evenly, I’m stuffing the cavity with a Boudin pork sausage.
Pronounced Boo-Dan it’s a type of sausage made with rice, meat, and a ton of spices. The best boudin comes from Louisiana usually found in small stores along the highway. You can find it in grocery stores but fresh boudin is the best.
Bust the sausage out of the casing and stuff about 1/4lb in each Smoked Cornish Game Hens. If you can’t find boudin in your area you can substitute dirty rice or use traditional bread stuffing.
Tie the legs with a small length of butcher twine to keep the stuffing in the bird and tuck the wings tips behind the back.
Melt a stick of butter in a small bowl and brush the outside of each hen. The butter keeps the skin moist and helps it to brown during cooking. It also gives the seasoning something to stick too.
For the seasoning I use a variation of my All Purpose rub: (this recipe is more than you will need for 4 hens)
- 1 cup Salt
- ½ cup Granulated Garlic
- ¼ cup Black Pepper
- 2 TBS Poultry Seasoning
- 1 tea Cayenne Pepper
Sprinkle a little of the seasoning over each Cornish Hen and store the remainder seasoning in a resealable container for up to a month. Let the birds hang out on the counter while your smoker comes up to temperature.
For smoking Cornish Hens I run my pit at 300 degrees. That might seem a little hot for smoking, but for poultry, higher heat is needed to get the skin to turn out bite through instead of soft and rubbery.
You’ll still get plenty of smoke flavor at this temp trust me on this.
You can use any smoker or grill (set up for indirect cooking); just hold the temperature in the same 300 degree range. I used my Yoder pellet smoker filled with BBQer’s Delight Cherry pellets. (Another good option would be pecan)
Once the cooker is up to temperature, place the Cornish Hens on the pit. These birds cook fairly quick and you don’t want to over shoot the final temp.
Check on the Smoked Cornish Game Hens every 30 minutes and it’s best to use a Chef Alarm – insert it after an hour. The target temperature is 165 in the breast and once it starts climbing after an hour you need to really watch it.
Anytime you’re cooking a stuffed bird it’s important that the stuffing itself reaches a safe eating temperature of 165. So when the breast temperature reaches 165 make sure the stuffing is hitting the same temperature.
On small birds like these Cornish hens the temp should be about the same, but if you’re cooking larger meat like turkeys always check to be safe.
These Cornish hens hit 165 after 1 hour 50 min. The skin should be browned but not too dark.
Remove the birds from the smoker and tent with aluminum foil for at least 20 minutes. Leave the foil loose so that steam can escape while it’s resting.
You can serve these Smoked Cornish Game Hens whole or for a better presentation cut them in half so your guest can see the stuffing inside.
There’s plenty of moisture in these young birds and the preparation is simple. Next time you’re looking for a quick idea for chicken give these a shot.
Smoked Cornish Game Hens