Smoked cornish hens are not only perfectly sized so that each person gets their own “little chicken” but they are easy to smoke in just a few hours and they are amazingly delicious, tender and juicy when you follow my simple instructions.

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Helpful Information
  • 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

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recipe-ad-rubAs you can see from the picture above, my rub adds a beautiful and delicious crust of flavor to the outside of the chicken. Combine this with an hour or two of brining and you won't believe that chicken can taste this good.

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Step 1: Make Brine

Make a typical brine and, of course, you can add anything you like to it so feel free to “color outside of the lines” here.

My basic brine recommendation for 2 birds and 1/2 gallon of brine is the following:

  • 1/2 gallon of cold water
  • 1/2 cup of coarse kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar

Fill a gallon pitcher with cold water. Add the salt and stir until it is dissolved.

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Add the brown sugar and once again stir until the sugar is dissolved into the water.

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If you want to add herbs you will probably want to heat a pint of the water from the pitcher, add the herbs, let them simmer for a few minutes to extract the flavor then, let the water cool completely before adding it back into the brine solution.

Place the brine in the fridge to cool before adding the chickens.

Step 2: Brine the Birds

If the birds are frozen as they usually are, take them out of the freezer and put them in the fridge a couple of days before you plan to cook them.

Remove them from the plastic wrap and give them a good rinse under cold water

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I used a 1-gallon pitcher but only made 1/2 gallon of brine so I simply dropped them down into the brining container.

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If you have more of the cornish hens, you will need to make more brine and use a larger container for the brining. A food grade bucket, container or even large zip top bags will work.

Place the birds in the container and pour enough brine over them to cover.

Place the container in the fridge for the entire time they are brining.

Step 3: Rinse and Dry

When the little chickens are finished brining (about 1.5 – 2 hours is usually plenty of time), remove them from the brine solution and rinse them really well under cold water.

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Pat them dry with a paper towel..

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Optional

In order to help the skin to end up more crispy, consider drying the skin before adding the rub.

To dry the skin, place the hens into the fridge on a couple of folded paper towels for about 2 hours. Dryer skin will end up with more “bite thru” and won't have that chewy texture that is typical for smoked chicken.

Step 4: Add Seasoning

Mayonnaise is basically oil and egg and it is an excellent base for applying rub on poultry. Apply the mayo generously to the outside of the chicken.

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Sprinkle rub (purchase recipes here) onto the chicken top, bottom, sides and anywhere else you can get it. If you are using my own rub recipe, you can be very generous with it due to the low salt.

Remember that this is a finger food and lots of my rub is a good thing.. while you are eating the chicken the delicious rub transfers from your fingers to the pieces of meat to your lips and the world is a happy place!

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As always, I used my trusty Bradley racks to carry the cornish hens out to the smoker. The whole rack is laid on the smoker grate and this makes it easy to carry them back into the house once the meat is done cooking.

Step 5: Smoke

Set up your smoker for cooking with indirect heat at about 260°F if possible. The slightly higher temperature will get them done faster, helps to crisp the skin and still gives them about 90 minutes of smoke time.

If your smoker will not go above 225-230°F, that's not a problem, just plan on about 2 hours of cook time.

Place the cornish hens on the smoker grate breast side down. Keep the smoke going with pecan or your favorite smoking wood for at least an hour.

It is vital to monitor and check the temperature of the chicken. Every outdoor cook or chef should have a good digital meat thermometer. There are lots of good ones on the market and the ones I use right now are the Maverick ET-733 and the Thermapen for a quick and final check of all meat once it's done.

The Maverick ET-733 is wireless in that it checks the temperature of the meat and the smoker and sends the signal wirelessly to a monitor which you carry with you into the house or in your pocket wherever you are within about 300 feet of the smoker.

The Thermapen is a great tool to carry with you anytime you are cooking as it allows you to do a final check of all meat in the smoker. With readings in around 2 seconds you can quickly and easily check everything to make sure it is safely and properly done.

The hens are done when they reach 165°F in the thickest part of the breast and thigh.

Step 6: Serve

Serve the chickens by placing one on each plate with sides. Be sure to make a few extra for those who are extra hungry.

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Read these recent testimonies:

"Love the sauce and rub recipes. So far I have used them on beef ribs, pork ribs, and different chicken parts. Can't wait to do a beef brisket. Texas rub is great as well!" ~Peter S.
"I tried the rub on a beef brisket and some beef ribs the other day and our entire family enjoyed it tremendously. I also made a batch of the barbeque sauce that we used on the brisket as well as some chicken. We all agreed it was the best sauce we have had in a while." ~Darwyn B.
"Love the original rib rub and sauce! We have an annual rib fest competition at the lake every 4th of July. I will say we have won a great percent of the time over the past 15 years so we are not novices by any means. However, we didn't win last year and had to step up our game! We used Jeff's rub and sauce (sauce on the side) and it was a landslide win for us this year! Thanks Jeff for the great recipes. I'm looking forward to trying the Texas style rub in the near future!" ~Michelle M.

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Printable Recipe

Smoked Cornish Hens
Recipe Type: Entree
Cuisine: Hot Smoking
Author: Jeff Phillips
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4-6
Smoked cornish hens are not only perfectly sized so that each person gets their own “little chicken” but they are easy to smoke in just a few hours and they are amazingly delicious, tender and juicy when you follow my simple instructions.
Ingredients
Instructions
Step 1: Make the Brine
  1. Add 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of cold water
  2. Stir until the salt is dissolved
  3. Add 1 cup of brown sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.
Step 2:Brine the Birds
  1. Rinse cornish hens under cold water
  2. Place birds in food safe container such as a bowl or zip top bag
  3. Pour brine over birds to cover
  4. Place brining container with cornish hens into fridge for 1.5 hours
  5. When brining time is elapsed, rinse birds under cold water
  6. Pat dry with paper towel
Step 3: Season the Hens
  1. Apply mayonnaise liberally to cornish hens
  2. Sprinkle rub on top, bottom and sides of chickens
Step 4: Smoke ‘Em
  1. Set up smoker for cooking at 230 to 260°F. If you can maintain the higher temperature, the hens will only take about 1.5 hours. At the lower end, they will take about 2 hours.
  2. Once smoker is ready, place birds on smoker grate breast side down
  3. Continue cooking until they reach 165°F as read by a digital meat thermometer.
Step 5: Serve
  1. Remove the chickens from the grate when they are done and place one cornish hen on each person's plate with sides.
Step 6:

 

About the Author

Long time Industrial Engineer turned self-proclaimed fire poker, pitmaster and smoke whisperer and loving every minute of it!

4 Comments on this article. Feel free to join this conversation.

  1. James M. Green May 22, 2015 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    I like the overnight idea and may try that. I’m making them this weekend along with some beer can chicken, salmon and smoked cream cheese. The only thing concerns me is the mayo. Just hard to imagine, I’m thinking I’ll try olive oil and/or coconut oil instead.

  2. Thom May 14, 2015 at 5:16 pm - Reply

    I just bought a Bradley based on Jeff’s references and was checking out these recipes. I would respectfully suggest that the brine solution should contain a 2 to 1 ratio of sugar to salt. I learned this ratio from my brother-in-law years ago who was an adherent of the Foxfire books. I have tried 1 to 1 and it is a noticeable difference. Jerry is sitting up,in Heaven sipping a Bud..smiling.

  3. Randy Klumph May 11, 2015 at 10:00 am - Reply

    By far, the best smoked game hen I have had – moist and tender. Only change was to brine overnight with 1/3 C salt, sage and thyme. Jeff’s Rub is a required ingredient. Any other rub and it would be lacking. Nothing left but bones and satisfied smiles after this meal.

  4. Shawn Heneghan May 7, 2015 at 8:20 am - Reply

    I often spatchcock my Chickens and game hens. Then after an hour or two of smoking (before they reach 165) I remove them to the grill. A bit BBQ sauce and some nice flame really crisps the skin and finishes the cooking process quickly. That’s great when you need to have your bird done at a particular time.
    If the whether is inclement or you don’t spatchcock – just finish them in a 325 oven in a covered roasting pan.
    This method works for turkeys too – smoke for 4 hours and finish in the oven, usually in about half an hour. Birds come out on time, cooked, juicy and flavorful.

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