These birds will thaw in about a day in the fridge but if you need them in a hurry, just put them down in cold water for 2-3 hours, changing the water every 30 minutes.
While the birds are thawing is a great time to make the beer brine:
Beer Brine (½ gallon)
- 36 oz of beer – (12 oz bottles x3 or equivalent)
- ½ cup kosher salt
- 1.5 quarts (or 6 cups) of ice cubes
- 1 yellow onion, chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, whole
- ¼ cup of Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub)
Add everything except the ice to a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat stirring occasionally. Once it just starts to boil, remove from heat and cover for about 10 minutes.
Add about 1.5 quarts of ice to hot brine and stir to cool it down. Place brine in fridge or freezer to cool it down to 40°F or less before using it.
After adding the ice, you can also use more ice in a zip top bag to cool it down further. When the ice in the bag is melted, pour out the water and replace with more ice. Repeat a few times until brine is cold enough. This is to cool it down without diluting the brine any further.
Once the brine is ready and the birds are thawed, place the hens in a large zip top bag or another brining container. Anything plastic, glass or stainless steel with a lid will work.
I used a separate plastic container but I could have also just dropped the birds down in the brine since my pot was stainless steel.
Pour the cold brine over the chickens until they are submerged then put them in the fridge to keep them cold while they brine.
You will notice that I always place the bag down in a larger bowl in case of accidental leakage.
About 4 hours is plenty of brine time and I do not recommend brining them longer than this. If you need to brine them ahead of time, do it for the recommended amount of time then rinse them off well and hold them in the fridge until you are ready to continue with the process.
Once the hens are finished brining, rinse them well under cold water. They are now ready for seasoning.
Note: I like to tie up the legs with cooking twine for a better presentation. This can be done before, after or at any time during the seasoning process.
Cornish hens that have been brined do not require a high salt seasoning. This is why my original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) works so well.
Apply a layer of spicy brown mustard to the outside of the chickens to create a sticky surface which the rub will adhere to and not fall off.
Next, apply a generous coat of Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) to all parts of the chicken.
Place the cornish hens on a Bradley rack or a cookie sheet to make it easy to carry them out to the smoker. They are now ready for smoking.
I like to cook chicken low and slow to give it more time with the smoke but bumping up the temperature a little will help to get more crispiness to the skin. Somewhere around 250°F works for me.
Setup the smoker of your choice to cook at around 250°F if possible and make sure you have enough smoking wood to last about 2 hours.
Once the temperature is holding steady, you are ready to start cooking.
Place the cornish hens directly on the smoker grate breast side up.
Let them smoke for about 2 hours or until they reach 165°F in the thickest part of the thigh or breast.
About 30 minutes before the chicken is done cooking, apply some beer barbecue sauce (recipe below) using a basting brush or mop.
Beer Barbecue Sauce
Add the ingredients to a small saucepan.
Stir to combine well and simmer over very low heat until ready to use.
Note: Be sure to use an instant read Thermapen (reads in 2-3 seconds) or a digital probe meat thermometer such as the Smoke to ensure that you cook the chickens perfectly and that they are safely done.
Use the water pan if your smoker has one and keep the lid closed as much as possible to maintain good and consistent heat.
If you are using an electric, charcoal or gas smoker, I recommend keeping the smoke going for the entire time.
When the meat reaches 165°F, remove them from the smoker right away and serve right away.
I served these with bacon wrapped corn on the cob and some of the warm beer barbecue sauce on the side.