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.

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
IMG 0244Please note that my rubs and barbecue sauce are now available in 2 formats– you can purchase the formulas and make them yourself OR you can buy them already made, in a bottle, ready to use.

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.


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.


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.


Pat them dry with a paper towel..



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 Jeff's original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) 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!


As always, I use a pan/rack 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

Unless you are using a pellet smoker, 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 you are using a pellet smoker, cook them on the smoke setting or as low as possible for about 1 hour then crank them up to 275 to finish. You should still be looking at about 2 hours total.

If your smoker will not go above 225°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 one I use right now is 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 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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Jeff's Rubs and Sauce

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You can also order the formulas for my rubs and sauce and make these yourself at home. Grab those HERE and download immediately.

Jeff’s Smoking Meat Books

smoking-meat-book-coverSmoking Meat: The Essential Guide to Real Barbecue – The book is full of recipes and contains tons of helpful information as well. Some have even said that “no smoker should be without this book”!

With more than 1000 reviews on and a rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars, it comes highly recommended and is a Bestseller in Barbecuing & Grilling books on Amazon.

AmazonBarnes & Noble | German Edition

smoke-wood-fire-book-coverSmoke, Wood, Fire: The Advanced Guide to Smoking Meat – Unlike the first book, this book does not focus on recipes but rather uses every square inch of every page teaching you how to smoke meat. What my first book touched on, this second book takes it into much greater detail with lots of pictures.

It also includes a complete, step-by-step tutorial for making your own smoked “streaky” bacon using a 100 year old brine recipe.

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Printable Recipe

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Print Recipe
4.67 from 15 votes

Smoked Cornish Hens

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.
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Servings: 4 -6


  • Cornish (((game) hens (1 per person + a few extra for the bigger appetites)))
  • Brine (((recipe below)))
  • Mayonnaise
  • Jeff’s original rub recipe


Step 1: Make the Brine

  • Add 1 cup of salt to 1 gallon of cold water
  • Stir until the salt is dissolved
  • Add 1 cup of brown sugar and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Step 2:Brine the Birds

  • Rinse cornish hens under cold water
  • Place birds in food safe container such as a bowl or zip top bag
  • Pour brine over birds to cover
  • Place brining container with cornish hens into fridge for 1.5 hours
  • When brining time is elapsed, rinse birds under cold water
  • Pat dry with paper towel

Step 3: Season the Hens

  • Apply mayonnaise liberally to cornish hens
  • Sprinkle rub on top, bottom and sides of chickens

Step 4: Smoke 'Em

  • 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.
  • Once smoker is ready, place birds on smoker grate breast side down
  • Continue cooking until they reach 165°F as read by a digital meat thermometer.

Step 5: Serve

  • Remove the chickens from the grate when they are done and place one cornish hen on each person's plate with sides.