Smoked Cornish game hens are a great way to celebrate a holiday when it is just the two of you. This recipe is easy, delicious, fast and can be served with all the same trimmings as your traditional turkey dinner.

What Are Cornish Game Hens

Cornish hens are small chickens that have mostly white meat that is great for single servings. Since the hens are very young the meat is very delicate and delicious. In fact, Cornish hens can only be 2.2 pounds at their ready to cook weight in order to be classified as such. So are Cornish game hens, chicken. Yes, they are a specific breed, the Cornish and they are harvested young so the meat is very tender.

How Many Smoked Cornish Game Hens Per Person

Generally, one hen per person is the typical serving size. However, if are serving children or having multiple courses, or a lot of side dishes, then you could probably manage a half of a hen per person. You can easily cut the birds in half for this recipe, but keep an eye on the meat temperature since they will likely cook a little fast if they are split in half.

What To Marinate Cornish Game Hens In

Cornish hens can be marinated in anything you would marinate a chicken in. You can also use a dry rub on the birds if you prefer. One of my favorite ways to make hens and chicken is a basic salt and pepper rub. For brine, I just use a simple brine from my book Damn Fine Dishes. You can also find this recipe with my smoked turkey recipe. I like to use the brine for smoked meats as it helps keep the meat from drying out. If you want something with less salt you can brine in olive oil, white wine, parsley, fresh rosemary, and fresh garlic. You can also use garlic, rosemary, kosher salt, black pepper, lemon juice and olive oil if you want to avoid the wine.

Can You Brine Cornish Game Hens

As I said before, absolutely you can brine Cornish hens. Since the birds are so small, you may want to be careful about how long you brine the birds. The birds in this recipe were brined for about three hours, however, they could have stayed in the brine a little longer. Typically, for a large chicken, I will brine them for about eight hours. Use your own discretion, but I suggest about 5 or 6 hours.

Cornish Game Hen

What Goes With Cornish Game Hens

Honestly, what doesn’t go with smoked cornish game hens? First of all, as I said earlier, any of the Thanksgiving trimmings go great with this recipe. If you want to keep it simple you can just have a vegetable like broccoli or asparagus on the side. Want a delicious carbohydrate to go with it, how about a baked potato. The possibilities are endless.

Smoked Cornish Game Hens for the Holidays

One particular Thanksgiving, we decided to change it up from our normal holiday routine. We ended up heading to a place a couple of hours north of Seattle, Fidalgo Bay RV Resort. We had seen brochures for this RV park situated right on the beach with your front window facing the bay. It sounded like a wonderful place to spend our Thanksgiving so we booked a spot. We love to storm watch and were hoping for a typical Seattle area Thanksgiving day storm. The cats enjoyed the views just as much as we did.  What better way to spend the day than enjoying a spectacular beach view while I cook and watch football.


Keeping Smoked Cornish Game Hens Moist

The first time I smoked chicken quarters, I left the skin on and did not brine them. As a result, the chicken was a little dried out and the skin was like leather. After this incident, I thought it might be good to remove the skin. This was a lot better but for smoking a whole bird I didn’t want to have to remove the skin. Adding brine to the recipe made these hens moist and delicious. I also basted the birds with olive oil to keep the skin from drying out.

A Memorable Meal

Needless to say, this meal was incredible. The hens turned out perfectly juicy with just the right amount of brine flavor. The stuffing was buttery and savory.  The gravy was a perfect consistency. We didn’t get our storm on Thanksgiving, but we certainly got it the next day. In fact, we got all kinds of fun weather during the weekend. There is nothing like packing up your RV to go home in -3-degree weather with winds gusting up to 50 miles per hour. But hey, that was just part of the adventure. Best of all, Seattle beat the San Francisco on Thanksgiving day.

Thanksgiving Dinner

See my article or my book on how to build and use your own smoker.

How to Smoke Cornish Game Hen

Smoked Cornish Game hens are really pretty easy and pack a ton of flavor into your meal. I think it is important to brine poultry when you smoke it because the brine helps to keep the moisture in the birds. You can also add a little rub or just some salt and pepper to the skin before smoking to add a little flavor to the skin. I generally either brine or use a dry rub, I don’t use both too often for fear of over-salting the meat. Just be careful how much rub you use if you decide to do both. I basted the birds with some olive oil before I put them in the smoker and a couple of times during smoking. This really helped to keep the skin moist.

What Temp To Cook Cornish Game Hen

Since these birds are poultry you should cook them as you would poultry. The breast and deepest part of the thigh should reach a minimum internal temperature of 165° F. I keep the smoker temperature at about 300° F and smoke them till the meat reaches 165° F. Since the cavity of the Cornish hens are so small, I do not recommend stuffing them with bread stuffing, however, if you want to stuff them with aromatic herbs or fruit like citrus, that works great.

Smoked Cornish Game Hens

Smoked Cornish game hens make a great single serving main course. These are great as a turkey substitute on Thanksgiving or as a treat anytime.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 4 hours
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 8 hours
Servings 2 people
Calories 7 kcal
Author Barbara Tidwell


  • 2 whole Cornish game hens
  • 1 gal water
  • 1 c salt (brining salt or kosher salt)
  • 2 tsp ground pepper


  1. Mix the brine by diluting the salt mixture in one gallon of cold water.

  2. Submerge the birds in the brine, and place in refrigerator. Brine the birds at least 4 hours.

  3. Dry the birds and rub with oil. If you wish to use a rub you can add it now.

  4. Place the birds on a rack, and place the rack in the pan to catch all the drippings.

  5. Place in smoker at about 225° for about 2 hours, or until the birds reach an internal temperature of at least 165°.