For a quick and delicious recipe, prepare Grilled Spatchcock Cornish Hens with a homemade BBQ rub. These are extremely easy to make and they lay flat above the coals for a fast and even cook.
My local grocery store marks down meats that are nearing their Sell-By dates, and I was able to save 50% by picking these up and grilling them on the same day! You gotta love that! We grilled up these gorgeous birds for a casual Saturday afternoon lunch and felt very spoiled!
🐔 What Are Cornish Hens?
Cornish hens, also known as Rock Cornish hens, are a small breed of chicken. They are a cross between Cornish and White Plymouth Rock chickens, designed to provide a smaller-sized bird, typically weighing less than 2 pounds.
Cornish hens are popular due to their size and tender meat, making them a favorite choice for special occasions and gourmet meals.
They can be prepared in various ways, including roasting, grilling, and smoking, and offer a succulent, flavorful alternative to larger poultry servings.
📝 Why This Works
✔️Fast – It only takes five minutes to prep. Also, Cornish hens are small birds that will always cook faster compared to regular-sized chickens.
✔️Limited Ingredients – The bird and your favorite BBQ rub are all you need.
✔️Scalable – Each hen serves 2 and you can make extra to feed a crowd.
As I mentioned, you only need 2 ingredients and a little bit of time! Seriously…this grilled Cornish game hens recipe is about to become your new favorite, so you’ll want to print it to make it time and time again.
🛒Cornish Hen | This recipe is easy to multiply, but on average a Cornish hen will feed around 2 people.
🛒BBQ Rub | We used our homemade all-purpose dry rub for grilling made with brown sugar, sweet paprika, black pepper, Kosher salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and celery seed.
It offers a perfectly balanced taste that pairs wonderfully with the smoke flavor the charcoal grill infuses into the meat. Of course, if you have another favorite rub for poultry, feel free to use that instead.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
✅Grill | I am a loyal user of the Big Green Egg, which is a charcoal grill/smoker, but this recipe can also be made on a gas grill, pellet grill, or electric grill.
✅Kitchen Shears | These will make spatchcocking the hen so much easier. If you don’t have a pair of kitchen shears you can use a knife, but make sure it is a sharp one.
✅Small Bowl | You’ll need it to mix up the dry rub ingredients.
✅Barbecue Tongs | Very handy when flipping whole spatchcocked Cornish hens!
✅Instant-Read Thermometer | The best way to make sure any meat is cooked to perfection is to measure its internal temperature using a wireless meat thermometer until the perfect doneness is reached.
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✂️ Spatchcock the Hen
Spatchcock, also known as butterflying, is a simple way to flatten the bird for a quicker grilling.
👉Step 1: Pat the hen dry using paper towels. Set the hen breast-side down on the counter and cut along one side of the spine with kitchen shears. The bones cut pretty easily. When you have cut from one end to the other, cut along the other side of the backbone and remove it.
👉Step 2: Turn the bird over and flatten it with your hands. You might hear the breastbone crack, but that is completely normal.
And that’s it! You have just spatchcocked a Cornish hen.
♨️ Season and Grill
👉Step 1: Set up the grill for direct heat. I used my Big Green Egg and let it heat up to 350°F. A gas grill or a pellet grill will work just as well.
👉Step 2: Prepare the all-purpose dry rub for grilling. Measure and mix the ingredients in a bowl. The recipe yields 2/3 to 3/4 cups of BBQ rub. You will only need about 1/4 cup to season one Cornish hen, so scale the recipe based on how many hens you plan to grill.
👉Step 3: Grab the dry rub and liberally coat both sides of the bird. Don’t worry about brushing olive oil on first as the seasoning will adhere to the skin just fine, and the skin side is up at the beginning of the grill which will help keep the seasoning from falling off.
The Cornish hen did not stick to the grill at all. If you fear it will, you can brush olive oil on the grill grates for safe measure.
👉Step 4: Place the hen with the skin side up straight on the grate and grill for 15 minutes.
👉Step 5: Turn the bird over (so the skin side is down) and grill for another 15 minutes or until the temperature of the thickest point is 165°F. There is no need to flip the hen repeatedly – once is enough.
👉Step 6: Remove it from the grill and let it rest for 10 minutes before serving. You are allowing it to rest so the juices stay in the bird and do not run onto the plate.
I was shocked at how juicy this was coming off the grill, and the flavor of the homemade BBQ rub was just perfect for the hen!
⏲️ Grilling Time
The nice thing with spatchcocked birds is that they take less time to cook. My hens took 30 minutes at 350°F. Always check the internal temperature, though. 165°F is the magic number.
Note: We love Spatchcock Chicken/Butterflied Chicken so much that we knew this one would be a hit too. These turn out so tender and juicy.
❗ Recipe Tips & Tricks
👍Pat The Hens Dry | If you start with soggy skin, it might not crisp up as intended during grilling. Also, pat the hens dry before you spatchcock them. You’ll have an easier time gripping the bird while removing the backbone.
👍Keep The Backbones | Store them in the freezer and use them later to make broth or soup!
👍Practice On Chicken | Nervous about trying to spatchcock a Cornish hen? Try it on a less expensive regular bird first. You can simply follow our grilled butterflied whole chicken recipe. Doing the same with a Cornish hen will be much less intimidating.
👍Start With Room Temperature Hens | For the fastest and most even cooking, allow the birds to rest on the counter for 30 minutes before grilling.
👍Grill Temperature Check | Before adding your hens, make sure your grill is at the optimal temperature of 350°F. An infrared thermometer can offer a precise reading of the grilling surface, ensuring it’s ready for cooking.
My Big Green Egg comes with a built-in thermometer to measure the air temperature inside the dome, but an infrared thermometer gives me the advantage of measuring the surface temperature of the grill directly. It’s a nice helper for accurate grilling and smoking.
👍Use of Foil | Inspect the wings and legs at the 15-minute mark. If they are burning or cooking too quickly, wrap these thinner parts with a small piece of aluminum foil.
🔄 Additions & Substitutions
⚡Dry Rubs | These are a fantastic way to infuse your Cornish hens with robust flavors. For an intriguing twist, try using the Yucatan dry rub blend. This rub combines a variety of spices that can easily complement the delicate taste of Cornish hens.
Or make your own rub using staple ingredients such as fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, and sage are great pairings for Cornish hens), chili flakes, smoked paprika, brown sugar, black pepper, and garlic powder.
⚡Marinades | This is another great method to tenderize and enrich the hens with moisture, ensuring they remain juicy and flavorful. For a balanced option, consider my sweet chicken marinade made with olive oil, honey, soy sauce, and fresh garlic. This marinade pairs beautifully with the lean meat of Cornish hens, offering a balance of sweetness and acidity.
⚡Wet Brines | Wet brining your Cornish hens can significantly enhance their moisture content and flavor. A citrus brine, like the one we used for our smoked Cornish hens recipe, introduces a refreshing zestiness that complements the smoky, grilled flavors.
Before storing your leftover Cornish hens, make sure they are completely cooled. However, don’t leave them at room temperature for longer than 2 hours to prevent bacterial growth.
❄️Fridge | Separate the leftover Cornish hens into portions. This makes reheating individual servings easier, and they will take up less storage space.
Place the leftover portioned birds in airtight containers, or wrap them tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil.
Label the containers with the date and transfer to the fridge. They will remain safe to eat for 3-4 days, as per USDA’s guidelines.
🧊Freezer | Just like for refrigerating, it’s more practical to cut the Cornish hen into smaller pieces.
Wrap each piece tightly in aluminum foil or freezer-safe wrap. Then, place them in airtight freezer bags or containers. If using bags, try to remove as much air as possible before sealing them. This helps prevent freezer burn.
Write down the date and contents of the bags before freezing. According to USDA, leftover cooked Cornish hens can be kept in the freezer for up to 4 months, without significant loss of quality.
Thaw the frozen leftovers in the fridge, overnight, to minimize the risk of bacterial growth.
It’s easy to reheat leftover Cornish game hens. Like for all poultry, the key is to make sure the hen is heated to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
👉Microwave | Place the hen leftovers in a microwave-safe dish, and cover with a damp paper towel. Heat on medium power for 1-2 minutes or until heated through, checking at 30-second intervals to prevent drying out.
👉Oven | Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Place the portioned hen on a baking sheet or in an oven-safe dish, and cover loosely with foil. Reheat for 10-15 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165°F (74°C).
👉Air Fryer | Preheat the air fryer to 350°F (175°C). Place hen in the basket, not touching, for 3-5 minutes or until crispy and heated through.
🍽️ Serving Suggestions
Grilled spatchcock Cornish hens are a gourmet delight that pairs wonderfully with a wide array of sides. Let’s dive into some serving suggestions that elevate this dish into a feast for the senses.
⭐Classic BBQ Sides | For a truly memorable cookout, classic BBQ sides are a must. Imagine the delight of serving up grilled sweet potato casserole alongside your hens, or perhaps some easy grilled onions for a slightly sweet, smoky addition. And for those who can’t resist the charm of corn, smoked corn on the cob offers a tender, flavorful twist.
⭐Potato Sides | The comforting taste of potatoes makes them a perfect match for grilled poultry. Whip up a batch of grilled sweet potato wedges, or perhaps the smoked fingerling potatoes for a smoky, savory side that’s sure to please.
⭐Veggie Sides | Lighten the meal with a nutritious veggie side. Grilled or smoked vegetables like grilled broccolini or grilled parsnips add a delightful crunch and freshness, complementing the rich flavors of the grilled Cornish hens.
⭐Salads | A refreshing salad is the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats. Consider pairing your hens with a simple mixed green salad, a creamy cucumber salad, or get creative with a grilled peach and arugula salad for a sweet and peppery contrast.
⭐BBQ Sauces | What’s a grilled dish without some BBQ sauce? While store-bought options are practical, homemade sauces like the smoked pumpkin Bourbon BBQ sauce or cherry Bourbon BBQ sauce can add an unparalleled depth of flavor to your Cornish hens. They also happen to be exceptionally easy to make!
❓ Recipe FAQs
The Cornish hen is fully cooked when the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Don’t forget to let it rest for 10 minutes before eating.
For these grilled spatchcocked Cornish hens, we cooked them breast side (skin side) up for the first 15 minutes over direct heat at 350°F. Then, we flipped the birds and cooked them for another 15 minutes until their internal temperature reached 165°F.
Starting breast side up allows the thicker, denser breast meat to cook more gently in the beginning since it’s farther from the heat source. This method helps in managing the overall cooking process, ensuring that the breast doesn’t cook too quickly and dry out, which is a common concern with poultry.
When cooking a Cornish game hen, to ensure it’s properly cooked and safe to eat, you should place the thermometer in the thickest part of the hen without touching bone, usually the thigh area near the breast. As for all poultry, the target internal temperature is 165°F.
Yes, one person can eat a whole Cornish hen. Cornish hens are small, young chickens that typically weigh between 1 to 2 pounds each.
Depending if the hen is on the smaller or larger end, and the appetite of the person, it will typically serve 1-2 people.
Uncooked Cornish hens can be kept in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 days, same as raw chicken and other poultry. When you bring them home from the grocery store or butcher, it’s best to plan to cook them within this timeframe to ensure freshness and safety.
If you find that you won’t be able to cook the hens within 1 to 2 days, I recommend you freeze them to extend their shelf life. Frozen Cornish hens can last for up to 6 months in the freezer if properly stored in airtight packaging. This helps maintain their quality and prevents freezer burn.
Before cooking, thaw them safely in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours, depending on their size.
Tried this recipe? Please leave a star ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. You can also stay in touch with me through social media by following me on Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook!
Grilled Spatchcock Cornish Hens with Homemade BBQ Rub
- Kitchen Shears
- Small Bowl
- Barbecue Tongs
- Instant Read Thermometer
- 1 Cornish Hen
- ¼ cup All Purpose BBQ Rub
All-purpose BBQ Rub
- ⅓ cup Brown Sugar
- ¼ cup Sweet Paprika
- 3 tbsp Black Pepper coarse ground
- 1-2 tbsp Sea or Kosher Salt coarse ground
- 2 tsp Onion Powder
- 2 tsp Garlic Powder
- 2 tsp Celery Seed
Prepare the Cornish Hen
- Pat the hens dry using paper towels. Set the bird breast-side down on the counter and cut along one side of the spine with kitchen shears. The bones cut pretty easily. When you have cut from one end to the other, cut along the other side of the spine and remove the backbone.
- Turn the bird over and flatten it with your hands. You might hear the breastbone crack, but that is completely normal.
Make the Dry Rub
- Measure the dry rub ingredients and mix them in a bowl. The recipe yields 2/3 to 3/4 cup of BBQ rub. You will only need about 1/4 cup to season one Cornish hen, so scale the recipe based on how many hens you plan to grill.
Grill the Cornish Hen
- Preheat the grill to 350°F on direct heat.
- Grab the dry rub and liberally coat both sides of the bird. Don’t worry about brushing olive oil on first as the seasoning will adhere to the skin just fine, and the skin side is up at the beginning of the grill which will help keep the seasoning from falling off.
- Place the hen over direct heat with the skin side up and grill for 15 minutes.
- Turn the hen over and grill it skin side down for 15 more minutes.
- The hen is fully cooked when the internal temperature of the thickest part reaches 165°F.
- Remove from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes before serving.
Jason’s been firing up the grill for over 30 years after graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy. His love of finely-grilled steak and chicken led him to buy his first Weber grill to put on his apartment patio in 1992. Each military move led to a new grill (a mixture of gas and charcoal) until he fell in love with the Big Green Egg in 2008. Since then, he has added another 4 grills to the collection. Yes, he has a problem. Jason loves smoking in the ceramic BGE with exotic woods including olive wood from Egypt and hard to find varieties such as sassafras and orange wood. Jason takes the term “foodie” to a whole new level, jumping at the chance to take food tours and cooking classes during foreign travels. These have provided inspiration to incorporate new ideas into recipes when he gets back home. He has been featured in Fox News, Parade, Yahoo News, Kansas City Living and more. After retiring from the military and moving to southwest Florida, he has focused grilling and smoking locally sourced meats and fish (read: he likes to catch his own fish!)