These Smoked Cornish Hens are not only tender and juicy but a snap to make for dinner. A quick, citrus brine gently infuses an extra layer of flavor while guaranteeing a juicy hen when serving.
🍽️ Why This Works
Easy | All of us love a quick and easy recipe that we know will turn out great. This hen is no exception. You don’t need to spend hours in the kitchen to make a great meal.
No Need to Spatchcock | We love to butterfly a hen but this smoked hen doesn’t need it. The brine keeps everything juicy and using the low temperature ensures that you will always get a moist bird.
Flexible | The rub can be anything you like. If you don’t have Greek Freak and don’t know if you like that rub, choose the one that you know goes well with poultry (most of the ones in your spice cabinet) and this is still going to turn out amazing.
📝 Ingredient Notes
Cornish Hens – These small and lean hens are lower in fat and calories than a standard chicken while not sacrificing the flavor at all.
Seasoning – We used Greek Freak from Spiceology this time as it goes so well with a citrus brine. Spiceology’s spice blends are some of our all time favorites as they have responsible practices along with making some of the most killer flavor combinations we’ve tried.
When you open up the jar, you see bright colors and large pieces of the spice blend, so you know it’s fresh and made with the best ingredients possible. Once you start using Spiceology, it’s hard to go back.
Wet Brine – Using mostly ingredients you already have in your house, this brine is fantastic for all poultry that you want to smoke. Try chicken thighs or turkey thighs using this brine when you want a recipe that is simple and impressive.
⏲️ Equipment and Tools
Smoker | We used our Big Green Egg for this recipe, but this works on all smoker types like Traeger, Char Broil, Weber, Oklahoma Joe’s or Camp Chef.
Container Big Enough for Brining | Use a container that is food safe. We used a gallon pitcher for the hens but you could use a small cooler that you have as long as you clean it out real good before brining.
Smoking Wood | Use a mild wood like Pecan or any of the fruit woods. Stay away from Mesquite and Hickory, as you risk overpowering the subtle flavors of the citrus. If you aren’t sure what wood to use, check out our free wood pairing cheat sheet.
Making the Wet Brine
Step One: Combine all the brine ingredients into a large one gallon container and stir.
Step Two: Place the cornish hens in a stock pot or container large enough to hold them and the brine. Pour brine over the hens and allow it to soak for 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.
Smoking the Cornish Hens
Step One: Heat up smoker to 225-250° using indirect heat. Once it is heated up, apply the wood of your choice. We used pecan this time.
Step Two: Remove the hens from the brine and dry off with paper towels. Spray with olive oil spray (either the canned version or using a Mister) and spray all over. Sprinkle with the seasoning/rub of your choice. Insert the ¼ orange and ¼ lemon into the hen cavity.
Step Three: Smoke the hens straight on the grill grate until the internal temperature reaches 160-165°. The 160° is great as you will tent this for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle and it will come up the remaining five degrees.
Step Four: Remove lemon and orange prior to serving.
❗ Recipe Tips and Tricks
Crispy Skin | If you want your skin to be crispier, don’t brine it. Instead, rinse the hen and pat it dry. Put in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours to dry out and then season it before putting on the smoker. Smoke at a higher temp (275 degrees) and don’t tent it when you take it off of the smoker/grill.
Allow Hens to Rest | Just like so many meats coming off of the grill, allowing these to rest for 10 minutes before cutting into them allows the juices to stay in the bird rather than spilling out onto the plate or cutting board. This allows the meat to be juicy instead of dry.
Wood Choice | Always think of the wood you are using when getting ready to smoke your meat. Fruit woods like apple and cherry will always be a more mild choice vs mesquite or hickory which will give you a more powerful smokey flavor. All of the options are great so choose which ones your family loves. The Smoking Wood Cheat Sheet helps guide you through your choices.
Smoke to Temp, Not Time | Although this isn’t a long smoke, always cook this to temperature, not time. Start checking the hen at 45-60 minutes using a probe or internal thermometer.
🧑🍳 Storage and Reheating
Store the cooled leftovers in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to three days.
Reheat the leftovers in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, depending on how much you are reheating. These hens reheat so well and retain the moisture even after reheating.
Prep the brine and set aside.
Clean out the hens and pat them dry. Cover and put in the refrigerator until you are ready to start brining.
Always have your seasoning and items you will need to assemble on the counter ready for you to stir, sprinkle, carry to smoker. For us, that means we put our our spoon, the tray we are going to use to carry the hens to the smoker, we found the tongs we will use to remove the hens when they are done.
Look for any small things you can prep ahead of time so you aren’t wandering around looking for items when you need them.
Additions and Substitutions
Although it isn’t necessary, you could spatchcock the hen open and smoke it.
Change out the rubs to be anything you have in your spice cabinet.
Make this a garlic lovers version by inserting a few garlic cloves inside the hen cavity. Use thyme and rosemary on the exterior of the bird.
🥦 Serving Suggestions
I recommend serving a good grilled vegetable with these. Grilled Sweet Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts, Carrots and Asparagus are all great choices. When you want a little bit of a picnic out of this meal, make a batch of Grilled Baked Beans or Smoked Potato Salad.
❓ Recipe FAQ
USDA states that it needs to be at 165°.
Don’t brine it. When you brine it, you are infusing moisture to stay locked inside, including the skin. If you want a crispy exterior, skip the brine all together and pat the hen dry, place in the refrigerator for up to 1-2 hours and then smoke at a slightly higher temp of 275° or so. Don’t tent the hen when it comes off the grill as that locks in moisture which will make the skin less crispy.
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Smoked Cornish Hens
- Gallon Container
- 1 gallon Water
- 1 Orange quartered
- 1 Lemon quartered
- ½ Onion
Smoked Cornish Hens
- 2 Cornish Hens
- Spray Olive Oil
- Rub we used Spiceology Greek Freak
- ¼ Lemon
- ¼ Orange
- Combine all the brine ingredients into a large one gallon container and stir.
- Place cornish hens in a stock pot or container large enough to hold them and the brine. Pour brine over the hens and allow to brine for 1-2 hours in the refrigerator.
Smoked Cornish Hens
- Heat up smoker to 225-250° using an indirect heat set up. Once it is heated, apply the wood of your choice. We used pecan this time.
- Remove the hens from the brine and dry off with paper towels. Spray with olive oil spray (either the canned version or using a Mister) and spray all over. Then sprinkle with the seasoning/rub of your choice. Insert the ¼ orange and ¼ lemon into the hen cavity.
- Smoke the hens straight on the grill grate until the internal temperature reaches 160-165°. The 160° is great as you will tent this for about 10 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle and it will come up the remaining five degrees.
- Remove lemon and orange prior to serving.