Herb-Encrusted and Smoked Cornish Hen

Herb-Encrusted and Smoked Cornish Hen


Less than 30 years ago, Cornish Hens were considered an American delicacy, served only upon special occasion, but today can be found in farmer’s markets from coast to coast. These birds are not only phenomenal in flavor due to their grass and grain diet, but a great single-serving substitution for turkey, chicken, pheasant or duck. They are unique ...

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cups water
12 oz cans of beer (or non-alcoholic beer)
cups kosher salt
1 1/2
cups brown sugar
fresh sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme, plus additional for stuffing and garnish
1-2 pound whole Cornish hens, thawed, trimmed and giblets removed
stick of cold butter, sliced into 12 equal parts
olive oil, plus additional for basting
cup Italian seasoning
tablespoons garlic powder
kosher salt and fresh ground black peppercorn, to taste
small lemons, zest and then quarter
cornbread stuffing, fully prepared
cups apple wood, or your favorite alternate hardwood



In a large pot bring water, salt and sugar to a boil. Once rolling boil achieved, remove from burner, toss in a few handfuls of herbs, and allow the water to cool entirely (to room temperature). Pour in 2 cans of beer, immerse hens, cover and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.


Remove hens from brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Discard brine. Place hens back in the refrigerator for 1 hour, uncovered, to further dry and tighten the skin.


45 minutes prior to smoking, remove birds from refrigerator to begin returning to room temperature.


Gently slide a finger between the breast meat and adjoining skin, then slide a slab of cold butter under the loosened skin – 2 slabs of butter per hen, 1 over each breast.


Drizzle the hens with olive oil inside and out, then massage a liberal degree of Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, peppercorn, and 1/6 of the lemon zest into all portions of each bird. Stuff posterior of the bird with prepared cornbread stuffing. Insert a quartered lemon and small handful of fresh herb sprigs into the upper end of the hen’s cavity.


20 to 30 minutes prior to smoking, load smoker with wood chips, fill the water pan and preheat to 275°F.


Place the hens evenly across the smoker racks – balancing the bird on its backbone. Slowly roast for 2 hours, lightly basting every 30 minutes with olive oil, or until the internal temperature of the dark thigh meat reaches 165°F and juices run clear.


Carefully remove hens from the smoker and transfer to a cutting board. Tent with tin foil and rest for 10 minutes before discarding the lemon and herbs.


Carve, season additionally to taste, and serve.

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  • Carol | Sep 27, 2020

    This is a great brine recipe. The only change I suggest is cutting back on the salt by about a half cup.

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