It’s no secret that barbecue cornish hens contain irresistibly tender, juicy flavor—a fan favorite for summer parties and easy backyard cooking. If you want to fill your table with the same luscious chicken flavor all year round, you can also whip up effortless Air-Fried Cornish Hens in just eight simple steps. No matter how you cook them, these easy cornish hen recipes will satisfy all your chicken cravings.
Ingredients You’ll Need for BBQ Cornish Hen Recipe?
This grilled cornish game hen recipe only needs a handful of simple ingredients:
- Cornish hens: Most grocery stores usually store their cornish game hens in the freezer section, so be sure to let them thaw in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours before grilling. It is imperative that the hens are fully thawed before marinating and grilling.
- Olive oil
- Lemon: You’ll need fresh lemon to ensure your marinade is as bright and zesty as possible. You may also garnish your grilled hens with a side of sliced lemon for added presentation (as we did in the photos) if desired.
- Fresh thyme leaves
- Spices: To give your cornish hen marinade for grilling its signature bold, well-seasoned flavors, we’ll add paprika, Kosher salt, and black pepper into the seasoning.
How to Spatchcock a Cornish Hen?
Spatchcocking—also known as butterflying or splitting—refers to the process of removing a chicken’s backbone and flattening the bird’s body. Taking the time to split a cornish hen for grilling helps quicken the roasting process and ensures even cooking across your meat.
- Dry the hens: Pat hens dry on all sides with paper towels. When as dry as possible, your birds will be easier to grip while spatchcocking.
- Spatchcock the cornish game hens: Place one hen on a cutting board, breast-side down. Locate the backbone, which runs down the center of the bird. Then, use kitchen scissors (affiliate link) to remove the backbone, beginning at the tail and cutting along one side of the backbone. Cut along the other side of the spine and remove the bone, discarding it or saving it to make chicken stock.
- Flatten the hen: Flip the bird so its breast side faces up. Find the breastbone running down the middle of the hen, then firmly press down on it with the heel of your hand until the bird lies flat. Set the flattened hen aside and repeat the same spatchcocking process with the second game bird.
How to Grill Cornish Hens?
You don’t have to be a master at the grill to make tasty grilled hens. These step-by-step instructions will teach even beginners how to make mouthwatering chicken in no time.
- Mix the marinade ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, paprika, salt, and pepper. Ensure your bowl is big enough to accommodate both little birds or prepare a large Ziploc bag for the marination process.
- Set aside marinade: Pour two tablespoons of the marinade into an airtight jar and transfer it to the refrigerator until ready to use. We will use this marinade to brush the birds after they are grilled.
- Marinate the hens: Place the spatchcocked cornish hens in the marinade, covering each of the chickens with the liquid. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, transfer it to the fridge, and marinate the cornish hens for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of eight hours.
- Remove the hens: Remove the marinated cornish hens from the refrigerator when ready to cook.
- Prep the grill:
- To cook cornish hens on a gas grill: Preheat the grill to 350 degrees F.
- To cook cornish hens on a charcoal grill: Fill a chimney starter three-quarters with charcoal and light the coals. Let the grill burn until the coals fully ignite and develop a thin layer of ash (approximately 15-20 minutes). Spread the charcoal into an even layer over the grill’s bottom, and position the cooking grill rack on top. Cover the grill and let the insides heat for about five minutes.
- Clean the grates: Use a grill brush to eliminate any remaining residue from the grill racks. Then, dip a wad of paper towel into the oil and use a pair of tongs to wipe the towels over the grill racks generously.
- Place hens on the grill: Shake off excess marinade before placing each cornish game hen on the grill, skin-side up. Cover the grill (if using a charcoal grill, be sure the vents are open) and cook the birds for 10 minutes.
- Flip the birds: Flip the chickens to their opposite side, cover the grill, and cook for 7-10 minutes or until the skin turns crispy and golden brown. Keep a close eye on the hens to avoid overcooking, and check for doneness by inserting a meat thermometer into the thickest parts of the thigh. You can remove your cornish hens when they reach 165 degrees F.
- Let the hens rest: When finished grilling, transfer the barbeque cornish game hens onto a plate and cover it with a loose tent of aluminum foil. Let the birds rest for 10 minutes.
- Brush and serve: Brush the skin of both hens with the reserved marinade, and sprinkle them with chopped fresh thyme. Serve with a side of lemon wedges.
How to Make Ahead and Store It
Learning how to cook cornish hens on the grill is a simple way to ensure effortless meal prep throughout the week. There’s no need to sacrifice a single bite of your chicken with these easy storage tips.
- Make ahead: If you want a headstart on your BBQ cornish game hens, prepare the marinade and transfer it into a Ziploc bag. Then, add the chicken, seal tightly, and let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for up to eight hours.
- Store: You can store your grilled game hens in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
- Reheat: To reheat your cornish hens, place them in the microwave for 30-second increments until heated through. If you’d prefer to reheat your meat in the oven, bake it at 300 degrees F. for 10-15 minutes until warm.
What to Serve With Grilled Cornish Hens?
If you’re looking for a gourmet menu designed to stun your dinner guests, you’ll love my master collection of Cornish Hen Meal Sides. Below are just a few of my tastiest summer side dishes.
- Rice and grains: If you love the light yet flavorful taste of tender rice, Cooked Wild Rice (or Instant Pot Wild Rice, for a quicker cooking option!) makes for a tender, smoky side when grilling cornish game hen. For a more earthy and seasoned option, Lemon Quinoa is light and zesty, while Bulgur Pilaf is a robust Turkish classic.
- Salads: Nutritious yet flavorful, salads make an incomparable side for your grilled whole cornish hens. Wild Rice Salad contains an irresistible balance of sweet and savory ingredients, including dried cranberries, mild pecans, and tart grapes. My Mexican Corn Salad and Yogurt Coleslaw have a tangy mix of ultra-fresh veggies and refreshing salad dressing for a creamier option. However, any of my Summer Salads will fill your menu with light, crisp flavors.
- Vegetable dishes: Just because you want to serve a veggie side doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice taste. My Zucchini Lasagna and Eggplant Parmesan are packed with rich Italian flavors, while Rosemary Mashed Potatoes are a fluffy, buttery, and flavorful dish that takes half an hour to prepare.
- Pasta: No one can say no to pasta’s hearty, creamy taste when grilling cornish game hens. For bold, sumptuous flavors, you can prepare simple Garlic Butter Noodles or Vodka Pasta in just 30 minutes. Or, whip up my Caprese Pasta Salad to lend your menu a classic, fresh edge.
If you have more questions about this easy recipe, don’t worry! This simple collection of FAQs will answer any question, from proper cook time to how to give your hens as much flavor as possible.
To marinate cornish hens, let them sit fully covered in the marinade mixture for at least 30 minutes and up to eight hours.
It’s best if your game hens are as close to room temperature as possible before adding them to your grill. Grilling cold or frozen hens will result in uneven cooking, with an undercooked center and a burnt exterior. To thaw frozen birds, transfer them to the fridge and let them sit for 24 to 48 hours before beginning the cooking process. If your birds are already in the fridge, I recommend letting them rest at room temperature for 10-15 minutes first.
To grill spatchcock cornish hens, you’ll need to cook them at 350 degrees F. for a total of 15-20 minutes (10 minutes skin-side up and an additional 7-10 minutes skin-side down). Your birds should register an internal temperature of 165 degrees F. in the thickest part of the thigh before removing them from the grill. However, keep a close eye on the birds while grilling, as cornish hens tend to cook quickly, and over-cooking will strip your chicken of its juices, resulting in dry, tasteless meat.
If using a gas grill, I recommend letting it reach 350 degrees F. before placing your marinated cornish hens on the grill.
Depending on the size of your bird, one cornish game hen may feed between 1-2 people. A good rule of thumb is that each person will need about one pound of meat per serving. Therefore, if your birds are closer to two pounds, one hen may feed two people. However, you may need one hen per person if yours are smaller.
Other Grilled Chicken Recipes You Might Also Like
If you try this Grilled Cornish Hens recipe, please take a minute to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. It is a great help to others who are thinking of making the recipe. And if you took some pictures, be sure to share them on Instagram using #foolproofeats so I can share them on my stories.
Grilled Cornish Hens Recipe
- 2 1½ pounds cornish hens fully thawed if using frozen
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 teaspoons lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice from one lemon
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves chopped or 2 teaspoons dried – plus more as garnish
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 lemon thinly sliced – as garnish
- Using paper towels, dry the birds on all sides as much as you can. Doing so will help you get a strong grip on the chicken when spatchcocking.
- Next, spatchcock the cornish hens. Place the hen breast-side down on a cutting board. Find the backbone that runs down the center of the hen. Using poultry shears, remove the backbone starting from the tail and cutting along one side of the backbone. Repeat the same process by cutting on the other side of the bone. Remove it and discard (or save it for making chicken stock later.)
- Turn the bird around so that the breast side is up. Locate the breastbone that runs down the middle of the bird. Firmly press down with the palms of your hands until the hen lies flat. Repeat the same process with the second cornish hen. Set them aside.
- To make the marinade, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, paprika, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. I recommend using a bowl large enough that can accommodate both birds. You can use a Ziploc bag to marinade the birds, as well.
- Transfer 2 tablespoons of the marinade into a small jar and keep it in the fridge until ready to use. We will use this to brush cornish hens after they are finished cooking on the grill.
- Place the birds into the marinade (ensure that they are fully covered with it), cover with plastic wrap, and marinate for at least 30 minutes or for up to 8 hours in the fridge.
- When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the fridge while you are preparing the grill. Preheat a gas grill to 350 degrees F.
- Clean grill grates. Dip a wad of paper towel into olive oil and then generously wipe the grates.
- Remove the cornish hens from the marinade (be sure to shake the excess marinade), and place them skin-side up on the grill. Cover and grill for 10 minutes.
- Flip the hens, cover, and grill for 7-10 more minutes or until the skin is crispy and turns golden brown. Keep a close eye on them as they are grilling to avoid burning. Check doneness by inserting an instant read thermometer into the thickest part of the thigh. If it registers 165 degrees F, your cornish hens are cooked.
- Transfer onto a plate and cover with aluminum foil. Let them rest for 10 minutes.
- Brush the skin of each hen with the reserved marinade. Sprinkle with chopped fresh thyme and serve on a serving platter with lemon wedges on the side.
- Yields: This recipe makes two hens, with each of them being 1 ½ pounds. The nutritional information below is per serving.
- Multiply the recipe: Generally speaking, one pound of chicken serves one person, while 1½-2 pounds serves two. If you are serving a larger crowd, feel free to multiply the recipe.
- The size of the bird and its cooking time are related: If your birds are larger or smaller, you may need to adjust their grilling time and check doneness using a digital thermometer.
- Make ahead: You can prepare the marinade and transfer it into a plastic sealable bag. Then, add the chicken, seal tightly, and let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for up to eight hours.
- Store: You can store your grilled game hens in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days.
- Reheat: To reheat your cornish hens, place them in the microwave for 30-second increments until heated through. If you’d prefer to reheat your meat in the oven, bake it at 300 degrees F. for 10-15 minutes or until warm.