Smoked Cornish Game Hens

Chef's notes:

My introduction to smoked foods began the same way it did with most everyone else: bacon. But once I began to experiment with the grill and smoking meat myself, it grew to obsession. With a grill, it is difficult to cold-smoke meat. At least without some major modifications. So I’ve focused on hot smoking, which means that the food cooks as it smokes. In the case of these Cornish game hens and other poultry, you can help keep the meat moist by brining it in salt water for 8-10 hours before cooking. Pork is also sometimes brined before it is smoked, but it doesn’t have to be.


  • 6 whole game hens
  • 8 cups apple juice
  • 1 T garlic, minced
  • ¼ cup kosher salt or ⅛ cup table salt
  • 1 tsp sage, fresh or dry-rubbed
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 2-3 apples, sliced ½ inch thick
  • 4 handfulls of soaked hardwood chips

Rock Cornish Game Hens Brined in Apple Juice and Smoked on a Grill with Apple Slices

  1. Pick up some Rock Cornish game hens and thaw them. These are usually found in the freezer section and go for about five bucks apiece, although I’ve seen them for twice that price. They will take at least 36 hours in a fridge to thaw out. Or, if you’re in a hurry, put them in a bowl of cool running water to thaw them in about 2-3 hours. The water must be running and it must be cool. This method is incredibly wasteful, and has the potential to kill you if you don’t do it right (i.e. use warm water and spawn a food borne illness).
  2. Brine the game hens for 8-10 hours. Mix up the brine and pour it over the game hens. Have the game hens in a bag inside a bowl to keep from spilling. Push all the air out and seal the bag. Put it in the fridge for 8-10 hours. For more information about brining and some links to a few more brine recipes, read this page that I wrote called How to Brine Meat. Once the game hens are done brining, rinse them off under cool water and dry them with paper towels.
  3. Smoke the game hens in the grill. Fire up the grill to medium heat, around 300 degrees dome temp, and place a couple handfulls of wood chips in the smoker box (read the tip for making your own smoker box below). Put the smoker box over the flames. Slice the apples and lay them on the top rack of the grill, or around the sides if you don’t have a rack. Try to put them in places where they won’t be exposed to direct heat. Then put the game hens on top of these apple slices.
  4. Finish smoking the game hens in the grill. Close the lid and check on the game hens every couple minutes at first, until you feel good about what’s going on in there. Reduce the heat if the smoker-box is emitting large quantities of smoke; you just need a little at a time. Add more chips to the box as it burns up the old ones. Flip and rotate the chicken every 30 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees F. They may look a little dark, but that’s just fine. The skin isn’t that great anyway. Try the apple slices, too; they’re pretty good. Let the Cornish game hens rest for 15 minutes before you eat them.

Tips & Tricks

  • Use heavy duty foil to create a tin envelope/pouch as a makeshift smoker box. Poke a couple holes in the top.
  • Soak the wood chips for about 30 minutes to an hour. Then remove them and shake them dry before using them.
  • Try to keep the direct heat away from the game hens.
  • You can use a cut-up chicken instead of game hens for this recipe, if you want.