Smoked Cornish Game Hens

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Fall has arrived in Boise. The leaves have changed colors, there’s a chill to the air in the morning, and before we know it, Thanksgiving and Christmas will be here. I’m sure I’ll be spending most of next weekend in my yard raking leaves and wishing it was a little warmer outside, but right now, I’m enjoying the Fall. When the temperature starts dropping outside I find myself craving different types of foods. I love good barbecue all year long, but I find myself seeking more flavorful and hearty meals this time of year.Smoked Cornish Game Hens, brined in scotch and orange juice, and then smoked in a pellet grill. This is a barbecue recipe you HAVE to try.

Smoked Cornish Game Hens

One of those hearty meals I really enjoy making is Smoked Cornish Game Hens. The Smoked Cornish Game Hens I’m going to show you how to make are juicy and loaded with flavor. To give you an idea of just how good these Cornish Game Hens are… My daughter can be a really picky eater, and she was begging for more. What is a Cornish Game Hen? Before we get to the recipe, you might be wondering, what is a Cornish game hen? According to the USDA, a Cornish game hen is an immature chicken younger than five weeks old (previously five to six weeks), of either sex, with a ready-to-cook carcass weight of two pounds or less. Since Cornish Game Hens are smaller than regular chickens they tend to be more tender when cooked.

How To Prepare Cornish Game Hens

There are a lot of different ways you can prepare these birds, and like chicken, it’s tough to mess these up. I like to brine my birds before they take on smoke, and this results in some really robust flavor.

Cornish Game Hens in a Scotch and Honey Brine

So now we know that Cornish game hens are just a small chicken. But can you deny that the name of these birds makes you feel like you are making some exotic bird from Scotland?! No? Well, that’s how I feel. So I decided my Cornish game hen brine had to include some scotch. It makes sense to me…. so just roll with it, cool? First, we are going to combine equal amounts of honey, salt, orange juice, and scotch with some herbs and spices in 8 cups of hot water. Gently stir the water for 3-5 minutes. Add one gallon of cold water to your brining bucket, and then pour your brine solution into the bucket as well. Carefully place each of your birds in the bucket, and then cover and place in your refrigerator overnight. I let the birds sit in the brine for about 18 hours before smoking. PS. If you’re planning on smoking a turkey for Thanksgiving, the brine bucket I use and recommend is perfect for a 15-18 pound bird.

Preparing Cornish Game Hens for the Smoker

After the Cornish game hens have lived in the brine overnight, remove each of them and rinse under cold water, and then pat dry. We’re almost ready to smoke these birds, but first, we have to season them with a little more scotch, butter, and spices. In a medium-sized bowl combine 1 stick of softened butter with a tablespoon of scotch and 1 tablespoon of seasoning. I’m using Traeger’s Fin and Feather Rub. Cornish Game Hens seasoned and ready to be smoked Rub the outside and inside of each Cornish game hen with the seasoned butter, and then place them in your cast iron skillet.

Smoking Cornish Game Hens

Now we’re ready to put the Cornish game hens in the smoker! Set your smoker up to cook at 325 degrees using indirect heat. I use a Traeger, and for this recipe, I’m using oak pellets. When your smoker is up to temp, place the cast iron skillet filled with Cornish game hens in the smoker. Let the birds cook until the internal temperature is 165 degrees in the breast AND thigh of each bird. It should take about 2 hours total.
smoked cornish game hens
If the birds get too brown on top during the cook you can tent with foil until they get up to temp.
I can’t talk enough about how important it is to have a reliable meat thermometer when you are cooking beef and poultry. Investing in a Thermapen or Thermopop is an investment in your family’s health and because you’ll always know your temps, better-tasting tasting barbecue!

What to Serve With Cornish Game Hens

The mild flavor of these birds pairs well with a lot of different sides. You could serve these with some smoked veggies, Hasselback potatoes, or just some green beans and rice. Smoked Cornish Game Hens I really appreciate how easy it is to make this Smoked Cornish Game Hens Recipe, and I hope you’ll try it! Have you ever made Cornish Game Hens? I’d love to hear what you’d do differently in the comments below.
Smoked Cornish Game Hens
Yield: 4

Smoked Cornish Game Hens

Prep Time: 12 hours
Cook Time: 2 hours
Additional Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 14 hours 10 minutes

If you love chicken, but you're looking for something with a little more flavor, give these smoked cornish game hens a try. They're brined in scotch and then smoked. The end result is a blend of flavors everyone will love.


  • 4 Cornish Game Hens

Cornish Game Hen Brine

  • 1/3 cup Scotch
  • 1/3 cup Honey
  • 1/3 cup Salt
  • 1/3 cup Orange Juice
  • 3 tbsp whole peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp rosemary
  • 8 cups warm water
  • 1 Gallon cold water

Seasoned Butter

  • 8 tbsp softened butter
  • 1 tbsp barbecue rub
  • 1 tbsp scotch


  1. Combine all of the brine ingredients except for the cold water. Stir for about 5 minutes to give the seasonings time to activate all of their flavors.
  2. Add the warm water mixture to the cold water, and then add each of the Cornish Game Hens
  3. Let the birds brine for at least 12 hours, and up to 24 hours
  4. Remove the birds from the brine, rinse them under cold water, and then pat dry. Place on a sheet pan and chill for an hour. This will give the birds time to dry out.
  5. Remove the birds from the fridge after an hour.
  6. Combine the butter, rub, and scotch.
  7. Rub the outside of each of the birds with the butter, and then place a small ball of the butter in the cavity of the bird
  8. Smoke the birds at 325 degrees until the internal temperature of the birds is 165 degrees.
  9. Let the birds rest for 10 minutes before serving


I always use a Thermapen to check internal temps.

Birds were cooked in a large Lodge Cast Iron Skillet

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