Grilling Game Hens

These mini-chickens are simple, elegant and fun

Grilled Cornish game hens
Carolyn M. Stalnaker/Getty Images

The first misconception people have about Cornish game hens is that they are in fact game. Game hens are actually chickens specifically bred for their small size. You've heard the expression, "tastes like chicken", well; in this case, it's true. They cook and eat just like chicken with the exception of their size. For the average person, one game hen is a meal so plan on one per person and you'll have just enough for everyone with good potential for leftovers.

How to Prepare Game Hens

Because game hens are practically the same as chicken, they should be prepared in much the same way with, of course, shorter cooking and preparation times. If you follow a few basic ideas you can grill great game hen.

  1. If you intend to brine your game hens use any type of poultry brine and leave them to soak for about 4 to 5 hours.
  2. Game hens can be grilled over direct heat if you first cut them in half through the middle. To do this, place the hen, breast down on a cutting board and with a sharp knife or kitchen shears cut on both sides of the backbone and remove the backbone. Then turn it over and cut through the front directly between the breasts. Make sure to clean up the cuts to remove any loose bone.
  3. To grill game hens on a rotisserie (our favorite method), place the first hen on the skewer, tightly in the forks. Then continue placing hens on the skewer turning each one a quarter turn to stagger the weight. Press them tightly together and secure to the skewer. Getting them good and tight on the rotisserie skewer will ensure that they don't move around and by using the quarter turn they will lock into place.
  4. If you want to use a stuffing for your game hens, make sure it is completely cooked and still warm when you stuff them. Place them to cook as soon as they are stuffed. This will reduce the chance of bacteria forming in the stuffing. Stuffing does not work on a rotisserie.
  5. As with all poultry avoid any sugary bastes, marinades or sauces to prevent burning. It is also helpful to use a drip pan to prevent flare-ups.
  6. Always use a meat thermometer to check for doneness before you remove poultry from the grill.

One of the best things about serving Cornish game hens is the presentation. Serve them up on a large platter with some parsley to garnish and people will mistake you for a gourmet chef.