Grilled Cornish Game Hens

It's handy to have a spray bottle with some water in it while you are grilling to douse any flare-ups on the grill.

  • Prep time: 40 minutes
  • Cook time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4-6


  • 4 game hens
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Lemon wedges (optional)

Special equipment needed: Bricks, one per hen, wrapped in foil (optional)


1 Spatchcock the cornish game hens: To grill the hens evenly, you will want to flatten the birds in a method called spatchcocking. To do this, start by trimming off any excess fat and the wingtips from the game hens.

Turn the birds over and use kitchen shears to cut out their backbones. Use your hands to flatten the birds.

You can stop here, but I like to cut out the ribs and the saber bone — essentially the hen's shoulder blade — to make the hens easier to eat.

2 Oil and salt the hens, let sit to come to room temp: Pat the hens dry with paper towels, then coat them with the olive oil.

Salt well and set aside for 15-30 minutes; the hens will cook better if they are at room temperature.

3 Prepare the grill: While the hens are coming to room temperature, get your grill hot. Make sure the grates are clean. Just before you put the birds on the grill, soak a paper towel in some oil and use tongs to wipe down the grill grates.

4 Grill hens breast-side up, weighted if necessary: Place the hens down on the grill breast side up (open side down). Watch them: Chances are they will want to arc upward, which you don't want. You want the hens to have good, solid contact with the grill.

If they arc, place a foil-wrapped brick on the hen. Grill this way for 10 minutes with the grill cover open. If you don't have bricks handy just squash the birds down on the grill with tongs or a spatula.

5 Flip hens over and grill the other side: After 10 minutes, flip the birds and place the bricks on them again, if using. Grill for 5 minutes, or until the skin on the birds is nice and browned. Turn the birds back over and cook to your liking breast side up — you shouldn't need the bricks anymore.

Depending on the heat of your grill, you may not need much more time, but on cool-ish grills this final step can take as much as another 10-15 minutes depending on how done you like your hens.

6 Season and rest before serving: Move the hens off the grill and grind some black pepper over them. Let the birds rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

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  • Warren

    Bought two frozen hens at the grocery store yesterday and they spent last night and all day in the refrigerator. Tonight, they will definitely be spatchcocked, rubbed with olive oil, seasoned and tossed on the Big Green Egg with some Mesquite while the wife & I make a crisp salad and rice to go with them. Add an Ice cold Brew and you’ve got dinner.

  • Pat

    It worries me that you mentioned using river rocks to flatten the birds. River rocks can contain water and may explode if heated. The moisture in the rock can be converted to steam and when the pressure builds enough, the rock explodes. I’ve seen this happen.

  • Jane

    Cornish hens more tasty and tender than chicken. My favorite baked or grilled

  • Susann

    Great receipe! Added a little basil, thyme and rosemary. my husband grilled them following your direcions. Perfect!!!! i was going topin it on pinterest, but read the note at the bottom saying not to use your pictures. so i’ deleted it. Thanks for sharing!

  • mome

    can you take the skin off before grilling?

    • Elise

      Not a good idea. The skin protects the game hen from drying out on the grill, in addition to providing flavor. I recommend removing the skin after the game hen has cooked, not before, if you do not want to eat the skin.

  • David

    I’ve never tried cutting them before grilling. Perhaps I’ll try that the next time I grill the little birds. I leave them whole, basted with butter and add a little salt and pepper. I use the indirect cooking method on a gas grill. I preheat on high for 10 minutes with all burners on then turn off the center burner and reduce the the heat to medium. Place the hens over burner that is off, close the lid, for about 1 hour 15 minutes. I keep the temperature at 350° according to the thermometer on the grill cover. It will show hotter at first but the temp goes down in a few minutes.

  • Tim Griffin

    I prep my birds same way! Cut backbone out, salt, black pepper, butter flavor PAM! Or similar. But I use Apple wood chips for smokey flavor! Weber charcoal kettle grill, Indirect heat! “Coals on the sides”! Pan of water in the middle! Put on grill over the pan of water, breast side down, add soaked Apple wood chips to coals, wait 30 mins! Flip it over, add more wood chips! 30 mins later! Best chicken I’ve ever ate! And Beautiful I might add! I would take a pic! But don’t own a camera!

  • Donna

    Will a butcher spatchcock for me? The thought of doing it myself makes me want to die.

    • Hank Shaw

      They will most likely be willing to cut the backbones out, but they won’t remove the ribs and saber bone, unless they are really nice people…

    • Warren

      Donna, It’s not difficult at all. Get a good pair of kitchen shears (some have serrations on one or both blades) and simply cut out the backbone like your cutting thru cardboard. I guess that’s why I went all the way from Missouri to Texas to find my wife. She came with Guns & Knives, trained our Bird Dog and enjoys hunting Turkey, Pheasant, Duck, Quail, Dove & Deer with me. She cleans most of the Game and prepares it for the grill or oven. Ask your husband or boyfriend to take you shotgun shooting at the nearest Skeet & trap Club, its a Blast..!

  • Stacy

    What temperature should be used for the grill?

    • Hank Shaw

      You want the grill hot, but uncovered. I have no idea what exact temperature, though.

  • Daphne

    For whatever reasons these were rather frequently served at the dining hall of Woodward Court at the University of Chicago when I was a student. As the Woodward Court (which I believe has since been torn down) was directly across the street from the Rockefeller Chapel (which looks way more like a cathedral than a chapel), the Rock Cornish Game hens were affectionately known as “Rockefeller Pigeons”.

  • Paul

    When I use this method I like to lay the hens on some fresh herbs, like tarragon or rosemary, when they’re grilling.

  • Wendell Smith

    I haven’t cooked any Cornish Hens in years, maybe as many as 25+. Think I’ll give them a try soon. That, Wild Rice mix and something else and we should have a tasty meal..