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Advice on smoking cornish game hens?

Ty520

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Planning to smoke a couple game hens this weekend. Wanted to go over my plan of attack and see if anyone had any advice? never smoked poultry or cooked cornish hens before

I've read differing opinions on whether or not brining is warranted. If so, is there a good standard recipe for a brine i should use?

I plan to spatchcock them.

I plan to apply a homemade poultry seasoning rub in the interior cavity, and the outside - should i oil them at all?

I plan to smoke at 225*F. Any recommendations on wood species? Leaning toward apple, but also perhaps cherry or maple?

Planning to use white wine with fresh sprigs of herbs in the water pan to keep things moist

My understanding is that the thigh temp should hit 185*F, but because of the small size of the bird and spatchcocking, I'll need to insert the probe thermometer in the breast, and i'll need to hit 160*F at the breast (and from my understanding, if the breast is 160, the thigh should be at 185ish?)

Depending on how things are progressing, I'll crank it up to 350 for the last 10-15 minutes to crisp up the skin.

Thoughts?
 

JLeonard

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Watching because I've had the same questions.
Jim
 

TNJAKE

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I took mine to 175 and after a 15min rest they were 180
 

smokeymose

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A simple water, salt, sugar brine is good for a couple of hours. You don't want those little guys to dry out.
Jeff usually recommends Pecan for his poultry cooks, but Apple is good, too.
 

chilerelleno

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Wet Brine or Inject
I typically use nothing but water and Kosher salt, 1/4 cup per quart.
If you were to inject I would suggest butter with a little bit of garlic.

Highly recommend air drying the skin in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours if you want it to have a bite through consistency.
Also, if you want a good bite through consistency on the skin I would do away with the water pan and bring the cooking temp up to 275°-300°.

Spatchcock is great, they will cook very fast.

I would suggest placing your temp probe in the breast and cooking the breast to 163°-165° IT.
Better to have a perfect breast than to have dry breasts with perfect legs and thighs.
If able, cook with the legs and thighs closest to the heat source and everything will be just fine.
Legs and thighs do not have to hit 185° as long as they are 165° or higher they'll be delicious.

Applying a little oil to the skin prior to the rub would be great and can help crisp the skin.

My favorite woods for poultry are Hickory, Mesquite and Cherry.
Mesquite should be used very lightly for smoking poultry, I usually mix it with Hickory.
 
Last edited:

thirdeye

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I like to brine all poultry and I use a couple of commercial mixes, but my Lite Flavor Brine recipe is:
1 quart of water
0.875 ounces of salt (7/8 of an ounce)
1 teaspoon (minimum) of brown sugar, maple sugar, or white sugar
Seasonings like pepper, garlic powder, sage, lemon slices, orange slices, onion slices, fresh herbs, Old Bay, etc. are optional. A few ounces of flavored vinegar, wine, apple juice or even beer can be added as well.

It's harder than you think to keep the breast at 165° and still get the leg/thigh to 185°. But the good news is.... brining will keep breast moist enough you could overshoot the 165° by a few degrees. And Cornish hen's are a little different than a chicken. Spatchcocking or splitting in half on the axis might give you more cooking control but you still have dark meat right next to white meat. I solve that problem by halfcocking my poultry to give me a dark half and a white half. I simply pull each half when they are perfectly done. Mouse over the photo, and click to supersize.
8E9925Y.jpg

225° is great for getting smoky flavor, but the skin will suffer and could get rubbery. After brining I prefer to poke holes in the skin, and air dry for at least 12 hours, but 24 hours is better.... I do this on a rack in the fridge.

I might add a spray of olive oil after the bird warms up on the pit. Melted butter, or a basting liquid with some oil, or Italian dressing works too. These were basted in melted lard of all things and the skin was awesome.
l3nvLyZ.jpg

Wood is kind of a personal choice and many say poultry is sensitive to strong woods like hickory. I haven't had an issue with any wood other than mesquite.

I use a water 'can' in my drum sometimes, it's for humidity more than making a flavor.

And yes, add rub on all exposed sides of the bird. You can also lift the skin of the breast and insert whole basil leaves or crushed garlic or whatever.

I saved the best tip for last, the half-lemon won't work on a Cornish hen, but if you put 3/8" thick lemon slices under the breast skin, they will give you another level of flavor. I find it very enjoyable. If you put a dollop of compound butter, or garlic butter under the skin it self bastes during cooking.
wOWHC.jpg
 

forktender

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I took mine to 175 and after a 15min rest they were 180
Jake, weren't they way over done @180* or was that a miss print ?
I take mine to 160* and rest them in the oven set to the lowest temp for 10-15 minutes until they reach an internal temp of 165*.
 

Wurstmeister

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I took mine to 175 and after a 15min rest they were 180
Great meal idea & plan. TNJAKE.🍻
 

TNJAKE

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Jake, weren't they way over done @180* or was that a miss print ?
I take mine to 160* and rest them in the oven set to the lowest temp for 10-15 minutes until they reach an internal temp of 165*.
A partial miss print lol. Dark meat was 180 after rest. Breasts 165-170. I also forgot to add in my thread this were injected with cajun butter
 

forktender

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I like to brine all poultry and I use a couple of commercial mixes, but my Lite Flavor Brine recipe is:
1 quart of water
0.875 ounces of salt (7/8 of an ounce)
1 teaspoon (minimum) of brown sugar, maple sugar, or white sugar
Seasonings like pepper, garlic powder, sage, lemon slices, orange slices, onion slices, fresh herbs, Old Bay, etc. are optional. A few ounces of flavored vinegar, wine, apple juice or even beer can be added as well.

It's harder than you think to keep the breast at 165° and still get the leg/thigh to 185°. But the good news is.... brining will keep breast moist enough you could overshoot the 165° by a few degrees. And Cornish hen's are a little different than a chicken. Spatchcocking or splitting in half on the axis might give you more cooking control but you still have dark meat right next to white meat. I solve that problem by halfcocking my poultry to give me a dark half and a white half. I simply pull each half when they are perfectly done. Mouse over the photo, and click to supersize.
View attachment 487769

225° is great for getting smoky flavor, but the skin will suffer and could get rubbery. After brining I prefer to poke holes in the skin, and air dry for at least 12 hours, but 24 hours is better.... I do this on a rack in the fridge.

I might add a spray of olive oil after the bird warms up on the pit. Melted butter, or a basting liquid with some oil, or Italian dressing works too. These were basted in melted lard of all things and the skin was awesome.
View attachment 487770

Wood is kind of a personal choice and many say poultry is sensitive to strong woods like hickory. I haven't had an issue with any wood other than mesquite.

I use a water 'can' in my drum sometimes, it's for humidity more than making a flavor.

And yes, add rub on all exposed sides of the bird. You can also lift the skin of the breast and insert whole basil leaves or crushed garlic or whatever.

I saved the best tip for last, the half-lemon won't work on a Cornish hen, but if you put 3/8" thick lemon slices under the breast skin, they will give you another level of flavor. I find it very enjoyable. If you put a dollop of compound butter, or garlic butter under the skin it self bastes during cooking.
View attachment 487771
My wife freaked out the first time I pulled the lemon trick on a chicken.
I made sure she saw the birds go into the smoker without the lemons installed than snuck them in when she went into the house. I thought she was going to choke when I brought the birds into the house when they were done. We had some guests over from church, that's just my personality though everyone got a good laugh and loved the chicken.:emoji_laughing::emoji_laughing::emoji_thumbsup:
 

forktender

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A partial miss print lol. Dark meat was 180 after rest. Breasts 165-170. I also forgot to add in my thread this were injected with cajun butter
Nice, I love those little buggers......I never worry about the thigh temp I just make sure the thighs are facing the heat source during the smoke or closet to the oven wall during the cook. They are always done when the breast reaches 165* in my experience.
 

Ty520

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Thanks everyone for the great input!

Lots to take in. Birds going in on Saturday. hopefully,will remember to report back on my experience.
 

D.W.

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Wet Brine or Inject
I typically use nothing but water and salt, 1/4 cup per quart.
If you were to inject I would suggest butter with a little bit of garlic.

Highly recommend air drying the skin in the fridge for 12 to 24 hours if you want it to have a bite through consistency.
Also, if you want a good bite through consistency on the skin I would do away with the water pan and bring the cooking temp up to 275°-300°.

Spatchcock is great, they will cook very fast.

I would suggest placing your temp probe in the breast and cooking the breast to 160°-165° IT.
Better to have a perfect breast than to have dry breasts with perfect legs and thighs.
If able, cook with the legs and thighs closest to the heat source and everything will be just fine.
Legs and thighs do not have to hit 185° as long as they are 165° or higher they'll be delicious.

Applying a little oil to the skin prior to the rub would be great and can help crisp the skin.

My favorite woods for poultry are Hickory, Mesquite and Cherry.
Mesquite should be used very lightly for smoking poultry, I usually mix it with Hickory.
Second everything Chile says but he's an animal with that mesquite talk, I've seen he does hot food challenges too, so not surprised. I'd say oak, apple, and cherry are good woods to use for most consumers. I love hickory but not everyone does and can also be a little over powering for sensitive taste palates.
 

forktender

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Thanks everyone for the great input!

Lots to take in. Birds going in on Saturday. hopefully,will remember to report back on my experience.
If you want to keep it simple brine them overnight (which is best) or at least 4 hours if you're in a rush in this basic brine which is.
1-gal water.
1/2- cup kosher or sea salt.
1/2- brown sugar.
I use the basic brine when I'm feeling lazy on fowl and pork.

But I really like to add too my "FOWL" brine.
1 to 2- lemon sliced into 1/4'' slices then squeezed into the brine.
1- handful of fresh rosemary sprigs. If I had to guess I'd say 3-5 good size sprigs.
1- palm full of thyme fresh or dried.
1- whole bulb garlic smashed, paper and all.
2-fresh Bay leafs. (dried will work fine if you don't have Bay tree's around your house). LOL!!!
10- whole peppercorns.
(either black or the tricolor peppercorns...I like the tricolor best personally).
5-whole cloves.
1-tsp of allspice.
1-tsp of cayenne pepper.


I use this brine on anything "fowl" chicken, turkey, dove, pheasant, grouse, duck, goose and pigeon. I use this for whole birds and breasts, thighs and drumsticks grilled, smoked and roasted.

To check the saltiness of a proper brine a raw egg should bounce off the bottom and hover.
If the egg sinks add more salt if it floats to the top add more water.

Important, make sure you rinse the brine off well before cooking.

Then dry the bird well with paper towel or better yet dry it then leave it uncovered in the refrigerator overnight so the skin dries 100%.



Give it a try, I bet it will become a family favorite...everyone that I've turned onto it loves it.


Dan
 

Ty520

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Joined Feb 25, 2021
Well, gave it a whirl, and it turned out pretty good! 95% happy with the end product - need to work on getting a crispier skin next time, but worked out OK since it was served in Poulet Chasseur.

brined for 4 hours, air dried overnight in the fridge, then oiled and coated with a homemade poultry rub. Smoked at 225 for 2.5 hours with applewood until the breast reached 255 IT, then bumped up to 350 until finished at 160 IT - about 10 more minutes.

as mentioned above, next time, I will crank up the heat for longer next time to try to get a crispier skin - especially if served as-is
0306211745_HDR.jpg
0306211803b.jpg
 

forktender

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Holy cow, that plate looks awesome...I'd have no problems at all pounding that!!!

I made the same mistake the first time I did them now I crank the pellet cooker to high after the first hour of 225* smoke.

Nice work.
Dan
 

chilerelleno

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Hell Yeah!
Looks really good, I'd eat it up.

You'll never get crispy skin in the smoker like you will in a fryer, oven or grill.
But you can get close if you make sure your skin is dry and you start it at 275°-300° with no water pan.
A nice bite thru consistency with a nice POP!
 

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