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Grilled Split Cornish Game Hens, Brinerated

Talking to myself about grilling cornish game hens…

Question: I’m hungry. What are we making today?

Answer: Today, we’re grilled cornish game hens. Be patient, they’ll be done soon.

Q: It’s raining? Again? Why does it always start to rain when it’s time to light the grill?

A: It is spring in Northeastern Ohio. It’s the rainy season. Mother Nature doesn’t care that I have grilling fever. Or, maybe she does, and she just likes watching me squirm. Besides, it’s just sprinkling. The hens will be fine.

Q: Hmm. Smells good. What ethnicity is that brinerade?

A: Well, it’s got Mediterranean olive oil, British worchestershire sauce, Asian soy sauce…let’s call it pan-ethnic.

Q: I’m getting hungrier. These hens were supposed to be done in a half an hour. What’s taking so long?

A: Christopher Kimball said you should never trust the cooking times in a recipe. Which is good, because the timings for grilling cornish game hens I found in Cooks Illustrated are too fast. Besides, I’m always saying you need to go by internal temperature, not by time, when you’re cooking. This is particularly true with grilling – live fire cooking never happens the same way twice.  See?  The instant read thermometer says they’re 160*F now..time to sear them.

Q: I’m still hungry. Aren’t they done yet?

A: Good grief, you’re worse than the kids. Here, try a drumstick.

Q: Yummmmmmm…

A: That’s right. A little grilled poultry to soothe the soul.

Recipe: Grilled Cornish Game Hens, Brinerated


  • Grill (I used my Weber Summit 650. Here it is.)
  • Gallon zip top bag


  • 2 Cornish Game Hens (assume 1/2 a hen per person)

Brinerade ingredients

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup worchestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

See my Basic Technique: Grill Roasted Chicken Pieces for more details on this technqiue. *I know the technique is for chicken; cornish game hens work the same way. They just cook a little quicker, because they’re smaller.

1. Split the hens: Using kitchen shears or a heavy chef’s knife, split the hens in half. Cut down one side of the backbone, open the chicken up, then cut it in half through the middle of the breast.

Cut down one side of the backbone…
…then through the breast…
…result: two split hens

2. Brinerate the hens: Whisk the brinerade ingredients together in a medium bowl until the sugar has dissolved in the other ingredients. Put the halved hens in a gallon zip top bag, and pour the brinerade over them. Squeeze all the air out of the bag, and zip closed. Refrigerate for one to four hours, turning the bag every hour or so to keep the hens coated with the brinerade.

3. Prepare the grill: Set your grill up for cooking with indirect high heat. For my Weber Summit, this means preheating the grill with all the burners on high for fifteen minutes. Then I brush the grate clean with my grill brush, and rub the grate with a paper towel dipped in vegetable oil. Finally, to set up for indirect high heat, I turn off all the burners except for the two outer burners (burners 1 and 6).

4. Cook the chicken: Remove the hens from the brinerade, and pat them dry. Put the hens on the grill skin side down, over the indirect heat of the unlit burners. Cook with the lid closed for 20 minutes, then flip the hens skin side up and cook until the hens have an internal temperature of 160*F in the thickest part of the breast, another 5 to 15 minutes.
Finally, sear the hens by cooking them over the direct heat of the lit burners for 2-3 minutes a side, until the skin is browned and crisp.

Indirect, skin down
Flip after 20 minutes
Sear over direct heat

5. Serve: Let the hens rest for 10 minutes, then serve 1/2 a hen per person.

*Thai Brinerade: Use the brinerade from my Thai Butterflied Chicken

*Greek Brinderade: Use the brinerade from my Greek Rotisserie Boneless Leg of Lamb

*Kitchen shears are the tool of choice when you’re halving cornish hens. The only hard part is the keel bone, under the breast. I try to aim slightly off-center, so I’m not cutting through the keel itself. Then…squeeze as hard as you can; it takes some force to cut through it.

*I assume one half a hen per person, or one whole hen for big eaters. The recipe makes enough brinerade for two hens. I can just squeeze a third hen into a gallon sized bag, but it’s cutting it close. To cook more hens than that, double the marinade recipe, and use two bags.

*My apologies to Terry Pluto for borrowing his Talking to Myself style in the opening.

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Rotisserie Cornish Game Hens, Brined and Herbed
Grilled Butterflied Chicken, Thai Brinerated

Adapted from:
Cooks Illustrated: Don’t Marinate, Brinerate [, subscription required]

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Filed under: Grilling


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.


  1. Sam says

    I did this brineride with cornish hens and chicken. You can’t go wrong here! This is a great recipe and technique for poultry. Thanks for sharing!😀

  2. excellent post. I am ashamaed to say I have never cooked game hens. I do have a neighbor who adores them and serves em to me. He cooks whole, I like the split better… more even heating (His dark meat comes out too dry)

    As always, a great recipe… will consider these soon after I GET A GRILL AGAIN…. ARRRGGGGHHHHH

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