Saturday, September 13, 2008


Cook's Illustrated has a PBS show called America's Test Kitchen. A recent episode was on the proper grilling of a cornish game hen so that the skin is crispy. According to ATK, you can't get a crispy skin if you leave the hen intact, so you must partially bone it and lay it flat first. I tried it, and I must say, it was the best cornish game hen I've had because the skin was, well, crispy, like they said it would be. Their recipe for the glaze and spice rub were perfect IMHO, but Guy said he prefers just salt and pepper (ugh). They served the hen with a beautiful rice salad with oranges, olives and almonds, but I had to beg off that one. Instead, I made a simple pilaf of onions, garlic, mushrooms and carrots with the rice,and it was delicious. This is definitely my new way of grilling game hens.
Grilled Cornish Game Hen
(America's Test Kitchen)
Rating: 10 out of 10
To get started, turn the bird over and cut out the backbone (just cut up one side and down the other with poultry shears.) Then, on the underside, snip the breast bone without going through to the skin (if you are keeping the bird in one piece, as they did. To make things simple, I just cut the bird in half since Guy and I would each have a half.) Next, brine the bird in 1/4 cup salt to 1 quart water and refrigerate for 1 hour. Rinse well and pat dry on paper towels. Next, rub the bird with a spice rub on both sides.

Spice Rub: 1-1/2 tsp. brown sugar
3/4 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
pinch coriander
pinch black pepper
pinch cayenne or hot pepper

Grill the bird over indirect heat (375-400F). ATK recommends skewering the bird to keep it from breaking apart while grilling. That looked too complicated to me, so we just put each half in a grilling basket. The only problem we had was that we only

have 3 burners on our grill. We usually turn the middle burner off and cook on that. The two baskets, because of the handles, would not fit on the middle burner. So we had to cook over direct heat. We just monitored to be sure that the temp didn't go over 375F and it worked fine. There was no flareup, hence no burning. The bird will take about 30 minutes. (If one side of your grill burns hotter, be sure to rotate the bird for even grilling.) For the last 10 minutes, apply the glaze, first on one side, then flip after 5 minutes and glaze the other side. That's it. Delicious.

Glaze: 1/2 cup ketchup
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. yellow mustard
1/4 cup water
1 whole minced garlic clove
Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and heat to boiling. Lower heat and simmer for 5-10 minutes to develop flavors. Remove from heat until ready to glaze the bird.

This recipe will yield 1 game hen (2 servings). Multiply by 2 for 4 servings; by 3 for 6 servings; etc.


Sara said...

Your hens look great! I would not have though to grill them.

Samantha said...

Grilled cornish game hens for the first time tonight and used your recipe as a guide. I used different seasonings, but followed your glaze exactly and they were FANTASTIC! My husband hates any dark meat, but he loved every part of the hens. I couldn't stop eating because every part was just so full of flavor.

Also, I just threw the birds on with no skewers or grill baskets and had no problem. Indirect heat was used, and the meat was some of the juiciest I have ever pulled off my grill. We will definitely have this again.

Judy said...

Samantha, Thanks for the feedback. ATK is a great source for good recipes.

Colleen said...

should I grill them breast side up or down?

Judy said...

Coleen, I always put them breast side up. When you glaze them at the end, you'll have to flip them over for a few minutes to get the underside glazed.

Colleen said...

Thank you so much for the recipe and the advice. It was so good I am contemplating not making my hens any other way. It was absolutely amazing.

Judy said...

Colleen, thanks for your feedback. Don't you just love America's Test Kitchen?

Anonymous said...

I love the seasonings used here - thought I might try this tonight. Should the birds sit with the spice rub a bit before grilling? Thanks Jenn

Judy said...

Anonymous, It's not necessary, but it won't hurt either. You can leave a spice rub on overnight or for shorter times or not at all. The longer you leave it on, the more the flavors of the spices will seep into the meat.