Cornish Game Hens, Grouse, Pheasant & Other Small Fowl

Dark Cornish Hen

Dark Cornish Hen

by Cat, June 2011 (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Just about any chicken recipe can be adapted for Cornish Game Hens, Pheasant, or Grouse. Some of my recipes include my adaptation for game hen. One whole 3 – 4 pound chicken or 2 game hens will serve 3 – 4 people.

This article described how to brine a hen, butterfly or halve it, and general cooking instructions, including temperature in thigh when it is done.

Chicken recipes I’d like to adapt for game hen:

  • Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons, Moroccan Olives & Saffron-Raisin Quinoa (1)

Brining the Hens

I prefer to brine my hens (the whole hen, not just the breasts) to retain moisture and diminish the gaminess of flavor; it can also be used to flavor the meat by adding herbs and/or sugar. You want enough brine to completely cover the bird(s), so if you don’t know that volume, put the birds in the brining container and add water to cover, then measure the amount of water.

The following recommendations are for birds weighing 22 oz each. The amounts are only guidelines; always do the ‘egg test’ below to determine if sufficient salt is present. And see Salt substitution chart, below for amounts of other types of salt.

I find it easier to weigh my salt in grams, rather than keeping track of what brand of Kosher salt I am using to determine how many cups I need, but I provide both types of measurements (grams vs cups) below. Basically, you need 17.5 grams salt per cup of water in the brine (or 70 g salt per quart water).

The generally accepted amounts of salt (various types) per volume of water in the brine:

Egg Test for Correct Amount of Salt in Brine

For 2 hens

With sugar:

Without sugar:

Salt Substitute ChartFor 1 hen

NOTE: Halving the 2-hen brine to 5 ½ cups for 1 hen is too much for my large pyrex bowl, so I make 4 ¼ cups, and that just covers a butterflied hen:

With sugar: 

Without sugar: 

I like to butterfly the hen before brining as it takes less space in my bowl (see below). After brining or even after cooking, the hen can then be halved, if desired.

Dissolve the salt and optional sugar in the water, adding optional herbs. Add the bird(s) and brine 1 – 2 hours in the fridge.

Remove from brine and rinse well. Then pat dry, and set on a plate, skin-side up to rest in the fridge, uncovered, for the skin to dry out – this helps it to become crispy when cooking.

Halving or Butterflying the Hens

Unless I intend to roast them whole, I find it easier to cook the hens if they are butterflied, but not cut into halves. I can cut them in half after cooking.

  1. Use kitchen shears to remove the backbone: cut from tail to neck, each side of backbone;
  2. Splay the halves for butterfly, or splay then cut through the breast bone to halve.

See Fine Cooking video on How to Butterfly a Chicken (4), which also applies to game birds.

NOTE: The backbone can be added to the braising or roasting mix to flavor the liquids/drippings, then removed before serving. Save it with other bones for a future broth, or feed it to your pet (my cats love the backbone!). I cut off the tail before cooking because I don’t like its flavor.

Cooking the Hens

They can be grilled, braised, roasted, or slow cooked (crockpot or in oven). They can even be stewed, but what a shame to do that to one of these tender, tiny birds. Cook until the fleshy part of the thigh reaches 175-180° F on an instant-read thermometer (per How Stuff Works (5) and Moroccan-Style Game Hens (6)).

Roasting time depends on temperature of your oven, and whether or not you want to slow-roast (which is more healthful but takes longer time).


  • About 45 – 60 minutes

Oven roasting options:

  • 425° F for 30 minutes, then 375 F for 45 minutes (whole or stuffed only) (2)
  • 350° F: 50 – 60 minutes if halved/butterflied hens; add 10 -15 minutes if whole/stuffed. (1)

Slow roasting in oven:

  • 300°F oven requires about 3 hours of roasting time;
  • 275°F lengthens the roasting time to 3.5 – 4 hours;
  • 250°F requires 5 hours of roasting time.

Grilling (indirect method):

  • 40 – 50 minutes.

For more information on Game Hens, see Cornish Hen History (7) and Cornish Hen Cooking Tips (8).


  3. Chicken Tagine recipe, (
  4. How to Butterfly a Chicken (
  5. How Stuff Works recipe (
  6. Moroccan-Style Game Hens recipe (
  7. Cornish Hen History (
  8.  Cornish Hen Cooking Tips (


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