How to Grill a Hen (Or Chicken or Whatever Kind of Bird)

June 12, 2013

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I love cooking poultry on the grill, and my favorite poultry to grill, hands down, is the cornish game hen. You’ve seen them. Those small birds in their individual packages, frozen rock solid in the meat section of your grocery store. They’re small enough to be manageable, large enough to feed 2 people, and take flavor on quickly. Unfortunately, when grilling, you have a lot of heat coming from one direction (the bottom). Why does that matter? Because in order to get a nice even cook, your food should be flat. Yes, you can bake in a grill by using indirect heat and blah blah blah, but one of the best parts of grilling is the char (in my opinion). You need at least SOME char. So how do you grill something that is essentially a sphere of bone and meat? Spatchcocking. Observe:

So, do that with your hen. Next, flavor. As mentioned, because hens are small they take flavor on very quickly when marinated or brined. Marinating has its place, but I’m more a fan of the brine. What’s a brine? It’s essentially a salty, flavored liquid that you soak your chicken in to make it delicious and juicy. “But Chris, doesn’t salt pull moisture out of meat? How can it make it juicy?” Well let me tell you. Yes, salt draws moisture out. If you were to put a hen in a brine for 20-30 minutes and then cook it, your bird would probably be really dry and flavorless. BUT, when you brine for a long time, the salt pulls the moisture out of the meat, which creates a vacuum in the meat itself. This vacuum eventually becomes strong enough to where the meat sucks the brine back into it, flavoring the meat and making it extra juicy. You can do this with any kind of bird, but the larger the bird, the longer you need to let it sit in the brine. So a hen will brine in about 4 hours, while a turkey will need a day or two. And the meat needs to be completely submerged. Here’s my poultry brine:

6 Cups Water
1 Cup Brown Sugar
1/2 Cup Salt
1 Tbsp Smoked Tobasco Sauce
1 Tbsp Zatarains Liquid Crab Boil
1 Tbsp Onion Powder
1 Tbsp Garlic Powder
1 Tbsp Ancho Chili Powder
1 Tbsp Smoked Paprika

Mix all the ingredients together. Put your hens in a ziplock bag, add 1 cup of ice and as much of the liquid as needed to cover the hens. Close the ziplock bag (make sure it’s sealed tightly), put it in a bowl large enough to hold it and stick on the bottom shelf of your fridge for at least 4 hours. You can’t really over-brine, but you can definitely under-brine. So feel free to do it the day before if you want.

Once you’ve brined the hen sufficiently, drain and discard the liquid (just snip the corner of your bag while it’s in the sink and let it drain out). Remove the hens from the bag and pat dry. Some people say to rinse them off. If you’re brine has big pieces of stuff, like peppercorns, garlic cloves, bay leaves or whatever, then yes, rinse. But with mine, don’t rinse. Just rub each hen with about a tablespoon of light olive oil (no other seasonings needed) and put them on your grill (high heat), with the bony side down and the meaty side up. The bones will protect the meat and skin from burning and overcooking. Close the lid and cook for about 10 minutes, keeping an eye on it to make sure you don’t get flames in there. Your grill temp should get up to around 500 degrees in that time. If not, let it go for a minute or two longer. Open the grill and flip the meat, skin side down, like so:

Grill for maybe another 5 minutes. The skin will be light in parts, and charred in others. That’s ok. Turn your middle burners down all the way and your outside burners up and flip the hens again so the bony side is down, and place the hens over the burners that are turned down. Close the lid and let the hens “bake” until a meat thermometer reads 163 when stuck into the thickest part of the thigh (“done” is 165, but you will have carry-over cooking).

Cut each hen right down the middle and serve each person their own half. Of course, they’ll probably want more because it’s so delicious, so be sure to plan for that. :)

Serve the hen with a salad of your choice and you’re all set. I will say, this hen is also really good with the lemon pepper sauce from Monday, but it’s completely delicious without anything added to it. Just be sure to take full credit for this when you make it. It’ll be our secret. :)

Wait a minute, is that a grilled romaine salad next to that hen? Hmm… I guess you’ll have to come back on Friday…

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What do you think?

  1. I may have watched that video already because I saw it pop up on my YouTube feed :-)

    I am SO MAD that in our complex we can’t have a grill. So so mad! I die for bbqed meals in the summer time. Grilled peaches? Grilled corn? Grilled anything is delish!!!!

  2. Tracie says:

    This looks AMAZING. I will definitely try this – and the grill intimidates me, so that’s saying a lot!

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