Cornish Hen: What Is It And Is It Good For Eating?

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 5, 2022

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Cornish hen is a type of chicken that’s very small, usually weighing less than 2 pounds. It’s also called a “poult”. 

Yes, it’s delicious and very good for eating, but not the kind of chicken you’ll find at KFC. The Cornish hen is a very special kind of bird. It’s a very different taste from other chicken dishes, and it’s very good for eating, so let’s look at what it is and how to cook it.

What is a cornish hen

What is a Cornish Hen?

What is it?

A Cornish hen is a tiny chicken that’s perfect for one person’s dinner. It’s like a regular chicken, but smaller and faster-maturing. It’s usually reserved for special occasions and can be a bit pricier than regular chicken.

What Does the USDA Say?

The USDA says a Cornish hen is:

  • A young, immature chicken less than five weeks old
  • Weighing no more than two pounds ready-to-cook weight
  • Prepared from a Cornish chicken or the progeny of a Cornish chicken crossed with another breed of chicken

Where Can I Get One?

If you’re looking for a Cornish hen, you might have to look a bit harder than you would for regular chicken. They’re usually found in specialty stores or higher-end grocery stores. But don’t worry, it’ll be worth it for that special occasion!

What Does it Look Like?

These little birds look like mini chickens! They’re so small, you can fit the whole thing in the palm of your hand. But don’t let their size fool you – they still have all the same parts as a regular chicken (breast, drumstick, wing, etc.).

What Does it Taste Like?

Cornish hens have a subtle, more delicate flavor than regular chickens, but it’s still distinctly “chicken-y”. Plus, they look just like regular chickens when raw – pink – and golden brown and crispy when roasted. Yum!

What Can You Do With It?

Cornish hens are usually served whole, so you don’t have to worry about cutting them up. Here are some ideas for how to enjoy them:

  • Roast it in the oven with your favorite seasonings
  • Grill it up for a summer BBQ
  • Stuff it with your favorite stuffing
  • Bake it with a delicious glaze

How to Select the Perfect Cornish Hen

Where to Buy

If you’re looking for a Cornish hen, you’ll have to do some digging. Your best bet is to hit up a specialty butcher shop or a really big grocery store. When it comes to buying meats, it’s always a good idea to shop at places you trust and can ask questions about the source, quality and farming practices. Local butchers, farmers’ markets and stores with knowledgeable staff are great places to start.

What to Look For

When you’re picking out your Cornish hen, here’s what you should be on the lookout for:

  • Pale rosy color
  • Little to no odor
  • No signs of greying
  • No foul odors
  • Check the expiration date

How to Make it Fun

Shopping for a Cornish hen doesn’t have to be a chore. Make it fun by:

  • Bringing a friend along
  • Making a game out of finding the freshest one
  • Trying to find the biggest one in the store
  • Giving it a funny name
  • Making a bet on who can find the best one

Storing Your Cornish Hen

Before Cooking

If you’ve just picked up a raw Cornish hen, you’ve got two options: chow down now or store it for later. If you’re looking to save your bird for a later date, here’s what you need to know:

  • A raw Cornish hen in a well-sealed package can be stored in the fridge for up to two days before cooking.
  • If you’re looking to store it for longer, you can freeze it for up to six months. Just make sure to over-wrap the original packaging with extra plastic wrap or tinfoil to prevent freezer burn.

After Cooking

If you’ve already cooked your Cornish hen, you’ve got a few options for storage:

  • If you’ve wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap or tinfoil, it’ll stay fresh in the fridge for about three to four days.
  • If you’re looking to store it for longer, you can freeze it for up to six months.
  • If you’ve stuffed your bird, remove the stuffing and store it in a separate container before refrigerating or freezing the bird.


If you’ve frozen your Cornish hen, the safest way to thaw it is in the fridge. Don’t be tempted to leave it out on the counter at room temperature – that’s a recipe for disaster!

How to Cook Cornish Hen

Safety First

Raw chicken can be a breeding ground for salmonella, so when cooking Cornish hen it’s important to keep it clean. Make sure to wash anything that touches the raw meat with hot water and soap.

Cooking Instructions

Cooking Cornish hen is easy-peasy! Here’s what you need to do:

  • Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  • Place the Cornish hen(s) on a lined baking sheet, leaving space between them if you’re cooking multiple.
  • Drizzle the back of the bird with olive oil (1 tsp to 1 tbsp for each bird).
  • Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and your favorite seasoning.
  • Rub the oil and seasoning mixture into the skin, coating the entire surface of the bird.
  • Place a lemon wedge, a few cloves of garlic, and a sprig of herbs into each cavity.
  • Place the baking tray in the oven and roast for 50-60 minutes, or until the thickest cut of meat is cooked through and the juices run clear.
  • Remove the hens from the oven, let them rest for 10 minutes, and serve.


Roasting a Cornish game hen is the preferred way to cook this tasty little bird. It’s easy to do and you can use the giblets to make a delicious gravy or thick sauce. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Preheat your oven to 450°F.
  • Place the hen in a roasting pan and add butter between the skin and meat.
  • Cover the drumstick ends with tin foil to avoid burning.
  • Roast for 25 minutes or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest breast meat registers 155°F.
  • Tent the hen with foil and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.
  • Serve with mashed potatoes casserole, spinach salad, and roasted butternut squash.


Braising is a great way to tenderize the meat and make it extra moist. Here’s how to do it:

  • Heat some olive oil in a pan and brown the hen.
  • Deglaze the pan with chicken broth and add mirepoix, salt, and pepper.
  • Put the hen back in the pan and let it simmer with the lid on and enough liquid to cover half of the height of the bird.
  • Transfer the pot to a 300°F oven and cook for one hour per pound of chicken.
  • Serve with coconut jasmine rice, roasted vegetables, and a salad with avocado-lime dressing.


Sautéeing is a great option if you’re short on time. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Butterfly the hen so it cooks evenly on the pan.
  • Heat some olive oil in a hot pan and place the hen skin-side down for 10 minutes until brown.
  • Add salt and pepper, flip, and cook the other side.
  • Add melted butter to the pan and baste the top with the help of a spoon.
  • Once the bird is cooked, check salt and pepper and decorate with fresh chopped parsley.
  • Serve with apple-glazed carrots, orange rice, and onion gravy.


If you don’t have time to be at the stove, slow-cooking is a great alternative. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Coat the hen with your favorite dry rub.
  • Place skin-side down in a crock pot with abundant olive oil and add enough chicken or vegetable broth so the birds are halfway submerged.
  • Cook on low heat for five hours or on high heat for three hours.


Grilling is a great way to get that smoky flavor. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Marinate the butterflied hen overnight.
  • Place it skin-side down on a very hot grill.
  • Don’t move the bird for eight minutes, then turn it over to cook the other side.

The History of the Cornish Game Hen

It all started in the 1950s when two Connecticut farmers, Jacques and Alphonsine (Therese) Makowsky, decided to mix things up a bit. They took a standard Cornish chicken, a White Plymouth Rock hen, and a Malayan fighting cock and created a hybrid – the Rock Cornish Game Hen.

This new breed of poultry was special for a few reasons. First, it matured quickly, developing large breasts and fatty skin. Second, it had to be slaughtered before five weeks of age and could be either male or female. And finally, it had to weigh between 1 and 2 pounds, with the average being 1 1/4 pounds.

The Perfect Serving Size

Thanks to its small meat-to-bone ratio, a single Cornish Game Hen is the perfect serving size for most people. Serve it up with a side dish or two and you’ve got yourself a delicious meal!

The Bottom Line

So there you have it – the history and serving size of the Cornish Game Hen. Who knew two farmers, a chicken, a hen, and a cock could create something so delicious?

What’s the Difference Between a Cornish Game Hen and a Chicken?

Size and Age

Cornish game hens are like the toddlers of the chicken family. They’re small (1-2 pounds) and young (less than 5 weeks old). Broiler-fryers are the next step up, weighing in at 2.5-4.5 pounds and 7 weeks old.

Taste and Texture

Broilers are tender, but Cornish game hens are even more so. Plus, they have bigger breasts and more fat, which bastes the meat while it cooks and makes it even more tender. Some people might say Cornish game hens aren’t as flavorful as older chickens, but that’s a matter of taste.

Poussin Chicken

Poussin chickens (also known as spring chickens) are similar to Cornish game hens, but they’re not USDA rated and the breeding is different. Poussins must be less than 4 weeks old and weigh less than 26 ounces.


If you’re looking for moistness and flavor, the biggest and oldest of the USDA recognized categories is the capon. Its large breasts and soft, buttery flesh are most similar to the little Cornish game hen.

Raising Cornish Game Hens

Different Protocols

When it comes to poultry, there’s a lot of options out there. You can get your Cornish game hen conventionally raised, certified organic, or free range. But what does that even mean?

  • Conventional means that the birds are fed a mix of grains and are raised in a controlled environment.
  • Certified organic means that the birds are fed an organic diet and are raised in a humane environment.
  • Free range means that the birds are allowed to roam freely and eat whatever they can find.

No matter which option you choose, it won’t make a difference in the taste or quality of your bird. But for some people, the way their food is raised is important. So if you’re one of those people, you’ll want to make sure you get your bird from a place that follows the protocol you want.


In conclusion, Cornish hens are a great option for a special occasion meal. They are small enough to be eaten in one sitting, have a subtle, more delicate flavor than regular chicken, and are usually served whole. When shopping for Cornish hens, look for ones with a pale rosy color and no odor, and always check the expiration date. When it comes to cooking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, drizzle the bird with oil, season it, and roast it for 50-60 minutes. BAM! You’ve got yourself a delicious Cornish hen dinner. So, don’t be chicken, give Cornish hens a try!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.