Air Fryer Cornish Hens

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These little birds come out crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, making them perfect for any gathering. So next time you’re looking for a festive meal, give this Air Fryer Cornish Hens recipe a try!

» You might also like How to Easily Reheat Steak in the Air Fryer and 25 Best Air Fryer Main Dish Recipes.

Two Cornish hens on a plate

Cooking up a delightful meal of Cornish hens doesn’t require an extensive list of ingredients. All you need are four Cornish hens, vegetable oil, black pepper, thyme, garlic powder, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.

To make these hens even more flavorful and succulent, try rubbing them down with a bit of your favorite barbecue sauce before putting them in the oven!

Together, these ingredients create a tantalizing dish as the Cornish hens become nicely browned for a delicious dinner that’s sure to please.

What are Cornish Game Hens?

Cornish Game Hens, otherwise known as Rock Cornish Hens, are a hybrid chicken that was first bred in the 1950’s for use in restaurants and home kitchens. They are small birds with white meat. Though they may look like young chickens, Cornish Game Hens are hens at maturity.

The flavor and texture is similar to a game bird such as a pheasant or partridge. Their tenderness makes them an ideal choice to serve at large gatherings or holidays, as they do not require much preparation time when compared to larger birds, like a whole chicken.

Ingredients You Need

Ingredients to cook Cornish hens
  • Cornish Game Hens – It’s fairly easy to find these in the freezer section of the grocery store, individually packaged.
  • Olive oil – Olive oil gives a nice flavor and helps to crispy the skin. You can also spray with cooking oil spray instead.
  • Seasonings – Paprika, chili powder, onion powder, salt, ground black pepper

How to Make Air Fryer Cornish Hens

Spread the olive oil all over the hens. I like to do this because it helps the seasoning adhere to the bird, but it also ensures a nice crispy golden brown skin. You can use an olive oil spray if you want instead.

Mix all of the spices together in a bowl. Sprinkle it evenly over hens. Try to get all of the nooks and crannies, so every part of the skin has flavor added.

Spice mix

Place the hens in the air fryer, breast side down, and cook for 40 minutes at 350° F. Turn over with a pair of tongs at the halfway point. Cook until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165°F. For me, that’s almost always right on 40 minutes.

Two uncooked Cornish hens in the air fryer basket

If your hens were smaller or larger than mine, or if they were colder or warmer when you started, the timing might vary for you. It’s always best to check the meat with a thermometer to be sure. I love my digital instant read Thermopen for this.

Remove the hens from the basket when they reach 165°F and let them rest for 10 minutes before serving. This waiting period will ensure the meat is thoroughly cooked and all the juices are retained.

Two Cornish hens in the air fryer basket

Alternate Seasonings

There are endless ways you can season your Cornish Game Hens. I use a mixture of seasonings that I really like, including paprika, chili powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. But you can branch out and use other seasonings or dry rubs that you like.

Try one or more of these seasoning options for a change:

  • Cajun seasoning
  • Montreal seasoning
  • Melted butter instead of olive oil
  • Brine in a mixture of soy sauce and lemon juice
Two Cornish hens on a plate

How to Thaw Cornish Game Hens

Most often, hens are kept in the frozen section of the grocery store. So it is likely that you’re starting with a frozen hen. To defrost it, set it on a plate, or in a bowl, and put it in the refrigerator to thaw. This often will take overnight or at least 12 hours, so prepare for the extra time.

You can cook the hen from frozen in the air fryer, but it will take at least an extra 10 to 15 minutes to cook and the skin won’t be as crispy and seasoned. After the hen has cooked for a while and is thawed, you can open the basket and add your seasonings and oil.

Two Cornish hens in the air fryer basket

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to cook a hen in an air fryer?

Depending on the size of the Cornish Game Hen that you’re cooking, it will take about 35-40 minutes to cook a hen in the air fryer at 350°F. If you’ve taken the hen out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking, it will take a few minutes less. You’ll want to keep an eye on the internal temperature to be sure.

What temperature should you cook cornish hens?

I like to cook Cornish Game Hens at 350°F in the air fryer. This allows enough time for the chicken to cook through while crisping, but not overdoing, the skin. If you cook it at a higher temperature, it is likely that the skin will begin to burn before the meat can properly cook.

Is Cornish hen healthier than chicken?

Cornish hens are often thought of as the healthier option when it comes to poultry, but is this actually true? Although they are lower in fat and calories, depending on the cooking method, they can still contain as much cholesterol as a regular chicken and have the same nutritional value. There isn’t enough evidence to say that Cornish Hens are healthier.

What is the proper way to eat a Cornish hen?

Cornish hens are a delicious and versatile dish perfect for any occasion. To eat it, remove it from its packaging, season with your favorite spices, and roast in the air fryer until the internal temperature reaches 165°F.

Once cooked, you can cut along each side of the backbone to get two pieces of breast meat. Then it’s easy to cut or pull off the leg and thigh bone, as well as the wings. Serve with your favorite sides such as roasted veggies or mashed potatoes and enjoy.

What Side Dishes to Serve?

You can serve some really easy side dishes with your main dish cooked in the Air Fryer. Sometimes, you can cook them together in the air fryer to make it even faster.

Some of our favorite side dishes to serve include:

Here are 28 more air fryer side dishes to try

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A Cornish hen on a plate

Air Fryer Cornish Hens

These little birds come out crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, making them perfect for any gathering. So next time you’re looking for a festive meal, give this Air Fryer Cornish Hens recipe a try!
5 from 37 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 35 minutes
Total Time 40 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 2 Hens
Calories 1033 kcal

Equipment

Ingredients
 

  • 2 Cornish hens thawed and packaging removed
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons (6 g) paprika
  • 1 teaspoons (2 g) chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon (2 g) onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon (6 g) salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon (1 g) black pepper

Instructions
 

  • Spread the olive oil all over the hens.
  • Mix the spices together in a bowl. Sprinkle evenly over hens.
  • Place the hens in the air fryer, breast side down, and cook for 20 minutes at 350° F. Turn over and continue cooking for 20 more minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the meat registers 165°F.
  • Remove the hens from the basket and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing and serving.

All air fryers have different wattage and may cook at different rates. You may need to adjust the time or temp for the best results.

Nutrition

Calories: 1033kcalCarbohydrates: 2gProtein: 78gFat: 77gSaturated Fat: 19gPolyunsaturated Fat: 14gMonounsaturated Fat: 38gCholesterol: 455mgSodium: 1455mgPotassium: 1114mgFiber: 1gSugar: 0.5gVitamin A: 1017IUVitamin C: 12mgCalcium: 60mgIron: 4mg
Keyword Cornish Hens
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