It’s a beautiful, slow and smoky Thanksgiving in the great north of wild Michigan. What a breathtaking time of year to be outside with a cool breeze and leaves falling, next to the grill, preparing the greatest of feasts for those you love the very most.
These heritage cornish hens are one of our very favorite alternatives to roasting a 15-25 pound turkey! Instead of grilling-smoking one massive bird for 5-6 hours (not including the days prior of prep and planning), these hens are not only loaded with flavor, but are perfect for individual plating, take only 90 minutes to prepare, and are breathtaking in presentation.
To get started, I brined near a dozen of these birds overnight, rinsed them clean the next morning, patted dry with paper towel, then injected with a savory compound herb butter. The birds were filled to the brim with a homemade cornbread stuffing with honeycrisp apple, cranberry, fresh herb and Italian sausage – so delicious!
While I can get my Twin Eagles Grill down to a low and steady 180F (incredible!), this cook was set at 225F across all three cooking chambers of my 42″ grilling surface. The birds were rested atop cedar wood planks, then intermittently basted over the next hour to succulent, tender perfection. Once the dark meat in the thickest portion of the thigh reached 160F, I removed the planks from the heat and rested for 10 minutes.
These gorgeous birds were served alongside roasted root vegetables, a winter kale and fennel salad, mashed buttery acorn squash, a few bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon, the closest of family and best of friends. So much to be grateful for this holiday season. -Cheers, David
Thanksgiving Cedar Planked Heritage Cornish Hens
- 8 cornish hens, trimmed giblets removed
- Olive oil
- Kosher salt and fresh ground peppercorn
- Homemade or store-bought bread stuffing
- 3 gallons water
- 1 gallon chicken stock
- 1 cup salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 head garlic, smashed
- 1 handful black peppercorns
- 1 handful sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage
- 2 sticks butter, melted
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup Italian seasoning, finely ground into powder
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- Salt and pepper, finely ground, to taste
- In a large stock pot, bring all brine ingredients to a rolling boil. Stir intermittently until salt and sugar are dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely, then submerge hens into the brine. Cover pot with a lid and place in refrigerator for 24-48 hours.
- Remove the bird from it’s brine 2-4 hours prior to cooking. Discard brine. Thoroughly rinse hens inside and out then pat dry with paper towel. Liberally season every portion of the winged beast with olive oil, salt and pepper. Fill the meat injection syringe with the herbed butter injection and insert into several points of the breast, thigh and leg meat. Tightly wrap the bird with plastic and rest at room temperature.
- Meanwhile, prepare the homemade or store-bought stuffing. Set aside.
- Preheat grill to 225°F and begin filling the birds with the breaded stuffing. Lay down a bed of fresh herbs atop the cedar wood planks, then rest two hens over each board. Place the birded planks directly upon the grill grates and cook for 45 minutes – 1 hour, with the grill lid closed. Baste intermittently with remaining melted herbed-butter and remove from the heat when internal temperature in thickest, inner-most portion of the thigh has reached 160F.
- Rest the bird for 10-15 minutes before carving, allowing the denatured proteins to relax and reabsorb their juices, while carry-over cooking elevates the meat and stuffing to it's proper serving temperature of 165F. Carve and serve.