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Herb-encrusted and Smoked Cornish Hens with Southern Cornbread Stuffing

Prep Time 9 hours 30 minutes
Cook Time 3 hours
Total Time 12 hours 30 minutes
Servings 6 hens
Author A Bachelor & His Grill

Ingredients

  • 16 cups water
  • 2 12 oz cans of beer or non-alcoholic beer
  • 2 cup kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • Fresh sprigs of rosemary sage and thyme, plus additional for stuffing and garnish
  • 6 1-2 pound whole Cornish hens thawed, trimmed and giblets removed
  • 1 stick of cold butter sliced into 12 equal parts
  • Olive oil plus additional for basting
  • 1 cup Italian seasoning
  • 3 tablespoon garlic powder
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground black peppercorn to taste
  • Zest of 3 small lemons lemons then quartered
  • Cornbread stuffing fully prepared
  • 4 cups apple wood or your favorite alternate hardwood

Instructions

  • In a large pot bring water, salt and sugar to a boil. Once rolling boil achieved, remove from burner, toss in a few handfuls of herbs, and allow the water to cool entirely (to room temperature). Pour in 2 cans of beer, immerse hens, cover and refrigerate for 8-24 hours.
  • Remove hens from brine, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towel. Discard brine. Place hens back in the refrigerator for 1 hour, uncovered, to further dry and tighten the skin. 45 minutes prior to smoking, remove birds from refrigerator to begin returning to room temperature. Gently slide a finger between the breast meat and adjoining skin, then slide a slab of cold butter under the loosened skin – 2 slabs of butter per hen, 1 over each breast. Drizzle the hens with olive oil inside and out, then massage a liberal degree of Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, peppercorn, and 1/6 of the lemon zest into all portions of each bird. Stuff posterior of the bird with prepared cornbread stuffing. Insert a quartered lemon and small handful of fresh herb sprigs into the upper end of the hen’s cavity.
  • Preheat the smoker 20-30 minutes before your cook by loading smoker with wood chips, filling the water pan and dialing the temperature to 275F.
  • Place the hens evenly across the smoker racks – balancing the bird upon it’s backbone. Slowly roast for 2 hours, lightly basting every 30 minutes with olive oil, or until the internal temperature of the dark thigh meat reaches 162F and juices run clear.
  • Carefully remove hens from the smoker and transfer to a cutting board. Tent with tin foil and rest for 10 minutes before discarding the lemon and herbs. Carve, season additionally to taste, and serve.