How to Butterfly and Grill Cornish Game Hens - Backyard Boss
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How to Butterfly and Grill Cornish Game Hens

It can be tricky to grill Cornish game hens without drying them out. Butterflying the birds solves this problem. Butterflying Cornish game hens also produce a grilled hen with nice, crispy skin.

For this recipe, select four hens, each about one-and-a-half pounds.

How to Butterfly Cornish Game Hens for the Grill

butterfly chicken
Image Credits: kochtopf on CreativeCommons
  1. Using poultry shears, cut through bones on both sides of the backbone and remove the backbone.
  2. With the skin side of the game hen down, use the poultry shears to make a 1/4-inch cut into the breastbone.
  3. Using your fingers, gently press on the ribs to flatten the game hen.
  4. Turn the bird skin side up, then tuck the wings behind the game hen to secure them.
  5. Insert a metal skewer ½-inch from the end of the drumstick through skin and meat and out the other side.
  6. Turn the leg so that the end of the drumstick faces the wing, then insert the tip of the skewer into the meaty section of the thigh under the bone.
  7. Guide the skewer all the way through the breast and the second thigh. Turn the end of the drumstick toward the wing and guide the skewer through the drumstick ½-inch from the end (as in step 5).
  8. Press the skewer through the bird so that the blunt end rests against the bird. Stretch the skin tight over legs, thighs, and breast halves.

Note: When you’ve finished the skewering process, the game hen will resemble a letter ”M,” with each leg and breast half resembling one side of the “M.”

How to Grill the Cornish Game Hens

Grilled butterfly chicken
Image Credits: alon salant on CreativeCommons


  • 4 Cornish game hens (each about 1-½ pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • Barbecue Glaze (ingredients follow)
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed


Combine the 3 Tbsp of brown sugar and spices in a bowl. Rub the game hens with the sugar and spice mixture. Refrigerate the hens while preparing the grill.

Light a large chimney starter filled with charcoal and allow to burn until coals are fully ignited and partially covered with a thin layer of ash, 20 to 25 minutes. Place a 9 x 13-inch disposable aluminum pan in the center of the grill. Empty the coals into the grill, dividing them evenly on either side of the pan (you are setting up an area for indirect grilling). Position the cooking grate over coals and cover the grill, allowing the grate to heat up for about five minutes. Clean the cooking grate with a grill brush, then lightly oil the grate with vegetable, or olive oil.

While the grill is heating, combine the ketchup, 2 Tbsp of brown sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, and garlic in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the glaze is thick and slightly reduced.

Place the Cornish game hens on the center of the grill (over the aluminum pan) with the skin side down. Open the grill lid vents completely and cover the grill. Grill the hens until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit and the skin of the hens have started to turn a nice golden brown color (this should take about 20 to 30 minutes).

Using grill tongs, move the hens to the hot sides of the grill. Cover the grill and continue to cook the birds until they are browned (about 5 minutes). Brush the hens with half of the glaze, then turn them and cook for 2 minutes. Brush the remaining glaze over the hens, turn them again and cook them until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh registers 170°F degrees (no longer than 3 minutes).

Remove the hens from the grill and place them on a cutting board. Allow the birds to rest for 10 minutes (this is important). To serve, cut each hen in half through the breastbone and place 2 halves on each place setting. Makes 4 servings.

To Wrap Up

Chicken served that way doesn’t only look nice, but it is also extremely delicious. By following our guide you won’t have any issues preparing it. As with any other recipe, it might take a while until you master it, but in case you fail a couple of times, don’t get discouraged! Also, don’t be afraid of experimenting. Use different spices to find the perfect taste. And what’s most important; enjoy your chicken!