Tender and juicy, these Crockpot Cornish Hens make an easy weeknight dinner that’s special enough for guests.
Crockpot Cornish Hens Recipe
Crockpot Cornish Hens are a dinner obsession in my home. My teenage son (an eating machine) loves them because he gets a whole one for himself. I love them because they’re so easy to make. You just need a handful of ingredients and 20 minutes to marinate them.
Cornish Hens Are Chickens
Cornish Hens are a specific breed of chicken specially bred in England. Cross-breeding helped them thrive in the mild yet rainy environment. What we buy in US-based grocery stores are labeled “Cornish Game Hens.”
But they aren’t necessarily hens. In fact, Cornish Game Hens are quite often male and are never true game birds.
Cornish Hens Might Not Even Be Cornish
The labeling quirks don’t end there. See, they aren’t always related to Cornish chickens, either. Due to USDA guidelines, any chicken of any breed or gender can be a “Cornish Game Hen.” It just has to weigh between 1 and 2 pounds and be younger than five weeks old.
Stock Up When They’re On Sale
You may have noticed that Cornish Game Hens cost more per pound than regular chicken. But the’s one time of the year when you’ll find fantastic bargains.
Around the holidays, stores stock up on them for those who prefer not to make a full-sized turkey. So, look for great markdowns on frozen Cornish Hens after New Year’s. They’ll reach an annual low after Valentine’s Day. Cornish Hens keep up to a year in the freezer, so stock up when you find a good sale!
How to Cook Cornish Hens in a Crockpot
Remembering to defrost is the only hard part about this Crockpot Cornish Hens recipe. There’s some debate about the safety of using a slow-cooker with frozen poultry. Some manufacturers say it’s okay. The USDA says it’s not.
Start with Thawed Birds
The problem with cooking frozen poultry in a slow-cooker is that it takes longer to reach a safe internal temperature of 165°. Starting this Crockpot Cornish Hens recipe with frozen birds can make them turn out dry or tough.
So, if you forget to defrost them in the refrigerator, don’t give up hope. You can quickly defrost poultry — or any meat — in a cold water bath. Here’s a video explaining how.
Give them a Quick Marinade
Start marinating them right after they come out of the freezer. Or dump the marinade into a bag, add the birds, and let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes. This marinade isn’t acidic, so you don’t need to worry about it breaking down the meat. Instead, it’s purpose is to add a rich flavoring throughout.
Prop them Up in the Crockpot
For evenly-cooked birds, keep them off the bottom of the crockpot. Sticking them in the slow cooker without propping them up an inch or so will let their undersides get mushy.
To prop them up, line the bottom of your slow-cooker with four onion halves, two per Cornish Hen. (A reader says that potato halves work great, too.) If you’re not a fan of onions or potatoes, crumpled balls of aluminum foil work well, also.
Temperature and Cooking Times
Once the birds are in the crockpot, pour any marinade left in the bag over them. Cook them on LOW for 8 hours or HIGH for 4 hours. That’s all there is to it. Thanks to the marinade, your Cornish Hens are perfectly seasoned, tender, and still juicy. Weeknight dinners don’t get much easier than this!
Adjusting for Single Crockpot Cornish Hens
Many readers have asked if they need to adjust cooking times to make only one Crockpot Cornish Hen. Halving a slow-cooker recipe can be tricky. These devices work best when two-thirds to three-quarters full.
If you don’t have a smaller crockpot, you can get the same effect by using an oven-safe baking dish. Put the dish in your slow cooker, then add the halved recipe. Voila, you’ve created a smaller crock within your crockpot. Now you don’t need to adjust the time to get the same results.
Or, just make the full recipe and freeze half for later. It’s always nice to have a freezer stocked with healthy, heat-and-eat homemade meals.
With a teenage boy in the house, I rarely have leftover Crockpot Cornish Hens. They’re simple to reheat, though. Put them in an oven-safe dish and cover with foil. Bake at 350° for 15-20 minutes until warm all the way through. For crispy skin, bump the heat to 450° for 2-3 minutes.
Crockpot Cornish Hens
- Crockpot or Slow Cooker
- 2 Cornish hens
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- 2 onions optional
- 2 tbsp butter optional
- Shake marinade ingredients together in a gallon-size resealable bag. Add defrosted hens and marinate in refrigerator 20-30 minutes. (Or add frozen hens and let them marinate as they defrost overnight in the refrigerator’s meat drawer.)
- Slice the onions in half and place them flat-side down in the crockpot. (Alternatively: wad 4 pieces of aluminum foil into lemon-sized balls. Place these in the bottom of your crockpot.)
- Put each hen on top of 2 of the onion halves (or foil balls), so it's raised at least 1 inch from the bottom of the crockpot. Pour remaining marinade over the hens. (Optional: melt and drizzle the butter over the hens.)
- Cook on LOW for 8 hours or HIGH for 4 hours. Remove the crockpot lid and let the hens rest 5 minutes before transferring to serving plates.
- To crisp the skin, transfer the cooked Cornish Hens to a shallow oven-safe baking dish and broil for 2-3 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent over-browning.