These juicy cornish hens in the air fryer will be the star on any table. It will be super juicy and tender on the inside and it will have crispy skin on the outside. It is full of flavor and you will need only 30 minutes of cooking time. They look amazing on any holiday table, especially if you plan a romantic date night at home.
Cornish hens are often preferable to chicken because they are easier to make and they take less time to cook because they are smaller in size. Also, the cornish hens are a great option if you are cooking a dinner for two, and you don’t want to have any leftovers after that.
But if you will have some leftovers, you can easily use them to prepare a chicken salad or some sandwiches.
As they are small, the cornish hens are usually cooked whole since butchering them will take a lot of time. It will be quicker just to eat them as is.
Usually, when I’m making them for holidays, I’m planning to serve a whole cornish hen per couple. To be sure that you will have enough food on the table, you may consider serving two cornish hens for three people. But as you will have also a side dish beside them, I think that you will be ok and with one hen for every two guests.
💎 What You Will Find in This Post?
- How to get juicy meat and how to distribute evenly the juice.
- On what part you should cook the cornish hen first?
- Should you rotate the cornish hen in the air fryer? If yes, how often?
- How to make sure that the marinade sticks to the meat?
- and a lot more…
👩🍳 How to Make Cornish Hen in Air Fryer?
- Clean and cut all the excesses of the cornish hen.
- Dry well the cornish hen with a paper towel.
- Season the cornish hen with salt, pepper, and BBQ white sauce.
- Cook the cornish hen for 30 minutes at 375°F / 190°C.
- Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before serving.
🥰 Why You Will Love This Recipe?
- The recipe is perfect for those who love chicken meat but don’t want to cook a whole chicken.
- It has a classic and familiar taste but a more special look. It is perfect to serve at holidays like Christmas Eve dinner, or if you have a romantic date night at home.
- It cooks quickly because the cornish hen is smaller in size.
- If you cook for two persons then the cornish hen will be a better fit for you because you will not have any leftovers after that.
- It looks fancy, but it’s very easy to make and you will need only a few simple ingredients.
- You can give a try to this recipe, and if you will like it, you can repeat the recipe with a whole chicken cooked in the oven.
📖 What are Cornish Hens?
Cornish hens, also known as Rock Hens are another variety of broiler chicken. So it is basically a smaller chicken. They weigh about 2 pounds, in comparison with the regular chicken that weighs around 4 or more pounds.
But why you should pick the cornish hen if it is the same chicken? It’s a game saver when you are limited on time and need to prepare a quick dinner. As it is smaller in size, it will cook quicker. Also, it looks fancier on the table. If you are cooking for a holiday, you may consider serving a few cornish hens.
🥘 Ingredients and Substitutes
- Cornish Hen. I chose this meat because it has a taste known to all but a more interesting look, it is a good idea for a more special event.
- BBQ White Sauce. For the marinade, I wanted to use a sauce that accentuates the taste of the meat but does not completely cover it. I highly recommend making the homemade BBQ white sauce. It is super easy to make. Or you can go to the local grocery store and buy a jar with this sauce. But of course, you could use any other sauce you prefer to marinate the meat, such as the classic bbq sauce, teriyaki sauce, buffalo sauce, or even a simple mix of pepper, salt, and aromatic herbs.
- Rosemary. I like to put aromatic herbs inside the chicken when I cook it, so the aroma is evenly distributed in the meat. I had rosemary on hand, but use other aromatic herbs that you like. A few great options will be to use sage, oregano, or thyme.
- Seasonings. Because I used the Alabama white BBQ sauce, in addition, I only used salt and pepper, but of course, you have the green light to use whatever spices you think would be good here. A few ideas to consider are garlic, paprika, mustard, or your favorite mix of aromatic herbs.
🍽️ Serving Suggestions
Chicken meat goes well with any garnish, be it vegetables, cereals, or just a simple fresh green salad. Here are a few of my favorite recipes:
- Air Fryer Eggplant Bites
- Air Fryer Cauliflower Steak With Panko and Cheese
- Easy Sweet Potato Chunks Roasted in Air Fryer
- Frozen Green Beans in Air Fryer
- Delicious Asparagus in Air Fryer (From Frozen)
👩🍳 Step-by-step Directions
Clean the chicken well. I cut the thinnest part of the ribs because it dries during cooking, and I don’t like its appearance. If you like you can keep it.
Quick Note: It’s important to clean the gland located on the tail, or if you want to save some time, just cut the tail completely.
Pro Tip: Dry the chicken well after you washed it. Make sure that it is dried both on the outside and inside. If the meat will be dry, the marinade will stick better and the chicken will be more flavorful. If you will not dry enough the meat, the water from the cornish hen will wash the sauce during marinating.
Grease the cornish hen well with salt and pepper sauce on all sides, including on the interior. Massage the meat a little to make sure that we covered everything with our marinade.
Let the meat marinate for 30 – 120 minutes at room temperature. If you have more time put the marinated meat in the fridge and let it marinate overnight.
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Then, take it out of the fridge, 2 hours before you need to cook it, and leave the cornish hen at room temperature all this time before you will cook it in the air fryer.
Quick Note: Use gloves when you will marinate the cornish hen. It is much easier and more enjoyable because you will have your hands clean.
Sprinkle the air fryer basket with oil or cooking spray to make sure that the skin will not stick and break when we will rotate the cornish hen during cooking. After that, put the cornish hen in the air fryer basket.
Cook the cornish hen at 375°F / 190°C for about 30 minutes.
Quick Note: The cooking time is approximate only because it may differ from the piece of meat you will use and also from your air fryer model. To be sure that it’s cooked enough and it’s safe to eat, I highly recommend using a meat thermometer to check the inner temperature of the meat. It should reach 165°F / 74 °C.
Using a pair of tongs carefully rotate the chicken from side to side during cooking. About every 10 minutes, the juices inside will be evenly distributed and you will not have dry parts of the meat at the end.
Pro Tip: Start cooking the chicken with chest down. By doing that, you will keep all the juice inside of the chicken.
Let the cornish hen cool down and let the meat rest a bit for about 10 minutes. Then you can serve it with your favorite garnish.
Pro Tip: As a general rule, you should let the meat rest for about half of its cooking time.
🏆 Expert Tips. What to Pay Attention To?
- Wash the cornish hen well and clean it of the parts that you don’t like how it looks and the fluff that it may have.
- Cut the gland that is located on the tail, otherwise, it will have an unpleasant smell.
- Season the cornish hen well both outside and inside as well.
- Rotate the cornish hen several times during cooking. In that way, the juices from the meat will be evenly distributed during cooking.
- Let the cornish hen rest after cooking for about 10 minutes. One of the most often mistakes that many of us are making is to cut the meat right away. When you let it rest for at least half of the baking time, you give the possibility to meat to absorb all juices that it made during the cooking.
- Want to go the extra mile? Consider adding a mix of softened butter and minced garlic under the breast skin.
🔥 Air Fryer Cornish Hen Time and Temp
Looking for how long to cook cornish hen in the air fryer and at what temperature should cornish hens be cooked to get juicy meat inside and crispy skin on the outside?
No matter at what temperature you plan to cook, for the best results, I recommend using a meat thermometer to check the inner temperature of the cornish hen. It should reach 165°F / 74 °C.
Also, keep in mind that if you roast the cornish hen at high temperatures, you may burn the skin on it. To avoid that, I recommend covering the cornish hen with aluminum foil when you will get a nice golden crispy skin to stop the roasting process and to avoid any further burning.
Or another option is to cook from the beginning at a lower temperature.
Cooking at 350°F
If you are worried that the cornish hen will not cook enough until the bones, you could cook it at a lower temperature. If you cook the Cornish hen in the air fryer at 350°F / 175°C, it will take about 40-45 minutes. As I said, use a meat thermometer to check the inner temperature of the meat.
Cooking at 375°F
Usually, I prefer cooking the cornish game in the air fryer at 375°F / 190°C. It will take around 25-40 minutes. The time may vary if you marinate the cornish game hen previously, how your air fryer is working, and of course from the size of the cornish hen.
The bigger it will be the more attention you will need to pay to the inner meat temperature to make sure that it will be cooked enough on the inside.
Cooking at 400°F
If you are limited on time or you want to speed up the process, you can cook the Cornish hen in the air fryer at 400°F / 205°C for about 20-25 minutes.
You will get it faster for about 10 minutes, but be careful as if you cook it at a higher temperature, you may risk burning the skin on the outside, while the inner meat may still be uncooked enough.
If you notice that the inside of the Cornish game hen still needs a few extra minutes to cook, cover it with aluminum foil to save the situation. In that way, you will stop the burning process of the skin.
Quick Note: Keep in mind that if you cover the cornish-hen with aluminum foil, then you will lose that crispy crust on the skin.
Pro Tip: In case you have to cook the Cornish hen at 400°F, I advise you to cut it butterflied (Spatchcocked). So it will cook faster and you will be sure that it is cooked enough on the inside as well.
How to Air Fry Cornish Hen Halves?
If your air fryer isn’t big enough and you can’t fit a whole Cornish hen you just simply don’t need any meat leftovers, you may consider cooking the cornish hen halves.
Also, cooking the Cornish hen halves may be a great idea when you need to put something quick on the table as it will cook a lot faster.
Marinating the Cornish Hen
Generally speaking, you can use the same marinades that you are usually using for marinating the chicken meat.
A few ideas will be to use aromatic herbs like rosemary, sage, bay leaf, thyme, province mix or Italian herbs mix, lemon peel, chili pepper flakes, and fresh or dried garlic. In the end, add salt and black pepper to your taste.
Easiest Marinade for Cornish Hens
If you are looking for the quickest and easiest marinade for the Cornish hen, then you can’t go wrong with a tablespoon of ketchup, one tablespoon of mayo, and one tablespoon of mustard. In the end, add salt and pepper and your marinade for the Cornish hen in the air fryer is ready.
Air Fryer Cornish Hen With Butter
If you want to get a juicier Cornish hen cooked in the air fryer, you can make a butter mix flavored with aromatic herbs which you will put under the skin of the Cornish hen.
I did something similar when I cooked a whole chicken in the oven. You can follow the same steps from there.
Can You Cook It Directly From Frozen?
I don’t recommend cooking the cornish game hen directly from frozen as the temperature difference will be too big between the interior and exterior.
As a result, you may risk overcooking the outside part of the Cornish hen while the inside will remain still uncooked.
If you still need to cook the Cornish hen directly from the frozen, then cover it with aluminum foil and cook it at a lower temperature to avoid burning it.
However, even in this case, the structure of the meat will suffer, it will take longer and the meat will lose more meat juice.
Because of that, I recommend thawing the Cornish hen before you cook it.
How Long Does It Take to Defrost a Cornish Hen
When we are referring to defrosting food, we should keep in mind that the slower the process will be, the more from the original texture of the ingredients we will keep. Because of that, the safest and best way to defrost the Cornish hen will be to leave it overnight in the fridge.
If you can’t wait for so long, you can leave it on the countertop, in a dark place, and make sure that there isn’t any direct sunlight as the meat can easily spoil. On the countertop, it will take you around 3 hours depending on how big the Cornish hen is.
Quick Note: I don’t recommend thawing the Cornish game hen in the microwave as you will increase the temperature of the meat on the edges, or even worse, it may start cooking on the outside while the inside will remain raw.
♻️ Make Ahead, Storage and Heating:
It depends on the size of your air fryer, how big is your cornish hen if you marinated the meat or not. As a general rule, you should air fry the cornish hen until its inner temperature will reach 165°F / 74 °C. In my case, for a whole cornish hen, it took 30 minutes to cook at 375°F / 190°C.
I suggest you marinate the chicken ahead and cook it the next day when you will need to serve it. That way, you will get the best taste and flavors from your meat and spices.
If you have any leftovers, you can keep the cooked cornish hen in the fridge for a maximum of 2 days in an air-tight container.
You could freeze the chicken immediately after marinating, so you will have a semi-finished product in the freezer for the evenings when you don’t have time to cook. Or if you have some leftovers, you can also put them in the freezer in a tightly closed container and defrost them when you need them to serve.
To reheat the cornish hen stored in the fridge, simply put it in the microwave for 1-2 minutes, or you can heat it in an air fryer at 400°F / 200°C for about 5 min.
If you have kept the chicken in the freezer, it is not necessary to defrost it beforehand, it is enough to put a few extra minutes either in the microwave oven or in the air fryer.
You should consider serving around 1/2 pound (~220 grams) of Cornish hen per serving. As one Cornish hen weighs around 1 pound, it should be enough to feed two persons from it.
In order to get the juiciest Cornish hen you ever ate, consider marinating the meat overnight in the fridge. As an alternative, you can prepare a mixture of butter with aromatic herbs that you will put under the skin of the Cornish hen. Leave it to marinate for at least an hour, and the meat will be a lot juicier.
To get crispy skin on your Cornish hen, you should grease it with some fat like butter or oil. Another important aspect is to not cover the Cornish hen with aluminum foil as in that case you will soften the skin and will lose the crispiness.
📋 Recipe Card:
Air Fryer Cornish Hen
- Wash, clean and cut all the excesses of the cornish hen.1 Cornish Hen
- With a paper towel, dry well the chicken on the outside and inside.
- Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and bbq white sauce on all sides, including the inside.2 tablespoon BBQ White Sauce, ¼ teaspoon Salt, ¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
- Massage the meat well and put the rosemary branch inside.1 brunch Rosemary
- Cook the chicken at 375°F / 190°C for about 30 minutes.
- Let the meat rest for about 10 minutes and serve.
- After washing the meat, make sure that you dried the meat well. Remove all water drops.
- Start cooking the meat with the chest down.
- Rotate the cornish hen every 10 minutes to distribute evenly the juice on the entire surface of the cornish hen.