Cooking Cornish Hens in the Air Fryer is an easy and delicious main dish idea. Easier than cooking a whole regular chicken, these small chickens make a great meal for two with juicy meat and crispy skin. With only 30 minutes cooking time, perfect for a weeknight dinner or dinner guests!
Serving Cornish Hens is always a delight and surprise. Their tiny size and being able to serve a whole or halved hen is sure to impress. It's also a way to break up the monotony of eating chicken regularly. Cornish chicken is an easy dinner for a dinner party and leftover cornish hens are great for meal prepping.
Using an air fryer is a great way to make a cornish game hen recipe. The circulating hot air of the air fryer cooks the miniature chicken to have tender meat and crisped skin like mini rotisserie chickens. We also stuff the cavity with lemon, onion and fresh herbs which give the meat more flavor.
It's an easy air fryer recipe and perfect for a holiday meal too. Serve it with our air fryer side dishes or Cauliflower Mashed Potatoes for a complete meal.
What are Cornish Hens?
These birds look like mini chickens and are a special hybrid between Cornish chickens and White Plymouth Rock chickens. They are also called Cornish Rock Hens, Cornish Game Hens or Rock Cornish Game hens though they are actually not a game bird.
The birds weigh in around 1-1 ½ pounds each. Cornish hens are leaner than regular chicken, with more white meat then dark and their meat tends to be juicier. The flavor is very similar to chicken, not gamey as the name suggests.
They are small enough to halve for a main dish serving or serve whole for a special occasion. These little birds always are a delight to serve and make any meal feel special.
Where to buy Cornish Hens
They are sold at most grocery stores year round in the frozen section. At certain times of the year they are also sold fresh in the butcher department (usually during the fall holidays). The hens usually cost between $4.99 and $5.99 making them an affordable main dish.
What makes this skinny?
This alternative to whole chicken provides a few benefits.
- The meat is leaner than regular chicken.
- There is more white meat than dark meat.
- Also the small size allows having a whole cornish hen or half for a perfect main dish.
- Throwing something like this Cornish hen air fryer recipe into your eating plan keeps things interesting (which makes it easier to stay on track if on a weight loss journey too).
NOTE: the skin is a major source of fat in all poultry. Removing the cooked skin before eating will cut down the calories. Links for each with skin and without are provided in the Recipe Card for WW Personal Points tracking.
Recipe Ingredients Notes
Cornish hens. You'll make two (or can just make one). Make sure the birds are fully thawed before cooking. This can take 1-2 days in the refrigerator.
Poultry seasoning. This adds more flavor to the meat with familiar homey spices. We use our homemade poultry seasoning though you can use a store bought brand too (choose one without salt or pepper).
Air Fryer Cooking Note
Every air fryer brand and size cooks slightly differently. We prepared this recipe in a Cosori 5.8 quart air fryer which has a larger air fryer basked and is a higher wattage (1700) air fryer.
Always monitor recipes in your air fryer and for meat use a digital thermometer to take the internal temperature to determine doneness.
How to make Air Fryer Cornish Hens - Step-by-Step
Printable full instructions are in the recipe card at the end of the post.
STEP 1. Preparation
Preheat air fryer to 400 degrees for 5 minutes.
Remove hen from wrapping and drain liquid. Remove any giblets (if included). Pat the hens dry with paper towels (do not rinse them).
STEP 2. Stuff Hens
Mix the salt and pepper together (photo 1). Season the hen's cavity with some of the salt and pepper (use a liberal amount).
Evenly divide the stuffing ingredients and place in the cavity of each hen: lemon slices, onion and herbs (photos 2-3).
STEP 3. Prepare the hen for cooking
Lightly spray the outside of the hens with olive oil spray.
Mix the remaining salt and pepper with the poultry seasoning. Dry rub into the outside of the Cornish hens (photo 4).
STEP 4. Cook
Place the prepared hens breast side down in the basket of the preheated air fryer (photo 5). Cook for 20 minutes at 380 degrees BREAST DOWN (photo 6 - after cooking breast down).
Then gently turn the hens over (using tongs works great)(photo 7) and cook 10 additional minutes with the BREAST UP (photo 8 - after cooking breast up).
Check to ensure the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F using a meat thermometer or instant read food thermometer.
STEP 5. Rest
Remove them from the air fryer and allow to rest (sit) for 10 minutes. Halve the hens lengthwise and discard the stuffing ingredients before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
It does. Though it will cook either way we position the breast side purposefully and flip it part way through for best results (moist cooked meat and crispy skin).
This allows the juices to gather in the breast as it cooks assuring moist, tender breast meat. Also the largest portion of the meat covered with skin is the breast. This ensures crispy skin with the Cornish hen cooking breast up for the last part of the cooking time.
It would serve 1-2 people. The hens can vary slightly in size. A hungry person could eat a whole hen but one hen is usually halved to serve two people.
How to Store leftovers
Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4-5 days in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave before serving.
WW Personal Points note
The easiest way to calculate and track your points is based on the amount in weight of the Cornish hen consumed. There are two tracking links in the recipe card: one for eating the hen WITH skin, and the second (in the notes section) for not eating the skin. The difference is significant!
You will not eat the stuffing ingredients so they are not included. Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning will not have points.
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Air Fryer Cornish Hens
- 2 cornish hens fully thawed
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- olive oil spray
- 2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
- 1 small lemon rinsed and sliced
- ½ small yellow onion peeled and halved or quartered
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 2 large sprigs fresh rosemary cut in half
- 4 large sage leaves
- Pat the Cornish hens dry with paper towels (outside and inside the cavity). Mix the salt and pepper together, season the inside of the hens with a liberal amount of the salt and pepper mixture.
- Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees F.
- Divide the stuffing ingredients (lemon slices, onion wedges and herbs). Insert the stuffing into each hen's cavity.
- Lightly spray the outside of the hens with olive oil spray. Combine the poultry seasoning with the salt and pepper.Rub the mixture into the outside of the hens.
- Place the hens in the preheated air fryer basket BREAST SIDE DOWN. Cook for 20 minutes at 380 degrees F.
- When the cooking cycle is complete, flip the hens over (use tongs for easiest method) to cook BREAST SIDE UP for 10 mintues at 380 degrees F. When cooking it complete check the internal temperature in the thickest part of the hen (usually the breast) to ensure it reaches 165 degrees F.
- Remove the Cornish hens from the air fryer basket (again tongs work great) and allow them to rest for 10 minutes. Remove and discard the stuffing ingredients. Halve the hens (or serve whole for a large serving) and serve.
This turned out amazing and so easy to make.
This is such a great recipe. The whole family loved it.
Tayler Ross says
I made these cornish hens for dinner last night and they turned out perfectly! I'll never make them another way again!
Gina Ceraso says
Seriously, cooked to perfection. I am absolutely making these again!
Heather Johnson says
love this recipe - cornish hens are my favorite - my dad used to make them when i was a kid - felt so fancy to have a whole bird for myself! these were just as yummy!
This is a delicious and super-impressive dish! The herbs and lemon make it really flavourful.
Juicy and undeniably delicious! Will definitely make again
Emily Flint says
We loved these cornish hens in the air fryer! How did we ever live without this gadget???
Toni Dash says
I really don't know!