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I mentioned in yesterday's grilled chicken fest that Cornish hens are by far the simplest birds to cook whole on a grill. Butterfly them (their tiny, weak bones make it easy to do this even with the dullest kitchen shears), press them flat, slide a skewer through them horizontally to help them lie flat, then cook them all the way through directly over hot coals. Their thin size means that they finish cooking through just as their skin reaches maximum crispness.
Young chickens—and Cornish hens are simply chickens under one month of age—have extremely tender, juicy meat. They're like the veal or suckling pigs of the farmyard avian world. But just like veal and suckling pig, they lack the robust flavor of their older, heartier counterparts. For some people, this is a reasonable trade-off. Ease of cooking and better texture for a minor sacrifice in flavor? No problem.
But what if you want it all? Excellent flavor and gush-in-your-mouth juiciness?
Therein lies the rub.
Cornish hens are so thin with such a high surface area to volume ratio that even a cursory dusting with a flavorful rub or a quick dip in a marinade will give you enough seasoning to add flavor to every bite.
Today's rub of choice: lemon and rosemary. Classic hot mediterranean flavors that go perfectly on the grill. The process is ridiculously easy: combine salt, pepper, chopped rosemary, lemon juice and zest, garlic, and olive oil to make a paste, rub it all over your birds, and grill.
The most difficult part of the recipe is trying to keep yourself occupied while the grill heats up.
Get The Recipe!
For more on the basics of grilled chicken, check out The Food Lab: How To Grill A Whole Chicken »
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.