Watch the Food Lab Video Series Tandoor-Style Grilled Chickens or Cornish Hens

[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

Note: small chickens can be used in place of the cornish hens. After initial charring steps on the grill, transfer chicken to cooler side of grill and cook covered until center of breast registers 140 to 145°F on an instant read thermometer. Serve with grilled naan.

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.

Tandoor-Style Grilled Chickens or Cornish Hens

About This Recipe

Yield:4 to 6
Active time:1 hour
Total time:5 hours
Special equipment:8 metal skewers
This recipe appears in: The Food Lab: How To Make Awesome Tandoori-Style Grilled Chicken At Home


  • 4 Cornish game hens, about 1 1/2-pounds each
  • 2 tablespoons toasted ground cumin
  • 2 tablespoons toasted paprika
  • 1 tablespoon toasted ground coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon achiote or a few drops red food coloring (optional)
  • 8 cloves garlic, grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated on a microplane grater
  • 2 cups yogurt
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • Thinly sliced raw onion
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro leaves
  • 2 lemons or limes, cut into wedges


  1. 1

    Using sharp kitchen shears, remove the backs from the Cornish hens.

  2. 2

    Peel skin off of hens, then using a sharp knife, make deep incisions at 1-inch intervals all over the flesh

  3. 3

    Lay hen with breasts facing up. Press down firmly on center of breasts until wishbone cracks and they lie flat. Arrange legs so that they are pointing up towards the top of the breast. Use two long metal or wooden skewers to secure legs and breasts in place. Place in a large rimmed baking dish.

  4. 4

    Combine cumin, paprika, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, achiote, garlic, ginger, yogurt, lemon juice, and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Pour marinade all over cornish hens, using hands to coat every surface. cover loosely and refrigerate. Refrigerate and allow to marinate for at least 4 hours and up to 8, turning occasionally.

  5. 5

    Ignite a large chimney starter full of charcoal and allow to burn until all coals are ignited. Spread coals evenly under one side of grill and set grill grate in place. Cover and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Brush grill grates clean.

  6. 6

    Wipe excess marinade off of hens then place meaty-side down directly over the coals. Cover partially and allow to cook until deeply charred on first side, 7 to 10 minutes. Flip and continue cooking until hens register 145°F in the thickest part of the breast and 165 to 170°F in the legs, about 5 minutes longer (for larger chickens, transfer to cooler side of grill, cover, and continue cooking until desired temperature is reached).

  7. 7

    Remove hens to a large cutting board, tent loosely with foil, and allow to rest for five minutes. Remove skewers and using a heavy knife or cleaver, chop each hen into 8 serving-sized pieces. Serve immediately with onions, cilantro, lime wedges, and fresh naan.

Watch the Food Lab Video Series

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