This Air Fryer Cornish Hen recipe is perfect for entertaining or an elegant dinner at home! The hens are rubbed with lemon and flavorful spices, and then air-fried to perfection. They are packed with flavor and you’ll get perfectly crisp skin every time! No one will ever know they only take about 30 minutes to cook with hardly any fuss at all!
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If you have never had a Cornish game hen, or feel intimidated by it, let me settle your fears right now! The air fryer is your best friend when you think something is too complicated to cook!
An air-fried Cornish hen is a thing of glory….season it up however you like, pop it in the air fryer, flip it once….it comes out perfectly golden with crispy skin every single time! How easy is that?!
While roasting a whole Cornish hen in the oven is also delish, it can take up to an hour to cook 2 birds, depending on their size. In the air fryer, you can have two 16 oz. birds cooked in about 30 minutes!
The good thing about cornish chicken is that you don’t have to overcomplicate it. In fact, simple is better. You can literally rub some olive oil, your favorite dry rub, roast it in the air fryer, and it will be yummy and perfect. This cornish game hen recipe takes it up JUUUUST a notch and will give you Thanksgiving vibes, perfect for a holiday meal that you’ll feel good about serving your dinner guests.
It’s juicy, easy to make, and so mouthwatering delicious. Plus, I guarantee the lemon and fresh rosemary will put you in that turkey (hen) eating spirit! Pair it with these amazing green beans or these Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Sweet Potatoes and you have a perfectly easy meal!
WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE
- It’s a simple, yet super impressive meal! Holiday dinner just got easier, and more delicious!
- Quick cooking time–only about 30 minutes! These little birds cook up much quicker compared to regular roast chicken.
- Crisp, delicious skin with zero fuss! Check out my favorite seasonings for foolproof crispy skin, everytime!
- Flavorful, tender meat inside and perfectly golden brown on the outside.
You’ll need the following ingredients to make these delicious Air Fryer Cornish Hens:
Cornish Hens: For this recipe, I used 16 oz. Cornish game hens. At the store, they usually range from about 16 oz to 32 oz. A 16 oz. hen is perfect for one person. If you are serving 4 people, 32 oz. hens will be your best bet–two people can share one hen. Use whatever size suits you, just remember that cooking times are for a 16oz. hen so I recommend adjusting the cooking time accordingly. Also, keep in mind the size of your air fryer when choosing hens to buy.
Lemon: No wasting the lemon here! You’ll use the zest to get the exterior nice and flavorful, then cut up the rest and tuck it inside the bird to keep it moist and tasty on the inside!
Rosemary: I also love tucking fresh rosemary sprigs inside the birds along with the lemon. However, if you only have dried rosemary, that’s fine too. Just mix it into the spice mixture and leave it out of the inside. Also see: 15 Best Substitutes for Rosemary.
Seasonings: Smoked paprika adds delicious flavor to the birds, but more importantly, that deep, rich color. Garlic powder complements the paprika, and salt and black pepper balance everything out.
HOW TO MAKE AIR FRYER CORNISH HENS: STEP BY STEP
Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!
Step 1: Combine your spices in a small bowl.
Step 2: Then, rinse and pat your hens with paper towels until they are very dry. Rub olive oil over the birds, then rub the spice mixture inside and out!
Step 3: Air fry hens for 16-18 minutes on one side. Then flip, and cook another 10-15 minutes until internal temperature reaches 165°F.
Step 4: Let the birds rest for 10 minutes before serving.
RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS
- Use your hands: Rub the seasoning mixture all over the bird with your hands to get into all the little nooks and crannies of the birds..and it’s super fast, too! Don’t forget to season the inside, too!
- Consider the size of the bird: This recipe uses (2) 16 oz. hens. If you have bigger hens, just check them at about the 20-minute mark, flip, then use an instant-read thermometer at about the 25-30 minute mark and check for an internal temp of 165°F.
- Properly check the temperature: When using a meat thermometer, make sure you are inserting it into the thickest part of the leg and also ensure the thermometer isn’t hitting a bone, which will give you an inaccurate reading.
- Don’t toss the drippings: There may be yummy juices in the bottom of your air fryer basket, so don’t forget to pour them over the top of the hens when serving!
🌟CONFIDENCE TIP 🌟
The secret to a delicious juicy Cornish hen is adding lemon slices and a sprig of rosemary to the inside of the birds. It helps keep the juicy meat moist and flavorful.
STORAGE & REHEATING
- Storage: Leftover Cornish hens should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. If you want the meat separate, I recommend picking it apart and removing the white meat from the bones while it’s still warm.
- Reheating: Whole leftover hens or picked-off meat can be reheated in a microwave. You also wrap the hens in aluminum foil to prevent drying out the meat and reheat it in the air fryer for a few minutes.
- Freezing: Wrap the hens individually in plastic wrap and then place them in a freezer bag to prevent freezer burn. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and reheat when ready to enjoy.
ADDITIONS AND SUBSTITUTIONS
Seasonings: I love a simple rub on Cornish hens to let the natural flavor and texture shine through, but you have so many options here. Here are some fun ideas to try:
1. Simple poultry spice mix like this one from McCormick.
2. Your favorite BBQ rub! Then brush hens with BBQ sauce in the last few minutes of cooking.
3. Rosemary, lemon zest, and olive oil
4. Italian seasoning or lemon pepper seasoning and olive oil
5. Montreal seasoning
Stuffed hens: To really jazz them up for a special occasion, stuff the hens with diced apples, cranberries, sliced shallots, and even crushed pecans to make it extra fancy.
Fresh herbs: Garnish the cooked hens with fresh herbs like chopped parsley, dill, or chives for a pop of color.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Two 16 oz Cornish game hens take approximately 25-35 minutes to cook in the air fryer at 400°F. Cook for 16-18 minutes on one side.
Then flip and cook another 10-15 minutes until the internal temperature at the thickest part of the leg reaches 165°.
Yes, you’ll want to rinse your Cornish game hens well before cooking. Rinsing them gets off any excess blood or residue that has been on the hens in the packaging. Make sure you pat the hens dry with paper towels before seasoning and cooking.
Game hens are like miniature chickens – they go with all of your favorite side dishes! My roasted root vegetables are divine but these air fryer baby carrots or broccoli, sautéed mushrooms, or a simple arugula salad are all great options, too! Need more ideas? Check out the 38 Best Sides to Serve with Cornish Game Hens!
TOOLS FOR THIS RECIPE
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Air Fryer Cornish Hen
- 2 16 oz. Cornish game hens See Note 1
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- zest of one lemon
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped plus 2 sprigs
- Preheat air fryer to 400°F. If your air fryer doesn't have a preheat setting, just turn it to 400°F and give it about 3-5 minutes to come to temperature.
- Line your air fryer tray or basket with a liner like this. Optional, but highly recommended for easy clean up!
- Remove hens from package, and rinse well. Place on a plate and pat VERY dry, inside and out, with paper towels. Then, trim off any excess fat/skin with kitchen shears (optional).
- Combine salt, pepper, lemon zest, smoked paprika, garlic powder and rosemary in a small bowl.
- Using your hands, rub each hen with olive oil and sprinkle on the spice mixture. Rub the spices over the hens, inside and out.
- Cut the remainder of the lemon you used for zest in 4 pieces and stuff 2 into the cavity of each bird, along with one stem of rosemary. This will ensure the hens are flavorful all the way through!
- Place hens in the air fryer breast side down and air fry for 16-18 minutes, Then flip and cook another 10-15 minutes until the hens reach 165°F in the thickest part of the leg. Use an instant read thermometer like this one to ensure meat is cooked through.
- Remove hens from air fryer and let rest 10 minutes then serve immediately. There may be yummy juices in the bottom of your air fryer basket, so don't forget the pour them over the top of the hens when serving!