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Air Fryer Cornish Hens – Sustainable Cooks


Learn how to make the perfect Air Fryer Cornish Hens for a fast and delicious meal. These tender and delicious game hens look like an elegant meal but are perfect for a busy weeknight.

a roasted air fryer cornish hen on a white plate with sage, lemon, and a bowl of salt.

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If you’re looking for a super flavorful and fast dinner, you cannot beat cornish hens in the air fryer. In under 30 minutes, you’ll have a delicious main dish that looks fancy but was incredibly simple to throw together.

Oh, and you don’t even have to turn your oven on and risk heating up your whole house to make this meal. Bonus!

What is a Cornish Game Hen?

Cornish hens (often labeled as “game hens” but not because they play Minecraft) are essentially really small chickens. They’re processed when they’re smaller so the meat ends up being more tender when compared with a whole (mature) chicken.

In most grocery stores, cornish hens are found in the freezer section. Don’t let that keep you from purchasing them for a same-day meal. They defrost incredibly quickly due to their small size.

Unlike a whole roasted chicken (related: Dry Brined Chicken) cornish hens are perfect for 1-2 people. If your household is small, you don’t like leftovers, or some members of the family eat meat and others don’t, cornish hens are the birds for you!

Most cornish hens are sold in 1-2 pound weights, with an average of 1.5 pounds. Serve one hen per person, or split one between two people.

chicken stock, herbs, salt, butter, and a cornish hen in a wrapper on a white board.

Can You Cook a Cornish Hen in an Air Fryer?

Yes, absolutely! An air fryer (we have this model) is a fantastic option for cooking cornish hens and whole chickens.

The hot convection heat that air fryers use cooks the cornish hens faster than in the oven and produce super tender and juicy meat.

If your air fryer model has multiple cooking options/modes, choose “air fryer”.

If you’re looking to roast a larger bird, my friend Cassie has an Air Fryer Roast Chicken recipe that you’ll love!

How Long Does it Take to Cook a Cornish Hen in an Air Fryer?

Each air fryer will be slightly different, but it took 25 minutes for the cornish hen to come to 165F in my air fryer. That produced a wonderfully crispy skin with tender and juicy meat.

3 photos showing how to make cornish hens in an air fryer.
Middle: start with the hen breast side down. Right: finish it breast side up.

Meal Prep Tips

This dish comes together in a flash, but you can also prep everything ahead of time. Preseason the cornish hens and store them uncooked in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 48 hours.

If you’re planning ahead, I also highly recommend trying a dry brine on the cornish hens. You’ll find the instructions in our post on dry brined chicken.

That recipe is for a 4-5lb whole chicken, so reduce the servings in the recipe card to “1” and you’ll get the proper ingredient measurements for a cornish game hen.

I’m a big fan of prep once and cook twice, in fact, I wrote a whole book about it! Depending on the size of your air fryer, you can cook 2-3 cornish hens at once and then repurpose leftovers for delicious soups and air fryer taquitos, and then use the bones to make homemade bone broth.

Pro Tips/Recipe Notes

  • For best results, allow the (thawed) cornish hens to sit at room temperature for 20 minutes before roasting.
  • Do not skip the step of preheating the air fryer. A hot air fryer means the cornish hen starts cooking right away and fully cooks in less time. Shorter cooking time = juicier meat.
  • This is a great recipe to use air fryer parchment if you have any hanging around. No parchment? Liberally brush olive oil on the basket prior to adding the cornish hens.
  • Use an instant-read meat thermometer to make sure the cornish hen is fully cooked to 165F. Do not go by appearance alone – temp is the only safe way to determine if it is done.
  • All air fryers will be slightly different for cooking time. Test the temperature at the 25-minute mark.
  • Once the hen has finished cooking, tent it loosely with foil and allow it to sit for 5-10 minutes prior to cutting or serving. This keeps it extra juicy!
  • Leftovers will last for 3-4 days covered in the fridge.

MORE DELICIOUS CHICKEN RECIPES

an up-close photo of a roasted cornish game hen.

Air Fryer Cornish Hens

Prep Time5 mins

Cook Time30 mins

Total Time35 mins

Learn how to make the perfect air fryer cornish hens for a fast and delicious meal. These tender and delicious game hens look like an elegant meal but are perfect for a busy weeknight.

  • For best results, allow the cornish hen to sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes prior to cooking.

    1 cornish hen

  • Combine butter, olive oil, salt, garlic powder, smoked paprika, sage, and parsley in a small bowl.

    1 tsp unsalted butter, 1/2 tsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/8 tsp smoked paprika, 1/4 tsp dried parsley, 1/4 tsp dried sage

  • Rub the butter mixture all over the cornish hen, making sure to get under the wings and thighs.

  • Preheat air fryer at 380F for 4 minutes.

  • Carefully pour the chicken stock into the (2-part) basket of the air fryer (see notes section if you have an oven-style air fryer).

    1 cup chicken stock

  • Place the cornish hen breast side down in the air fryer basket.

  • Bake at 380F for 15 minutes.

  • Carefully use a spatula or tongs to flip the hen over.

  • Reduce air fryer temp to 350F.

  • Continue to cook the hen until a meat thermometer reads 165F degrees in the fattest part of the thigh keeping the tip of the thermometer off of the bone (~10-15 more minutes).

  • Allow the cornish hen to rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting/serving.

  1. Do not use the 1 cup of chicken stock if you have an oven-style air fryer.
  2. If you have an oven-style air fryer that comes with rotisserie forks, you can safely use those with the cornish hens. 
  3. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to make sure the cornish hen is fully cooked to 165F. Do not go by appearance alone – temp is the only safe way to determine if it is done.

 

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