Cornish Hen Recipe – Butterflied, Grilled

We are going to be butterflying and grilling our little birds for this Cornish hen recipe. This will allow them to cook quickly and uniformly.

Butterflying a Cornish hen – or a chicken for that matter – is quite easy. All you need is a sharp pair of kitchen shears and voila! I decided to butterfly the hens for this recipe because I wanted to press them down onto the grill with my super heavy cast iron pan. You can use any heavy pan you have – even bricks if you want. The point is to get those birds as flat as possible so they cook faster.

To butterfly a Cornish hen simply means to remove its backbone. Place the bird back side up on a cutting board and, using some sharp kitchen shears, cut closely along one side of the backbone.

Butterflying a Cornish Hen

Butterflying a Cornish Hen

Repeat on the other side and discard backbone.

BUtterflying a Cornish Hen

Discarding Back Bone

Turn breast side up and now open the Cornish hen so the drumsticks point out. Press the breastbone firmly to flatten. It’s that easy!

After prepping the birds I rubbed them liberally with Julie McGeevers’ rub:

1 cup Susie Q Santa Maria Seasoning (available in bulk at Costco)
1/2 cup Cayenne pepper
1/2 cup ancho, chipotle or pasilla chile powder
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar (moscovado sugar for more intense flavor if you prefer)
1/4 cup powdered garlic (not minced)
1/4 cup dried parsley

Mix together all ingredients with a whisk in a large bowl. When using the rub on meat rub it with a high quality olive oil before applying rub liberally. When using fish or chicken first cover with the juice of limes or lemons. Make sure you let the rub do its thing for at least 2 hours (preferably 4) before barbecue. We did exactly as instructed!

Rubbed Cornish Hens

We heated the grill for 20 minutes on high and then turned it down to medium, cleaned the grids really well and then oiled them with a wad of paper towel soaked in olive oil. Pete, my husband, proceeded to place the hens breast side down on the grill and placed the cast iron pan on them.

Cornish Hen Under Cast Iron Pan

He cooked them for 10 minutes, flipped them and covered them again.

Grilled Cornish Hen

The hens were done in 30 minutes.

We served them with a side salad. They were DELICIOUS!

If you do not want to prepare the rub, go ahead and coat the hens with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Or, use any of the other rub recipes that we have on this site! Cook them as instructed.

Print the Butterflied Grilled Cornish Hens Recipe Here

My name is Mary Ann Allen and I am here to help you get organized so you can save money on groceries and feed your family healthy, nutritious food. My multi-cultural cooking background comes from being born in the US and raised in Bolivia. I have 5 kids and own around 400 cook books. I absolutely love to cook!


  • […] For step-by-step picture on how to butterfly and grill a Cornish hen click here! […]

  • […] For step-by-step picture on how to butterfly and grill a Cornish hen click here! […]

  • November 30, 2013


    So I don’t have access to a Cosco, nor do I know anyone who does, is there anything I can use instead of the Susie Q Santa Maria Seasoning? What kind of seasoning is it?

  • December 1, 2013


    Hi Alison!
    I have a series of rubs on the website. Can you please do a search? You will find a great variety that will work with this as well. Thanks for stopping by!
    Mary Ann