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Air Fryer Cornish Hens

This air fryer Cornish hens recipe is a creative way of cooking this classic bird. It is so simple with its versatile flavor profile and succulent texture, it’s sure to become the hit of your dinner table! So break out the air fryer and let’s get cooking!

A white platter with roasted potatoes and two cooked small hens with peas and lentils in the background
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

When I was growing up, we used to have Cornish hens as a treat meal. What I loved about it was we would each get half a hen to eat. All . . . to . . . ourselves.

That itself was a treat. There were five of us children, and although there was usually a great amount of food on our table when we had a poultry dish, I felt like I had to fight over getting a thigh or some dark meat. I’m not a poultry breast lover.

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That’s why I love this recipe. A real standout for me about this recipe is the crispy skin and the taste of the juicy meat when you use the air fryer.

I love my air fryer.

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helpful
Tips
  • I’ve used a few different air fryers; the oven type, the air fryer lid for my instant pot, the basket type, and the one that currently has my heart: the Instant Vortex Pro which uses trays. The IVP is my current favorite because, in my opinion, it is the easiest one to use and clean.
  • The temperature and timing of the recipe are the same for oven or basket types of air fryers. But if you have the basket type, make sure the hens aren’t touching each other or just barely touching.
  • In recent years, experts have changed their recommendation on whether to wash poultry before you cook it. They now say that washing the bird increases the chances of getting food poisoning and cross-contaminating other things, like kitchen tools, surfaces, and utensils. Here are two websites that talk about it.
  • To minimize the chance of cross-contamination, I unwrap the chicken, drain the liquid straight down the drain, and pat the bird dry with a paper towel, both inside and out.
  • Most Cornish hens come in different sizes; the average weight is around 1 1/2 pounds per bird. My hens were two different sizes, but they were cooked simultaneously, and both turned out great.
  • If you have leftovers of this tender meat, you can store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.

Ingredients and substitutions

  • Cornish hens – I’ve only seen them come in packages of two and I’ve always found them in the frozen aisle at the grocery store. You may have to ask your store’s courtesy desk where to find them.
  • Olive oil – Extra virgin. I’m sure other oils would work, but EVOO is my go-to oil.
  • Tarragon – dried, organic. You can also use rosemary or thyme if you don’t have tarragon.
  • Smoked paprika – I enjoy the hint of smokey flavor, but you can use regular paprika.
  • Garlic powder
  • Onion powder
  • Salt
  • Pepper
A white deep plate with half a hen on it with potatoes and peas
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

How to make air fryer Cornish hens

Pre-step

Take out your air fryer, a small mixing bowl, and a whisk.

Step one

Gather the ingredients – Cornish game hens, garlic powder, onion powder, tarragon, smoked paprika, salt, and olive oil.

Step two

Carefully unwrap, drain, and pat the hens dry with a paper towel inside and out.

A white plate with two hens on it, with a white plate of herbs and spices, salt and olive oil in a bottle
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

Step three

In a small bowl, add the herbs and spices, along with salt, and pepper. (A)

Step four

Use a whisk to combine the ingredients together. (B)

Left - a metal owl with herbs and spices in it. Right - bowl with herbs and spices mixed together
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

Step five

Pour a little olive oil into your hand and rub the oil all over the front and back of the Cornish hens.

Step six

Take the trays out of the air fryer like mine.

Sprinkle the spice mixture over both the front and backs of the birds. Lay each hen breast side down on the air fryer tray. Try not to let the birds touch. (C)

Step seven

Pre-heat the air fryer at 400, and once it beeps, lower the temperature to 370 and place the birds in the fryer. Set the air fry timer for 40 minutes.

For the basket type, you will pre-heat it with the air fryer basket in and add the Cornish game hens after it beeps that the oven has come to temperature.

Step eight

Flip the hens at the 30-minute mark (D) and continue cooking until the timer beeps.

Left - two raw hens with a rub on them. Right - two partially cooked hens on a metal grate
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

Step nine

Use a meat thermometer (I recommend this digital thermometer) to make sure the hens are cooked all the way through. The temperature should read 165 degrees Fahrenheit. I test the thickest part of the chicken thigh.

Don’t be afraid to add extra time if the temperature isn’t right, as all hens are different sizes.

Let the birds rest for 10 minutes before cutting into them.

Two hens, one with the legs facing front with the other facing back. There are herb potatoes on the platter as well
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

I decided to serve these Cornish hens with side dishes like some oven-roasted potatoes, peas, and lentils.

I also cut the hens in half the way my folks did before I plate them.

A deep white plate with half of a hen on it with potatoes and peas
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

It takes me back to my childhood.

Vertical view of half a hen on a white plate with peas and potatoes. There is another plate in the background with ramkens of lentils
Photo Credit: Dishes Delish.

I hope you enjoyed this air fryer Cornish hen recipe. Christopher and I did. 🙂

For even more delicious air fryer recipes, you may like these:

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air fryer chicken wings

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air fryer pork belly bites

A metal platter with baked potatoes on it

air fryer twice-baked potatoes


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And as always, may all your dishes be delish.

If you’ve tried this recipe, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. I love hearing from you! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOKTWITTERINSTAGRAM, and PINTEREST to see more of my delicious food and delightful cocktails!

A white rectangle platter with two hens on it with potato wedges

Air Fryer Cornish Hen

This air fryer Cornish hen recipe is easy to make and a delight to serve. With hardly any work on your part, the meat comes out moist and the skin is perfectly crispy.
5 from 5 votes
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: American
Keyword: air fryer cornish hen, cornish hen, how to cook cornish hen
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 435kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 Cornish hens (each one will be around 1.5 pounds)
  • olive oil (extra virgin – to coat the birds)
  • 2 teaspoons tarragon (dried)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (or regular if you prefer)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • .25 teaspoon pepper

Instructions

  • Unpackage the hens over the sink and pour juices down the drain. Pat dry inside and out with paper towels
    2 Cornish hens
  • In a small mixing bowl, add tarragon, garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Mix together with a whisk until combined. You will have extra rub, so don't stress.
    2 teaspoons tarragon, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons kosher salt, .25 teaspoon pepper
  • Preheat the air fryer to 400 degrees F and set the timer for 40 minutes.
  • Pour a small amount of olive oil on your hand and rub both the birds to coat the skin, front and back.
    olive oil
  • Hold one of the birds in one hand and scoop up some of the rub with your other and sprinkle it over the hen on all sides. Repeat with the other hen and place them both on the air fryer rack breast side down.
  • Once the airfryer beeps to tell you to add the food, place the rack in the air fryer. Turn the temperature down to 370.
  • After 30 minutes are up, flip the birds breast side up and continue cooking for the 10 minutes still on the timer. The internal temperature should read 165 degrees F, if it needs more time add 3 minutes.
  • Let the birds rest for 10 minutes before cutting into them.
  • Serve
  • Smile
  • Enjoy
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Notes

Helpful tips

  • I’ve used a few different air fryers; the oven type, the air fryer lid for my instant pot, the basket type, and the one that currently has my heart: the Instant Vortex Pro which uses trays. The IVP is my current favorite because, in my opinion, it is the easiest one to use and clean.
  • The temperature and timing of the recipe are the same for oven or basket types of air fryers. But if you have the basket type, make sure the hens aren’t touching each other or just barely touching.
  • In recent years, experts have changed their recommendation on whether to wash poultry before you cook it. They now say that washing the bird increases the chances of getting food poisoning and cross-contaminating other things, like kitchen tools, surfaces, and utensils. Here are two websites that talk about it.
  • To minimize the chance of cross-contamination, I unwrap the chicken, drain the liquid straight down the drain, and pat the bird dry with a paper towel, both inside and out.
  • Most Cornish hens come in different sizes; the average weight is around 1 1/2 pounds per bird. My hens were two different sizes, but they were cooked at the same time, and both turned out great.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving | Calories: 435kcal | Carbohydrates: 2g | Protein: 39g | Fat: 35g | Saturated Fat: 9g | Cholesterol: 227mg | Sodium: 503mg | Potassium: 588mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 532IU | Vitamin C: 2mg | Calcium: 41mg | Iron: 2mg
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From lighting up stages with her BA in theater to food journalist, Elaine Benoit's journey is a testament to passion's transformative power. As the CEO of Dishes Delish, she offers a blend of healthy, comforting recipes and exquisitely crafted cocktails. Beyond the kitchen, Elaine voiced her culinary adventures on her podcast, "Dishing," and co-owns Food Blogger Help, extending her expertise to guide budding food bloggers to success. Whether it's for a heartwarming dish or insights into food blogging, Elaine's diverse experiences make her a beacon in the culinary digital landscape.

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20 Comments

  1. Oh man, I can’t even remember the last time I had cornish hens. I think they were even hard to find here for some reason. They are always presentation perfect.

    1. I agree that they are somewhat hard to find. I found ours in a super Walmart in the frozen section. They come in packages of two!! ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you for your comment.

  2. We just had this and now they are asking for it again! This air fryer Cornish hen is really delicious!

  3. I love Cornish hen but it isn’t easy to find here in Italy. However, I can get other types of small hens so really want to try this recipe out with those. Such a great idea cooking whole hens in the air fryer and yours look yummy!

    1. Thank you Jacqueline! I bet it would be the same with other small hens as long as it’s close to the poundage. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I love making dinner in the air fryer! This Cornish hen recipe came out perfectly. Crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside.

  5. I’ve never tried Cornish hens! I wonder if they even exist here in Germany. When I lived in Texas, my parents were too busy grilling steaks. ๐Ÿ˜„ I’m totally looking for these!

    1. Hehe about the steaks, Erin. Other small birds will work as well as a small chicken. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for your comment.

  6. I love how few ingredients this has! I bet it comes together so quickly and easy. Especially in the air fryer!

  7. This is such a great air fryer recipe! You have made cornish hen go from intimidating to easy and delicious. Thank you!

  8. What a delicious way to prepare Cornish hen. I absolutely must add this to my family menu. It’s easy, flavorful and so healthy. Now I can’t wait to try this.

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