Game hens can be butterflied and quickly grilled or left whole and slowly grill-roasted via indirect heat. The latter method allows you to infuse smoky aromas deep into the meat with wood chips or chunks. We like to use cherry and apple wood with poultry. Hickory produces a rich smoke that overwhelms these delicate birds, but oak would work if you can’t find cherry or apple.
Prep: 15 minutes (plus 5 minutes for pesto)
Marinate: 2 to 4 hours (optional)
Soak wood chips: 1 hour
Grill: 40 to 50 minutes.
BBQ TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT
– 1 cup wood chips (cherry, apple, or oak)
– Smoker box or foil packet if using a gas grill
– Long-handled spatula
– Long-handled tongs
– Long-handled basting brush.
Indirect heat, medium (325° to 350°F)
3- or 4-burner grill–middle burner(s) off
2-burner grill–1 side off
Clean, oiled grate
Indirect heat, medium ash
Split charcoal bed (about 2 dozen coals per side)
20 replacement coals
Heavy-duty drip pan set between banks of charcoal
Clean, oiled grate on medium setting.
INGREDIENTS (MAKES 4 SERVINGS)
4 Cornish game hens, about 1¼ pounds each
1½ cups Tapenade Parsley Pesto
Oil for coating grill grate.
1. Rinse the game hens inside and out, then pat dry with paper towels. Rub 1 cup of the pesto evenly over the inside and outside of the birds. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours if you have the time (this intensifies the flavor). Otherwise, let the hens rest at room temperature while you heat the grill.
2. Soak the wood chips in water for 1 hour. Heat the grill as directed, and add the wood chips to the coals. If using a gas grill without a smoker box, put the chips in foil, poke holes in the foil, and put the foil packet directly over one of the gas burners.
3. Brush the grill grate and coat it with oil. Put the hens, breast-side down, on the grill away from the heat. Cover the grill and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a thigh registers about 170°F, 40 to 50 minutes. Turn the hens frequently and baste with the remaining ½ cup pesto. The final turn should leave the hens breast-side up. If your grill has a temperature gauge, it should stay at around 350°F.
4. Remove the hens to a platter, cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.