Thai Grilled Chicken: Smoked Soy-Honey-Rum Cornish Game Hens

Thai Grilled Chicken - Smoked Cornished Game Hens by
About two years ago, a reader who was about to move back to his native Australia, wrote me lamenting a life without the rotisserie chicken which he had enjoyed five times a week for the past six years of living in Bangkok. I can commiserate as I, too, am an unabashed fan of this famous Bangkok-based franchise (whose name in English rhymes with knife-scar chicken). So I’ve been trying to clone some of its flagship products for the past two years. So far, I’ve had success with a couple of those products. But there’s one that has still proven elusive. And though I think I’m getting warmer, my path so far has been dotted with numerous failures.

But here’s the thing about this project: even the failures taste good. One failure in particular — this one — has become a favorite of mine. I hope you’ll give it a try.

Thai grilled chicken by
1. I forced this synchronized swimmer pose on one of the hens just so you can see in the photo above that there are some birds in the pot, but the hens are supposed to be fully submerged in the brine.
2. The best brining vessel, in my opinion, is a smallish stockpot which is narrow and tall, ideal for keeping things submerged in the least amount of liquid necessary. This 8-quart enamel-on-steel stockpot is perfect for brining four Cornish game hens. If you use a container that is more shallow, wider, or larger, you may have to adjust the amount of the brine accordingly.
3. Due to the sugar content of the brine, the wing tips tend to darken and/or burn before the entire bird is cooked through. I don’t eat those parts anyway, so I just snap them off and discard them before serving. But if this bothers you, you can wrap the wing tips with aluminum foil before cooking the hens. Be warned that you will end up with another problem (?): tan hens with pale wing tips. Think white tanning goggle marks around the eyes on a tan face. Or you can just chop off the wing tips before brining or cooking the birds.
4. I use local Thai rum in the brine. Feel free to use any type of rum you have. Brandy or tequila works well too. If you don’t want to use any alcohol, omit the rum and make up for the loss of liquid in the recipe with more plain water.
5. I very much prefer apple wood chips for this recipe, because they’re mild. (The ideal material is actually not wood chips at all. I’ll talk about that in a future post.) For this recipe, you’ll need about 2 cups of wood chips.

This post is the fifth part of the ongoing Thai Grilled Chicken Series.
Part One – What? The Chicken Sauce Is More Famous Than the Chicken?: Introduction
Part Two – The Basics of Thai Grilled Chicken
Part Three – Mom’s Lemongrass Grilled Chicken
Part Four – Southern Thai Sweet-and-Sour Curry-Basted Grilled Chicken
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Thai Grilled Chicken: Smoked Soy-Honey-Rum Cornish Game Hens
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe type: Main Dish
Serves: 6-8
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup rum
  • 1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds, cracked
  • 1 tablespoon white or black peppercorns, cracked
  • 1½ cups honey
  • 10 large cloves garlic, smashed
  • ¼ cup table salt
  • ½ cup soy sauce
  • 4 1.25-lb Cornish game hens
  1. Put all of the ingredients, except the hens, in an 8-quart stockpot; stir to dissolve the salt and the honey.
  2. Put the Cornish game hens in the brine making sure the birds are fully submerged.
  3. Refrigerate 12-24 hours.
  4. Remove the birds from the brine and pat them dry with paper towel. Discard the brine.
  5. Tie the legs of each bird together. Smoke them using your favorite method and equipment, following the manufacturer's instructions. See post for tips.


17 Responses to Thai Grilled Chicken: Smoked Soy-Honey-Rum Cornish Game Hens

  1. Rosie June 14, 2013 at 11:10 am #

    This looks terrific, but I don’t have a grill. Can this be done in the oven (roasted)?
    Also, when you say put all the ingredients, except the hens, did you mean except the wood chips? Should it be the first 8 ingredients?

    • Leela June 14, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

      Rosie – I think so. I haven’t tested it, so am not sure about the temperature and time, though.
      I removed the wood chips from the recipe. Thanks.

      • Rosie June 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

        Thanks Leela,

        I will just go by internal temp. with a meat thermometer – and I’ll check basic roasting times for Cornish Hens.
        I think smoking can be done in an oven if you place a rack in a pan, placing a foil packet of chips (poke holes in the packet) beneath the rack, and then put the birds on the rack. I’ll have to double check, but I think I’ve seen this a couple times.

        This recipe looks and sounds so good, I’m hungry again.

  2. Craig June 14, 2013 at 1:41 pm #

    Smoking can be done in an over, but your kitchen will get very smoky, and it will smell strong (my wife tells people it smelled like a forestfire in our house after my first attempt. Nevertheless, if you decide to try smoking in your kitchen, soak your wood chips in water for several hours to prevent them from burning immediately. Another, possibly easier option, is use some liquid smoke in your brine. Likely not the strongest flavour, but it won’t take days to get the smoke smell out of your house.

    I’m trying this recipe on Sunday, but will be smoking it in a Bradley smoker on the deck. I learned my lesson smoking indoors 🙂

  3. FreeRangeNan June 14, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

    For a mild, sweet smoke try corncobs.

    • Rosie June 14, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

      How do you use the corncobs? Do you break them up, or cut then into chunks? Do you soak them or put them in dry? Just need the specifics :-}
      I’ve never heard of this, but it sounds interesting.

  4. FreeRangeNan June 14, 2013 at 10:14 pm #

    We used to have a food dehydrator and would dry fresh-picked corn from a nearby farmer. We kept the dried cobs and soaked them before using in the Komado (the big green ceramic egg-shaped grill which has become popular in the US – I’ve even seen them at Costco).

    I would put the soaked cobs, whole, directly on the coals. It was perfect for poultry, pork or fish which might be overwhelmed by stronger-tasting smoke.

    That was my only experience with smoke, or with cooking outdoors for that matter. Although we never tried it, I assume you could just use fresh cobs. Not sure what would be best for cold-smoking.

    • Rosie June 14, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

      Thanks for the info. I’ll tuck this away in my Evernote food file for eventual use. Sounds interesting – I may have to get a grill/smoker some day soon.

  5. Steve June 15, 2013 at 5:28 am #

    What is the name of the chicken franchise in Bangkok? I live in Bangkok and love to eat gai yang vichaiyan

  6. tonia mees June 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    Wow Leela, this was good!!! Could not stop eating. We can’t get Cornish game hens in France, but our regular chicken are rather small, 2 1/5 lbs, so I took a regular. Smoked only 15 minutes and finished it off in the oven. You brine is ‘génial’. Thanks for yet another amazing recipe.

  7. Ken Rivard June 16, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    These look perfect for the Big Green Egg. Sounds excellent! Ken

  8. Jenny June 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Hi Leela , I’ve never smoked anything before ,could I just split them and char grill over hot coals – low fire

  9. Little Cooking Tips July 9, 2013 at 4:50 am #

    Can we use quails or other game poultry?
    Thanx for sharing!

  10. gj December 28, 2013 at 7:14 pm #

    DELISH!!!! 1st time in years cooking cornish hens- wow!

    A real hit with my family!
    I added aboout 1 or 2 cups of terriyaki sauce to brine as well as vodka ( was out of rum 🙂

    I served it with mash sweet potatoes topped with pecans and delicious collard greens- it was light and delish!

    Thanks for a great recipe!

  11. Karen September 11, 2014 at 12:17 pm #

    I just got done making this as per recipe, except only had low sodium soy sauce…turned out wonderfully delicious! Can’t stop eating it, and I am FULL! that always means it’s so gooooood! thank you so much for sharing!!. oh, Served it with Jasmine rice fresh cliantro lime slices, fresh cucumber slices and fresh tomaoes all from the garden. Just lovely.


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