Simple Roast Quail
April 13, 2015 | Updated December 29, 2020
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Roast quail is a bedrock skill for any quail hunter or any home cook interested in game birds. And while a pretty plucked quail may look like a tiny chicken, they are different enough to warrant their own recipe.
Quail come in various sizes and flavors, ranging from the mild, soft and tiny coturnix quail, which are the quail most people buy in the store, to the slightly larger and more flavorful bobwhite quail, which can also be bought in some stores, to the similarly sized and even more flavorful Valley, Mearns, Gambel’s or scaled quail — four species that taste very similar — to, finally, the large mountain quail of California’s Sierra Nevada. Mountain quail are a bit darker and gamier than the other quail species, but not so much that you need to cook them differently.
These plucked quail below are all Valley quail; incidentally, the four on the left are dry plucked, the one on the right is scalded. Notice the difference?
I prefer to dry pluck my quail, which requires some finesse and practice; I can pluck eight quail in a little over an hour.
Regardless of species, all quail roast the same. The basic rule for quail is hot and fast. Really hot and really fast. I like about 500°F for about 15 minutes or so. This will cook your little birds nicely, although they will be a little pale — a price to pay for juicy and tender meat. And always start with room temperature birds.
If you really want that pretty brown look, there are two ways to get it. The traditional way is to brown the bird in lots of butter: Butter will brown birds faster than oil and, well, it tastes good.
Another way is to blowtorch the bird after it comes out of the oven, which is what I do because I went and bought myself a Searzall, which is a cool device that allows you to brown foods very fast without getting that weird butane stink on it. Either way works, but if you do it, roast the quail a bit less, like maybe 10 to 12 minutes.
Finally, if you have access to a pizza oven or something else that gets to 600°F or even hotter, you can just blast your quail for about 5 minutes. This is, actually, ideal, although few of us have a pizza oven.
Whatever you do, keep things simple. The flavor of quail is chicken-like, but subtly different. You want to enjoy it, especially if you’ve worked so hard to bring a few birds home with you.
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1 quart water
- 2 bay leaves
- 4 whole plucked quail
- Lard, butter or olive oil
- 2 celery sticks (optional)
- Black pepper
- Lemon wedges (optional)
- If you choose to brine your quail, boil the water or wine with the kosher salt and bay leaves, then turn off the heat and let cool. Submerge the quail in this brine for 2 to 6 hours.
- Preheat your oven to 500°F, or if it doesn't get that hot, as hot as your oven will go. This will take a little while for most ovens, up to 30 minutes. While the oven is preheating, take the quail out of the fridge and pat them dry. Coat with lard, olive oil or butter (your quail will be browner with melted butter) and salt generously. Set aside at room temperature while the oven heats.
- When the oven is hot, get a small roasting pan or cast-iron frying pan and set the quail in it. They will want to tip over, so steady them with cut pieces of the celery stick. Try to prevent the quail from touching each other to speed the cooking process.
- Roast the quail in the oven for 12 to 18 minutes. The lower end of the spectrum will give you quail that are juicy, succulent and a little pink on the inside -- but pale. The higher end of the spectrum will give you a fully cooked, browner quail, but one that is at the edge of being dry. Your choice.
- When you take the quail out of the oven, place on a cutting board and rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Use this time to make the wild game sauce of your choice, or just squirt lemon juice on the birds before serving.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
I can’t wait to get back to the northwester woods of my birth. I have been gone for a coon’s age. I can hunt and eat quail then.
Love your site! Q- have you ever roasted the quail on convection? I’m wondering if they would brown better on convection? I’d definitely brine. Also my oven goes to 550, so I’m not sure about time at that temp and on convection. Any advice would be appreciated. Using the small 4oz birds.
Michael: It works well, but I don’t own a convection oven. I’d try it at 500F for about 8 to 10 minutes with brined, room temperature birds.
What do you think about making a small pan of dressing and at the end, place the brined quail on top?
Excellent!! I added some garlic, thyme, and sage to the butter then followed the recipe exactly. Best quail ever. Thank you!
Hi Hank, would it be feasible to roast a mountain quail with some stuffing?
John: Sure, but I don’t normally do it because the cavity is tiny.
My boss came back from hunting trip. He brought back about 60 little quail. They were already clean, no insides and no feathers and no skin. How do I cook them with no skin. I am their personal cook. Help
Olga: These will be best stewed, with the meat shredded off. Once you have that, use the meat the same way you would shredded chicken. You can also bread and fry the breast meat if you’d like.
Here’s what to do with skinless quail. First cut them in half right down the breastbone with a heavy chefs knife. Pat dry and dust them both sides with a dry poultry rub like Montreal Chicken. Then melt butter over medium-high heat in cast iron or heavy frying pan. Add quail and brown on one side for 5 minutes. Flip over and brown other side for 2-3 minutes. Max. Then place pan and quail in a 375 degree oven. Cook for 7-10 minutes max and remove. Perfect and delicious. You might have to adjust cooking times SLIGHTLY for the degree of doneness you like, but do NOT overcook or they will dry out.
Your Duck, Duck Goose cookbook was great. I hunt Georgia bobwhite quail. The outfitter skins them instead of plucking them. Any thoughts on this challenge in keeping them moist.
Mike: Thanks for the kind words! Unfortunately, a skinned quail is not good for roasting. Better to stew them instead. Sad to hear your outfitter won’t pluck birds.
Hey Hank, I am a Quail newbie but as such totally enthused to be learning about preparing quail properly. I wonder if that gentleman Mike could ask his quail connection to leave the little birds un skinned and then Mike could do the dry feathering at home. I have been reading your insights and recipes quite a bit now and am ready to start doing it.
Thanks for the inspiration!
I few questions I ve heard of wrapping them bacon and fresh crushed garlic and a few shot s of fine KY bourbon sprinkled on the quail ?? What kind of side dishes to make and serve ?? THANKS
Enjoyed your website. I have a source for quail in Chinatown (LA). I have become somewhat proficient at de-boning them, which I then stuff and roast.
Your description of how to roast these birds was very helpful. Thank you.
“follow the dude’s advice…but I made it different.” This is every friggin comment on any recipe. I actually did follow the recipe. It was different because the legs of my quail were particularly long. They were definitely small. Probably 4 ounces. I brined them. It worked at the 500 degree level. Wish I could attach photos. Great appetizer!
My way of cooking two quails:
spices: Fresh garlic, pepper corn, crushed pepper and salt and olive oil and 1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice.
Heat all the spices in about half cup of olive oil, low heat. Do not burn the garlic. Add the quails, heat at medium temperature for about 7-10 minutes
add the lemon and reduce the heat, cover and cook for about 12-15 minute.
Garnish with fresh parsley and serve on French bread.
In my case, i cook it till it is very tender and I eat it as a sandwich.
You can also stuff the quail with rice and ground meat, boil till the rice is done , then roast them in the oven for few minutes. EAT like a sandwich with bones if you have good crushing teeth.
For what size quail is the cook time/temp suggested? It seems most quail are 4 oz but the quail I’m getting are 8 oz. So would I just double the cook time? I’m thinking that might be too much but any advice would be appreciated.
Mike: Interesting. I use wild quail, which are closer to about 6 ounces. A four-ounce quail would be a farmed cotournix quail, I suppose. I’d just add a couple minutes to this recipe for an 8-ounce quail, which is likely a farmed bobwhite.