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Tomahawk Steak: What Is It, How to Cook It (5 Recipes) and Buying Guide

Tomahawk Steak: What Is It, How to Cook It (5 Recipes) and Buying Guide

Last updated September 4, 2018

The Tomahawk Steak has been making the rounds across the internet. Famous chefs in Michelin-rated restaurants, average Joes in their backyards, and everyone else in-between seem to be falling in love with the long-handled steak.

What is a tomahawk steak?

Tomahawk steak is a cut of beef ribeye that has five or more inches of extra rib bone for presentation purposes. It's called a "tomahawk" cut because the steak with the long bone resembles a single-handed axe.

This particular cut of steak is also referred to as the "cowboy steak" or a "bone-in ribeye". The butcher or meat packer takes a cut of ribeye and leaves the rib bone in to a length of about 20 inches, which is where the navel begins. Then they "french" the bone, which is essentially removing the excess meat and exposing the bone.

These steaks are making the rounds with chefs and high-end restaurants because, well, they look different. Their unique shape commands attention. And it's because of this attention that the tomahawk has become a trendy cut of cow.

How big Is a Tomahawk Steak?

Tomahawk steaks are usually about 2 inches thick, and weigh around 2.6 pounds. Like any cut of meat, the size varies varies greatly by how it was cut by the butcher and the size of the cow.

For the purposes of this article, we won't talk about whether you should order the tomahawk in a restaurant. That's totally up to you.

What we're trying to determine is for the DIY home griller. We need to figure out if you should actually attempt grilling it at home, and if the steak is worth the hype.

Other types of Tomahawk steaks

As the popularity of the cut of meat has soared, other meats are starting to use va riations of the Tomahawk cut. Essentially anything with a large rib cage can be turned into a tomahawk cut.

  • Bison. Want something more exotic than beef? Bison is an excellent and flavorful meat that can be cut bone-in.
  • Pork chop. Pork is another natural fit for the tomahawk cut, and considerably cheaper than the beef counterpart.
  • Venison. Here’s a video on how to butcher a deer to accent the rib bone in a deer to make a convincing tomahawk steak.

Does the extra bone add more flavor?

Chefs and steak companies claim that having the extra bone adds "depth and complexity" to the flavor of the meat, but this simply isn't true.

Professor Jeffrey W. Savell, Leader of the Meat Science Section in the Department of Animal Science at Texas A&M; University, was quoted as saying this about bone-in steaks:

"We do have some national data about the tenderness, juiciness, and flavor of bone-in and boneless ribeye and strip steaks, but the differences were very small."

The meat around the bone is packed with flavor and delicious. Unfortunately, on a tomahawk cut there is nothing on the extra 8 inches of bone.

Looks like it might need another plate...

Bones definitely are flavor-packed, which is why they're boiled and used for making stocks and stews. They're delicious, and also packed with collagen, vitamins and minerals. The flavorful and complex marrow in the middle melts and runs out of the bone over hours of cooking.

But you'll only get good marrow when using a wet cooking method.

Dry cooking methods like grilling, roasting or frying don't allow for the marrow to melt escape into the meat. The marrow will only escape through the ends of the bone if you've cut them. Which you won't.

But even if the marrow found a way out of the bone, it couldn't move into the meat because meat is just not that porous, especially when cooked dry. The ribeye steak is made of dense muscle, with some connective tissue and fat.

How much do tomahawk steaks cost?

Here's what a tomahawk steak looks like in a fancy restaurant.

As I write this the Chicago Steak Company is currently selling two 30-ounce Tomahawk steaks (dry aged for six weeks) for $230, which is around 3 times what they're selling the same boneless ribeye for.

It's not too surprising, either. The bone adds extra weight, and meat prices don't factor in bone weight. Also, it's bigger and bulkier to ship, so that adds to the price too.

You might find a better price if you go to your local butcher, but be prepared to pay 2-3 times as much as a regular ribeye. While the tomahawk steak cut is rising in popularity and availability, don't be surprised if this needs to be a special order.

Two steaks, half a grill.

One big reason to buy a tomahawk steak...

Let's be honest, it looks pretty cool. I mean, it's called a "tomahawk" for a reason. It looks primal and could be used as a weapon from the set of Game of Thrones.

Imagine this scenario: You're eating one of these steaks peacefully in your kitchen, and an intruder breaks into your home. You grab the closest weapon near you, your tomahawk steak, and begin bludgeoning the intruder.

What other main dish allows you to do that?

Where can you buy a tomahawk steak?

If you're going to take the plunge, there are a few different ways to buy a tomahawk cut.

Buying online

Tomahawk are surprisingly not that hard to find. If you want the easiest route, there's always Amazon, which gives you a bunch of options. For example, here's 2 36oz tomahawk steaks for $110. Omaha steaks has a nice Tomahawk steak as well.

Tomahawk Steaks at Amazon

You can also check out Google shopping for another source of the popular beef cut.

Locally

Finding a cut of tomahawk locally is probably your better option. Odds are the prices will be comparable to online, and you won't have to pay for shipping. Plus you'll get to see the exact cut before buying, which you can't get when you buy online.

Finding a tomahawk steak locally is as simple as heading over to the local butcher shop. (You an find local shops and meat markets here.) You can request a specific cut, and they'll trim it to your exact specifications.

You're probably better off staying away from larger chains like Kroger, as they don't offer the customization that a butcher will. There's no hurt in asking, though. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

About dry-aged steaks

If you can buy a dry-aged steak, it’ll be much better. Dry aging is the process of letting the meat sit in a refrigerator for anywhere from a week to over 60 days. The general idea is that the longer the meat ages, the more concentrated and interesting the flavors will be.

Think of it like cheese: the older it is, the funkier it tastes. Complex flavors start to form and mix in with the beef. The meat and fat break down, making the meat more tender.

Dry-aging is a hotly-debated topic that generates holy wars on meat forums across the globe. The dry-aging process is hard to do for individuals, and doesn’t really yield that much change if you’re trying to dry-age the meat yourself in your refrigerator. This is why people tend to buy dry-aged meat instead of trying to replicate the process at home. It’s just easier.

That said, if you’re wanting to age the meat yourself at home, I’d recommend buying a whole cut of beef like the rib steak that you can later slice. For aging tips and how to set up your meat properly, I recommend this article by Serious Eats. Long story short: if you’re going to age meat at home, it’s going to take some effort.

How to Cook a Tomahawk Steak

Now that you've bought your tomahawk steak, let's talk about how you can cook it. Just as there's more than one way to skin a cat, there are multiple ways to cook the Tomahawk. Let’s look at each so you can pick which method appeals to you more.

Universal truths about cooking a tomahawk steak

No matter what method you use to cook your steaks, there are some universal truths and guidelines to follow to ensure that the meat is as tasty as possible.

Truth #1: The meat needs to rest

Resting the meat allows the juices to move from the center of the meat outward, making the entire cut more tender and juicy. Resting for 7-10 minutes should do the trick, but you can go longer if you need to.

Truth #2: A digital thermometer makes a huge difference

If you haven’t started cooking with digital internal thermometer, than you haven’t seen the light. A good digital thermometer can make your life so much easier by not having to rely on the dubious “poke test”. Once you start relying on a good thermometer, you won’t go back.

The good news is that an accurate digital thermometer is relatively cheap. I’ve been using this ThermoPro for the past two years and it costs around $13.

If you’re looking for a thermometer that you can leave in the meat and monitor remotely by bluetooth or airplay, consider the GrillEye or the MEATER. Both are excellent remote meat thermometers for this purpose. The MEATER is even more convenient because you don’t have to worry about a greasy wire sticking out of the grill. Just my two cents.

Truth #3: The Reverse Sear method works the best

All of the below recipes follow a similar pattern: each starts with a lower-temperature cook and finishes with a short, high-temperature “sear”. This process is often referred to as the “reverse sear”, made popular by Meathead Goldwyn.

This is different than the conventional searing method of starting the cook by blasting the meat with a really high temperature for a few minutes followed by a much lower cook to bring the meat up to the desired internal temperature.

The reverse sear method works fantastically on thicker cuts of meat where getting the internal temperature right is a bit harder. Using a two-zone cooking setup with half of the grill on and hot and the other half off seems to work best.

Grilling a Tomahawk Streak

The most common way to grill a tomahawk ribeye is as nature intended, sizzling on top of an open flame. Whether you use gas or charcoal, this method produces a smoky, rich flavor that pairs nicely with the meat. Because the tomahawk is usually a thicker cut—2 inches or thicker—grilling allows you to have a dark and crusty bark on the exterior, while the inside is nice and medium to medium rare.

If you want the steak to be more well done than medium, well… then God help you.

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Pull the steaks out of the refrigerator and let them heat up close to room temperature.
  2. Turn on the burner to one side of your grill, or heat your charcoal and put on one half of your grill. You’ll want the heat to be medium-high or possibly higher, depending on the size and type of your grill.
  3. Season the steaks with salt and pepper, coating thickly and evenly. Make sure to pat the seasoning into the meat, as a good portion will fall off during the grilling process. Also, the tomahawk is a thicker cut of meat, which can handle more seasoning than thinner cuts.
  4. Place the steaks on the side without heat, and let then cook indirectly. Using a meat thermometer check the meat and remote it once the internal temperature is around 15-20 degrees from the desired temperature. So, if you’re wanting a medium-rare steak (around 135 degrees), then remove the steak from the indirect side at around 110-115 degrees.
  5. Place the meat on the hot side of the grill directly over the flame and and turn every minute or so to develop an even, dark caramel-colored crust on the surface of the meat.
  6. Remove the meat from the grill once the desired internal temperature is reached.
  7. Garnish the steaks with a pad of butter on top of the meat and serve after 5-10 minutes of resting.

Cooking a Tomahawk Steak in a Cast Iron Skillet

Cast iron is a fantastic way to cook a tomahawk steak, as the flat surface allows for consistent caramelization of the meat, known as the beloved Maillard reaction. The cast iron method starts the meat in the oven and then transfers to cast iron to finish with a brilliant sear.

Ingredients

  • kosher salt
  • 2 (or more) tomahawk steaks
  • pepper
  • 1 head of garlic
  • olive oil
  • half a stick of butter
  • sprigs of fresh thyme

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Pull the steaks out of the refrigerator and let them heat up close to room temperature. Season the meat with salt and pepper.
  3. While the oven is preheating, take your cast iron skillet, drizzle some oil and brown a quartered head of garlic on medium heat. Once the garlic is fragrant, remove from the heat and set aside.
  4. Place a couple of tablespoons olive oil into the skillet and turn on high. Once the olive oil is right at the smoking point, place the steaks onto the skillet. Sear for a little over a minute, turning constantly.
  5. Lower the heat to medium high and cook for around 7 minutes, turning every minute.
  6. Transfer the steaks to a baking sheet and place in the oven, cooking for around 10 minutes or until the steak gets to your desired cooking temperature. (125 F for medium rare, 135 F for medium)
  7. In the cast iron skillet, melt the butter in the skillet, and place the garlic and thyme into the butter, stirring frequently.
  8. Place the steak back into the butter mix, ladling the butter of the steak and turning the meat, ensuring that both sides are coated with buttery goodness.
  9. Devour.

Hybrid Cooking a Tomahawk Steak (Grill + Cast Iron)

The hybrid method combines the best part of the above two tactics, cooking over an open flame to get the smoky flavor, and then finishing the steaks in a hot cast iron pan to evenly brown the steaks. Many grills come with a side burner that make this method even better, as you can sear the steaks outside and not smoke the entire house out.

Ingredients

  • 2 (or more) tomahawk steaks
  • Salt (preferably Kosher)
  • Pepper
  • half a stick of butter
  • fresh thyme
  • olive oil

Instructions

  1. Pull the steaks out of the refrigerator and let them heat up close to room temperature.
  2. Turn on the burner to one side of your grill, or heat your charcoal and put on one half of your grill. You’ll want the heat to be medium-high or possibly higher, depending on the size and type of your grill.
  3. Season the steaks with salt and pepper, coating thickly and evenly. Make sure to pat the seasoning into the meat, as a good portion will fall off during the grilling process.
  4. Place the steaks on the side without heat, and let then cook indirectly. Using a meat thermometer check the meat and remote it once the internal temperature is around 15-20 degrees from the desired temperature. So, if you’re wanting a medium-rare steak (around 135 degrees), then remove the steak from the indirect side at around 110-115 degrees.
  5. While the meat is cooking, take your cast iron skillet, drizzle some oil and brown a quartered head of garlic on medium heat. Once the garlic is fragrant, remove from the heat and set aside.
  6. Once the meat has reached about 15-20 degrees F from the desired temperature, set aside and crank the skillet up to medium-high.
  7. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into the skillet and once it starts to smoke, place the meat onto the surface. Turn frequently until the desired internal temperature is reached.
  8. Lower the heat to medium low, and transfer the steaks to a plate. In the skillet, melt the butter, add the cooked garlic and thyme. Let cook for a few minutes and then turn off the heat.
  9. Spoon the butter over the steaks and serve.

Sous Vide Tomahawk Steak Recipe

The basic principles for cooking a sous vide tomahawk steak is the same as the previous recipes, we’re cooking slowly for the majority of the time, and finishing with higher heat to get that sweet, sweet crust.

The main difference with sous vide is that we’re cooking the meat with near-boiling water in a vacuum-sealed bag. Amazon has a plethora of sous vide cookers, many under $100 and most having some sort of smart component that gives you temperature readings via an app on your phone.

If you’re wanting to take a budget route, consider the Redneck Sous Vide setup that uses a beer cooler and digital thermometer.

Ingredients

  • 2 (or more) tomahawk steaks
  • Salt (preferably kosher)
  • Pepper
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • fresh sprigs of thyme or rosemary

Instructions

  1. Fill a sous vide bath in a large pot or cooler, depending on whether or not you’ve got a sous vide cooker or you’re rocking the above-mentioned redneck cooler setup. If you’re using a cooker, heat to around 128 F. If you’ve got a cooler, around 130 F.
  2. Season your steaks liberally with salt and pepper, and place in vacuum-sealed bags.
  3. Place the steaks in the bath for 2.5 hours. You’ll want to get the steak about 15 F from your desired finishing, and 2.5 hours should be near the medium-rare range.
  4. After the steaks have cooked for around 2.5 hours, remove them from the bag and pat dry.
  5. Finishing Method 1: Fire up your favorite grill to as hot as it will go. Add the meat and turn frequently for a few minutes, until the outside is charred and dark.
  6. Finishing Method 2: Take a cast iron skillet and add some olive oil in a pan. Once the oil is smoking, add the steaks and flip often to create a dark, caramelized exterior to the meat. Use tongs to hold the meat vertically and brown the sides of the meat as well.
  7. Set the steaks aside to rest for around 10 minutes.
  8. Put a skillet on medium, melt butter in a pan, add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the thyme or rosemary, cook for another minute, and ladle the butter onto the steaks.

Smoking a Tomahawk Steak

Smoking a cowboy ribeye is an interesting method of cooking, but it adds some complexity and boldness to an already-bold cut of meat. This recipe follows the cook slow and sear last methodology that the previous recipes have used.

Ingredients

  • tomahawk steaks
  • coarse salt (preferably kosher)
  • pepper
  • olive oil
  • celery seed (optional)
  • steak rub (optional)

Instructions

  1. Take the steaks and rub with a bit of olive oil to help the dry ingredients stick. Sprinkle liberally with the salt, much less pepper, and anything else you want to add to rub. I recommend sprinkling some celery seed, but others recommend some beef rubs. Because the meat is a thicker cut, put the seasoning on fairly densely.
  2. Leave the steaks out of the fridge to bring them close to room temperature.
  3. While the steaks are warming up, get your smoker heated up to a consistent 225 F.
  4. Get a secondary grill ready to char the outside of the meat. You could also use a cast iron skillet with a bit of olive oil or butter.
  5. Place the steaks on the smoker and smoke until the internal temperature reaches around 110 F. (Remote thermometers are excellent for this.)
  6. Shut the smoker down, and get a grill going as hot as you can. Transfer the meat to the other hot grill, turning every minute until the outside is nice and brown and your internal temperature is a

Bottom Line

If you're wanting to visually wow people with your steak and don't mind paying more for it, then by all means, snag a couple of tomahawks. They're visually interesting, and not your typical grill fare. And let's be honest... they look pretty cool.

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