Tomahawk Steak: What Is It? (And should you buy it?)
Last updated April 13, 2017
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.
But should they? We'll discuss this. But first, we need to learn more about this popular cut of beef.
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.
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.
The problems with the tomahawk steak
I'll first lay out the potential issues that come with the tomahawk cut.
Problem #1: You're paying for meat you won't eat
Ribeye is on the expensive side for cuts of beef, especially if you're getting something dry aged and of premium quality, like Wagyu. So why add the bone to the price tag?
Problem #2: The extra bone doesn't do anything
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.
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.
Problem #3: They're much more expensive
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.
Problem #4: They take up a lot of grill real estate
When I fire up the grill, I like to also have other dishes cooking as well. I'll have a cast iron skillet with another dish, plus multiple cuts of meat. Try grilling a few of these tomahawk steaks on a Weber kettle with that setup (like the image above). It won't work very well.
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 to buy a tomahawk steak?
If you're going to take the plunge, there are a few different ways to buy a tomahawk cut.
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.
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.
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.
But you're basically paying for the bone, which your dog will be chewing on at the end of the evening. (If the extra bit of bone is that important to you, the butcher at your grocer will often give them away for free.)
If you're still set on trying one, here's a video on how to grill a ribeye tomahawk steak with the reverse sear method.
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