Cowboy vs Tomahawk Steak: A Tail of Two Ribeyes

Reading Time: 4 minutes Back to 4 minutes version

No need to head out to the open range way out west to enjoy a Cowboy or Tomahawk steak. These steaks are two of the most popular cuts today, often far more affordable than the filet mignon with plenty of flavor and beautiful marbling. Learn a little more about how these two steaks are similar and what’s different about them so you can make the right choice when ordering.

What is the Cowboy Ribeye Steak?

The Cowboy ribeye steak is cut from the ribeye, the large muscle group running along a cow’s back and above its rib cage. Each Cowboy steak features a curved bit of bone because this is the rib bone that connects to the section of muscle known as the ribeye. Leaving the bone in place not only gives an easy handle for flipping on the grill, but it has an appealing look and adds flavor to the cooking meat.

Why is it Called a Cowboy Steak?

As the name suggests, this simple cut was popular among cowboys who had to butcher their own beef while on the range. Many people think of it as a manly cut due to the flavor of the meat, which fits the name well. In the past, the term was applied to almost any big bone-in cut, which includes most ribeye steaks.

What is Tomahawk Steak?

The Tomahawk steak is eye-catching even in the butcher’s case because of its long bone. Like the cowboy steak, this bone has been frenched, or had all the meat removed for a clean look. When the bone is left untrimmed, it can really make an impact on a plate when surrounded by steak house favorite side dishes. Some Tomahawk cuts also have slightly more fat left around the edges to ensure a nice flavorful char.

Why is it Called a Tomahawk Ribeye?

Some people associate the long bone with the handle of the Native American axe known as a tomahawk. The rounded shape of the meat also looks similar to the blade of an axe. Few other bone-in cuts have such a long piece of bone, making it distinctive and easy to spot from among other steaks.

What are the Differences Between the Cowboy and Tomahawk Ribeye?

Both Cowboy and Tomahawk ribeye steaks are cut from the prime rib roast, which is where they get their central bones. The biggest difference is the length of the bone, but some other details also tend to vary depending on the name used for the meat.

The Cost

Both Tomahawk and Cowboy steaks tend to cost more than the boneless ribeye steak. It’s believed that the bone-in cut offers a greater depth of flavor, leading these steaks to command a premium price. They’re often priced closely together, with Tomahawk steaks commanding a slightly higher price due to the increased marbling in some cuts that earn this name.

The Shape

Tomahawk steaks sometimes include a slightly larger cut of meat with more exterior fat left in place. Cowboy steaks tend to be trimmed more cleanly so they’re primarily a large hunk of pure marbled muscle and a small piece of bone. It’s also more likely that you’ll find a boneless version of a Cowboy steak than a Tomahawk, which is primarily defined by its bone.

The Size

Both Cowboy and Tomahawk steaks technically start out at the same size because they’re cut from the same piece of prime rib meat. Yet once you trim down the fat and bone, the Cowboy steak tends to be smaller altogether. If you’re working with a smaller oven or grill, the extra length of the Tomahawk ribeye steak may make it a little tricky to fit.

The Color

The cuts vary little in terms of redness or type of fat. Since they’re cut from the same piece of ribeye meat, you’ll find they’re very similarly colored, aside from the amount of white fat left at the edges.

The Taste

As with the color, the taste is largely the same. Some steakhouses advertise that Tomahawks are more flavorful due to the extra bone, but this is subjective. Both cuts benefit from being bone-in and taken from the prime rib roast, which is popular for its classic beef flavor and soft texture.

The Amount of Marbling

Tomahawk steaks have almost identical marbling to Cowboy steaks, but the latter tends to have more of the pattern exposed due to trimming.

The Fat Content

It’s the outer fat layer that the Tomahawk steak may feature in greater quantities. The Cowboy ribeye steak will provide just as much marbled fat, but it’s often trimmed more cleanly. Of course, it’s possible to find closely trimmed Tomahawk steaks for a leaner meal if that’s a priority for you.

The Amount of Bone

It’s the bone that varies the most in shape between the two cuts. Tomahawk bones tend to be frenched but untrimmed, leaving them long and narrow at the end. Cowboy steaks feature shorter bones that are sometimes even shaped to create a more handle-like look. This makes the Tomahawk ribeye steak as easy to handle as possible, followed by the Cowboy steak.

Cooking Method

Thanks to their similarities, these steaks work equally well on the grill. They can be smoked as well for a more intense flavor, or even slow-roasted in the oven. For stovetop frying, the Cowboy steak is likely an easier-to-handle choice that better fits in a home frying pan.

Uses

Since they’re bone-in cuts, both Tomahawk and Cowboy ribeye steaks tend to be cooked and enjoyed whole. If you have an excess, you could try slicing the cooked meat up for sandwiches or trimming the raw meat out and cutting it across the grain for a flavorful stir fry.

Cowboy Steak Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Smaller bone is easier to handle in crowded cooking situations
  • Perfect marbling at a lower cost than many other steaks
  • All the flavor of prime rib without the size

Cons

  • May be more expensive than other bone-in cuts due to demand alone
  • Best for grilling and less versatile than some cuts.

Tomahawk Steak Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Longer bone makes a big visual impact and can be a little easier to handle if there’s space
  • Flavorful and easy to cut
  • Slightly more fat for extra juiciness

Cons

  • Not always as easy to find as Cowboy steaks
  • Slightly less meat per pound due to the length of the bone.

Conclusion

Choosing either Cowboy or Tomahawk steaks will ensure you have a steakhouse experience at home. Both are easy to cook and deliver all the big ribeye flavor and juiciness you want while remaining easy to serve.