What Is a Tomahawk Steak?

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If you’ve ever been to a steak restaurant and saw a massive slab of sizzling steak with a long bone hanging out its side brought to a table, you probably saw a tomahawk steak. The bones attached to the meat are sometimes more than a foot longer than the steak itself! Is it just for show, or is there a purpose for this eye-catching display? What kind of steak is a tomahawk steak? Keep reading this guide to the tomahawk ribeye steak to learn more about this delicious cut and how to cook it.

What Is a Tomahawk Steak?

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A tomahawk steak comes from the rib section, also known as the longissimus dorsi, just like the perfect ribeye steak. Basically, this cut is a bone-in version of the ribeye. The butcher carves each tomahawk steak in a way that leaves the large rib bone intact, with about two inches of steak thickness surrounding the end of the bone. These cuts usually come from the larger rib bones to allow for more meat. 

When you order a tomahawk, you’ll notice that the bone looks incredibly clean. That’s because the butcher takes care to prep and clean the bone after cutting each steak to make it more appealing to the eye. The result is a beautiful cut that’s as tasty as it is eye-catching.

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Is there a purpose for the bone other than aesthetics? Honestly, not really, other than that it creates a resemblance of a handle to make it easy to hold while you cut the steak – or, to pick it up and eat it if that’s the way you choose to enjoy it. 

What Else Do People Call a Tomahawk Steak?

By now, you may have already guessed that the name “tomahawk steak” comes from the shape of the cut, which resembles a tomahawk ax. Still, you might hear a lot of different names for the tomahawk steak. Cowboy steak is one of the most common, perhaps because of the cut’s rugged and rustic look. Tomahawk chop and bone-in ribeye are also common names for this steak. Because the tomahawk includes the same meat as the ribeye, it’s also sometimes known as a tomahawk ribeye. 

Tomahawk Steak Size

Tomahawk steaks can vary in size, depending on the size of the animal. A larger steer will usually result in a tomahawk steak with more meat and longer rib bones than others. The butcher makes a difference, too. Skilled butchers will know exactly where to make their cuts to leave the most meat intact on the bone. You can usually expect to see a tomahawk steak with meat about two or three inches thick surrounding the bone. The rib steak is a massive helping, weighing about two pounds on its own.

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Some butchers also choose to leave a longer rib bone in the meat, while others prefer to cut it down to only a few inches. It’s not uncommon to see a beef rib range anywhere from four inches to a foot or longer on a tomahawk steak, depending on how the butcher cuts them.

Tomahawk Steak Price

The price of a tomahawk steak is somewhat of a hot-button issue in the steak world. While one steak lover will happily pay twice the price for a tomahawk than a ribeye, others will scoff at the idea, noting that a tomahawk basically is a ribeye. 

Neither one is wrong. Tomahawk’s do include a ribeye, but they also usually contain more steak than a ribeye on its own. Plus, some steak enthusiasts simply don’t mind paying more to get the fantastic presentation a tomahawk gives.

You usually can get double the ribeye for the same or similar price as a tomahawk steak. Part of what you pay for when you buy a tomahawk ribeye is the bone, but you’ll also get, on average, between five and eight ounces more meat per tomahawk.

What to Look for When Buying a Tomahawk Steak

The main feature of a tomahawk ribeye you’ll want to look for when buying one is its size. Make the most of your money by choosing a shorter bone and plenty of meat. 

Marbling is also important. Just like the rib eye, a tomahawk should have excellent marbling throughout every centimeter. Look for bright white lines running through the meat. This is fat that renders down, adding flavor and tenderness to the meat as you cook it. This is especially important if you’re making grilled tomahawk steak, as the marbling will keep the meat tender instead of drying out on the grill.

How Does Tomahawk Steak Compare to a Ribeye?

A tomahawk steak actually is, essentially, a rib eye, in terms of meat alone.  That’s because both pieces of meat come from the same beef rib sections of the animal. It’s not a surprise, then, that some people call the cut a tomahawk ribeye, right? You might even see a tomahawk referred to as a tomahawk ribeye or tomahawk rib eye steak on a steakhouse menu.

The main difference between a tomahawk and a ribeye is the visual appearance of each. While the ribeye is usually boneless, a tomahawk steak comes with the bone in. Tomahawks, then, are usually more authentic to the original cut because the butcher doesn’t have to make any additional cuts to remove the bone.

That’s about where the differences end, though. The meat of the tomahawk and ribeye are the same, so you won’t notice a difference flavor-wise in the steak cuts. USDA Prime tomahawks and ribeyes both have a buttery flavor and are incredibly tender to bite into. Both cuts also have the beautiful marbling the rib eye steak is known for. The one difference you might notice is that a tomahawk’s beef steak is often thicker than that of the ribeye.

Best Cooking Methods for Tomahawk Steak

Not sure how to cook a tomahawk steak for the best results? The good news is that there are a few ways to cook this cut of beef, including in a cast-iron pan and on the grill, so you can pick the method you like best. Grab some steak seasoning and follow these tips:

On the Grill

A charcoal grill is probably one of the most beloved pieces of equipment for steak. For the tomahawk, a charcoal grill provides just the right amount of smoky flavor as you cook the steak to your desired doneness. Still, a gas grill will work just fine. 

You can brush a little olive oil on both sides of the steak before placing it on the grill to prevent sticking. Don’t forget to sprinkle plenty of kosher salt and pepper on all sides, too. Start the cooking process by giving each side of the steak a sear over direct heat. Then, move the steak to a grill grate with indirect heat to finish the cooking process until it reaches the right internal temperature for your preferred doneness. 

Pan-Searing

Pan-searing is best when you’re on a time crunch because you can do a lot of the cooking in just a few minutes in your cast-iron skillet. Add butter to the skillet and allow the pan to heat to medium-high. Then, add the steak and sear on each side for 4-5 minutes, or until a rich, golden-brown crust forms. Then, finish it off in a preheated oven set to 400 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. Wrap the tomahawk steak aluminum foil before putting it in the oven to preserve its juices.

Reverse Searing

For this method, you’ll use either your oven or the grill to cook your steak until it reaches an internal temperature of 110-115 degrees. Keep the temperature of the oven or grill at 275 degrees to bring the internal temperature up slowly. Then, use direct heat – either on the grill or in a cast-iron skillet – to sear the steak on all sides. The result is perfect tenderness and a flavorful tomahawk ribeye.

No matter what cooking method you choose for your tomahawk, be sure to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature before removing it from the grill. Then, let the steak rest for 5 to 10 minutes away from heat to allow it to finish cooking and redistribute juices throughout the meat. 

All About Buying and Cooking the Perfect Tomahawk Steak

The tomahawk ribeye – or cowboy steak, if you prefer – is a must-try for any steak enthusiast, especially if ribeye is your usual go-to! Our USDA Prime Tomahawk Ribeye is dry-aged for up to six weeks to give it just the right flavor and texture. It comes flash-frozen and delivered to your door in an elegant gift box ready for you to thaw and enjoy. Each cut is 30 ounces of delicious ribeye meat hand-cut by expert Chicago butchers. We invite you to try the best steaks Chicago has to offer from Chicago Steak Company. Order online today!