How to Cook a Tomahawk Steak

Tomahawk steak is a high-quality cut of meat, and it can be intimidating to prepare. However, knowing how to make the perfect seared steak is essential information.

Want to learn how to cook a tomahawk steak like a professional? We’ve got you covered.

What is a Tomahawk Steak?

Also known as ribeye steak, a tomahawk steak is a piece of rib meat with the bone attached. These steaks tend to be extremely thick and tender.

The tomahawk comes from two muscles outside of the rib cage of the steer. These muscles are not used as much as others, which is why they are tender and soft. When you cook a tomahawk steak right, you get a rich flavor that melts in your mouth. 

Because they are generally a large cut, you’ll likely have trouble cooking them in a skillet. While some people choose to oven-roast them, grilling is the best method.

Tomahawk Steak vs. Ribeye: What’s the Difference?

Most people confuse Ribeye with Tomahawk steak, and we can see why—it is actually the same piece of meat. A Tomahawk steak is a bone-in Ribeye, taken from the rib area. The butcher can sometimes take out the bone, leaving the boneless Ribeye cut.

The easiest way to differentiate Tomahawk steak vs. Ribeye steak is through the presence of a bone—a Tomahawk Ribeye steak is on the bone, and Ribeye is not. While you can cook both meat cuts on the grill, the Tomahawk Ribeye requires reverse grill searing, and a normal Ribeye tastes better when cooked in the oven.

Tomahawk steak will take longer to cook than Ribeye because the bone serves as an insulator. They taste the same in terms of flavor, but because Tomahawk steaks cook more slowly than Ribeyes, it may be juicer (if left 1-2 minutes longer on the grill). Many have trouble cooking the Tomahawk steak evenly because of its large size.

Bone-in steaks hold their shape better and make for a unique presentation, whereas boneless Ribeye steaks allow for caramelizing all sides evenly.

The consistency of any beef cut is impacted by the temperature and device in which the meat is cooked.

Where and How to Buy

When you buy a tomahawk steak, you want to go to a quality butcher. You can pick them up from your local grocery store pre-sliced and packaged. However, a butcher will be able to give you the cut and quality you desire.

After you find a butcher, you need to know what to look for in a steak. The most important elements are:

  • Color – You want to select a steak with no brownish spots. If the meat is in a case, pull it out and look at it in regular light. If you go to the butcher, the meat should be fresh.
  • Marbling – Marbling refers to the amount of fat in your meat. Fat helps the meat maintain its flavor and melt in your mouth like butter. Try to pick a steak with a well-marbled eye in the middle and a large muscle on top.

How to Cook a Tomahawk Steak

Reverse searing is an excellent way to prepare tomahawk steak. This method requires allowing your steak to slowly rise in temperature on the grill, cooling it, then searing it. This way, you can enjoy your steak while it’s still hot.

Take the steak out of the fridge two hours before you plan to cook. You want the steak to come up to room temperature. After that…

cooked tomahawk steak

Prepare the Grill

You have multiple options to prepare your grill or smoker. You can:

  • Set up a two-zone heat method. In this method, you only have hot coals on one side of the grill.
  • Preheat the smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. Both smoking and low-heat grilling work for slowly cooking your steak.

Season the Steak

Juicy grilled or smoked meat has its own rich flavor. For this reason, many people prefer to stick to the basics when seasoning steak. Use a healthy amount of quality salt and pepper to account for the thick slab of beef.

If you want to get fancy, you could go with a beef seasoning or steak rub. The best combinations for steak often include cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and crushed coriander.

Regardless of how you season it, you want to apply seasoning right before you are ready to grill.

Start to Cook

Once your coals or smoker is ready, put the meat down. If you used the two-zone method, put your steak on the cool side of the grill. Remember, you want the meat to cook slowly to ensure the middle gets warm.

At this point, you do not want to sear the steak. Flip it regularly to keep the cooking even. After about 15 minutes, use a meat thermometer (We highly recommend Thermapen Mk4)  to ensure the steak is around 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

A finished, medium-rare steak has an internal temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. You don’t want your steak finished yet, because the added heat from the sear will cook it further.

Time to Sear

Take your steak off the grill and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. If you cook steak, you know that you typically let the steak rest when you finish cooking. However, letting it rest before the sear will allow you to enjoy it nice and hot.

After it rests, light up some more coals and bring up the heat. If you started with a smoker, now is the time to bring out the grill (or pan, if you wish). Place the steak directly over the hot coals for a minute or two before you flip it over.

sear the tomahawk

Now, you have a great sear, and your steak is ready to eat. If you don’t get the sear you want, you can try leaving the steak on a little longer. However, it’s important that you don’t overcook your steak at this point.

Finish and Eat

Use a thermometer to assess your steak. If you want it rare, you’re looking for 125 degrees Fahrenheit. For well done, you want 160 degrees (checkout our steak donesses guide).

If you wish, you can finish off your steak with salt or butter.

Then, cut it into thin slices and enjoy.

About the author

Adam can tell you the difference between a flank steak and skirt steak and any other cut of meat. He loves sharing his knowledge of steaks with everyone, ensuring you get the perfect steak every time.