What Is a Cowboy Steak? (And How to Grill It Perfectly)

November 4, 2022
Written by Kristy J. Norton

Also called a bone-in ribeye steak, a cowboy steak is a thick-cut ribeye steak taken from the rear part of the rib. To make it a true cowboy steak, the rib bone has to remain completely attached to the meat. This makes it look like the tomahawk axe, hence its second name, tomahawk steak

Today, I’m going to show you how to cook a cowboy steak like it’s straight out of a cowboy movie. I have practically done this a thousand and one times in my home kitchen and right from cooking school. It’s very simple. All you need is a good cut of cowboy steak, delicious spices, and a grill. Yeehaw, here we go! 

What is a Cowboy Steak

What Is a Cowboy Steak?

In a nutshell, it’s a bone-in ribeye!

Cowboy steak sounds very masculine, martial, or, can I say, rustic. It’s a large dark red, well-marbled, thick-cut steak attached with a long, frenched bone from the rib

As I already mentioned, this cut of meat is identical to the ribeye steak. The big difference, literally, is that this is boned-in, just like the T-bone and porterhouse steak. The steak is taken from the longissimus. And you can take as much as 14 cowboy steaks from a cow, depending on the size. 

Is Cowboy Steak Same as Tomahawk?

Yes, this steak is also called a tomahawk steak. Although some say a cowboy steak has a short, frenched bone while the tomahawk has a longer bone. Both are the same. Doesn’t matter the length of the bone.

So, for the sake of this article, I’ll be interchanging the cowboy steak with tomahawk steak.

How Do You Prepare a Tomahawk Steak?

You grill a tomahawk steak no differently than a normal steak if it weren’t for the size difference. 

Some like to start the cooking from a cast iron skillet and finish it in the grill or oven. But when it’s time to go to the grill, the most sensible way to do it is by using the reverse sear technique.

This is due to the thickness of the steak. It is often a bit thicker than an ordinary beef steak. 

A reverse sear means you slowly bring your steak close to the desired doneness at around 225 degrees and then finish grilling it at extremely high heat.

I use my pellet smoker for the reverse sear. This helps the meat get a slight smoke aroma and stay juicy and tender. But if what you have is a charcoal grill, please go ahead!

If you don’t have a smoker, you can also do phase 1 in the oven, then later switch to the super hot grill for the finish. When the internal temperature reaches around 110 to 120 degrees, phase two continues.

In the second phase, you have to preheat oven or turn the pellet smoker to around 450 to 650 degrees. The meat is grilled on both sides on the grates. I aim for an internal temperature of 130 to 135 degrees, so I can have a medium-rare steak.

Tomahawk steak on a wooden board

How to Cook a Cowboy Steak (Coffee-rubbed Tomahawk Steak Recipe)

Coffee-rubbed tomahawk steak – this is the new trend in the hand of sophisticated pitmasters. Actually, it’s just a cowboy-cut steak grilled with rub containing coffee, among other spices. 

The coffee rub I use in this recipe contributes to its slightly bitter note. I promise you, after grilling, when it has combined with the meat juices during grilling, it always ends up as a perfect steak.

First, here is an overview of all the ingredients you’ll need:


  • 1 dry-aged cowboy steak
  • 50g coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp Tellicherry peppercorns or black pepper 
  • 2 tbsp ground coffee
  • 1 tbsp cane sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 tsp baking cocoa
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 2 red chicory
  • 2 white chicory
  • 4 lettuce hearts
  • Almond oil
  • 2 red chili peppers
  • 1 organic lemon
  • 100ml buttermilk
  • 1 tsp jalapeno mayonnaise 
  • 1 tbsp almond oil
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 pinch of sugar
  • sea ​​salt and freshly ground Tellicherry pepper
  • baguette bread
  • Truffle Butter 

Preparation Method 

Step 1: Preheat the Grill to 250 Degrees

Since you’re grilling the steak backward (reverse sear), you have to start by preheating the pellet smoker to around 225 degrees Fahrenheit. As already mentioned, you can also use the charcoal, gas grill, or oven for this. It is important here that you use indirect heat. It is best to use a meat thermometer to monitor the temperature.

Step 2: Mix the Rub 

Next, in a small bowl, mix the ground coffee, cane sugar, cumin, baking cocoa, smoked paprika, and chili powder. The rub then becomes sufficiently fine with the use of a mortar.

Step 3: Season Your Steak on Both Sides

The next step is to get the cowboy tomahawk steak out of the fridge. Then, season your steak on both sides and let the meat rest for about 30 minutes to get to room temperature. If necessary, rub the steak very thinly with olive or vegetable oil before applying the rub. The rub will stick better.

Step 4: Place Steak on the Grill 

When the steak is at room temperature, and the pellet smoker has heated up, place the tomahawk steak in the grill and insert a temperature sensor in the middle to monitor the core temperature. You must ensure that the instant-read thermometer is not too close to the bone. That would give an incorrect measurement result.

Step 5: Prepare a Grilled Salad 

Now you have all the time in the world to prepare a grilled salad. I think grilled salad is great and super tasty with this recipe. 

For the salad dressing, mix the buttermilk with the jalapeno mayonnaise, the almond oil, and the pressed garlic clove. Add a pinch of sugar and season with salt and pepper that’s freshly ground.

Finally, add the zest of the organic lemon and halve the lemon. Grill half a lemon on the hot grill or another grill. Then add the lemon juice to the dressing. Stir everything together.

As a topping, finely dice the chili for later. Halve the lettuce and gently sprinkle the cut surfaces with the almond oil.

Grilled Steak Salad beside Lemon and Garlic

Step 6: Finish Grilling the Cowboy Steak 

Take the steak out of the smoker after the core temperature has reached 120 degrees.

Heat the pellet smoker to high heat, then finish grilling it on the grill grates until it gets medium rare. At the same time, the bread can be toasted.

Step 7: Grill and Serve the Salad

While resting steak, briefly grill the salad. This only takes a few minutes. Place the lettuce halves on the hot grill grate and grill for a short time. 

Then, serve and drizzle the salad halves with a little dressing. Add the chili cubes and put the rest on the table. Or you can cut the lettuce halves into strips and then mix the lettuce strips with the dressing. That’s up to you.

Step 8: Separate the Meat From the Rib Bone 

Remove the steak with the coffee rub crust from the bone first. Then cut it into slices. 

Step 9: Serve 

Serve with the grilled salad and the baguette bread. The baguette bread can be accompanied by super delicious truffle butter.


In the end, a cowboy steak cut is nothing more than a ribeye steak with the long bone from the rib bones.

Cowboy steaks only raise expectations, which I think it fulfills! It is often two to three fingers thick, and due to the long bone, it is also called tomahawk ribeye steak or tomahawk steak. This cut is cut from the front back. In any case, it is in a marbled and flavorful cut that will make an impression on your guests.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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