What is a Tomahawk Steak? Is It Worth the Hype?

June 29, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

The tomahawk steak is a premium meat both in flavor and price. This delicious subprimal cut is taken from the rib cage of a steer and is known for its unique appearance, tenderness, and flavorful mouthfeel. If you’re a steak lover, you’ll especially love this supple piece of beef.

I have prepared this meat cut for several years, and I can tell you that a perfectly cooked tomahawk is always a showstopper at barbecue parties. So, if you’re looking to learn more about this tasty cut, you’ve come to the right chef. Today, I’ll answer your question ‘what is a tomahawk steak?’ and show you my preferred cooking methods. So, without further ado, let’s get started. 

What is a tomahawk steak

What Exactly is a Tomahawk Steak?

So, what is a tomahawk steak? Tomahawk steak is a cut of rib meat that has the rib bone left intact. This protruding bone on a tomahawk cut resembles the handle of a tomahawk. Hence the name of this juicy piece of meat.

Moreover, butchers trim the tomahawk to expose the bone even more for a unique and delicious looking cut. This trimming technique is known as the “French trim.” 

Tomahawks contain three muscles located outside the rib cage of the cow. The longissimus dorsi, the spinalis dorsi, and the complexus muscle. Because these muscles are not exercised as frequently as other muscles, they are supple and delicate.

The longissimus dorsi is the meatiest part of the rib primal and contains most of the fat marbling. The second muscle, the spinalis dorsi, also known as the rib crown, is the ribeye cap of the meat cut. The longissimus dorsi and the rib crown are separated by a fat cap that is located above the eye of the rib primal. The third muscle is the complexus, and it’s the smallest of the three.

These tender muscles give this impressive steak a deep flavor that melts in your mouth when you cook it properly.

Tomahawk steaks are generally large. The bone is around seven inches long, and most are roughly two inches thick. So, this meat cut is perfect if you want your guests to eat to their hearts’ content.

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What is the Price of a Tomahawk Steak? 

On average, tomahawks typically cost around $28 a pound or more.

However, the price could be higher depending on where you buy it and the caliber of the steer. The tomahawk is unquestionably one of the priciest steaks available. In my opinion, the tenderness and flavor of this meat cut offer a premium taste that befits the high price.

Are Tomahawk Steaks Better Than Ribeye Steak?

Technically, a tomahawk is a bone in ribeye steak that has been specially prepared with at least five inches of the rib bone attached.

The extra-long bone is French trimmed using the same cooking method as a rack of lamb.

Both the tomahawk and ribeye are cut from the rib bone section of the cow. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some name the cut a tomahawk ribeye. Some restaurants even list tomahawks as a tomahawk ribeye steak.

The appearance of a tomahawk and a ribeye is the major distinction between them. The tomahawk steak has the bone in, unlike the ribeye, which is typically boneless.

Since the butcher doesn’t need to make any further cuts to remove the bone, tomahawks are typically truer to the original cut from the steer.

Furthermore, tomahawks are generally thicker than ribeye cuts. Aside from these differences, the tomahawk and ribeye steaks are more similar than they are different.

I’ve found that these meat cuts share a similar taste and tenderness. Tomahawks and ribeye cuts both have a buttery texture and flavor.

Moreover, both cuts are also well-marbled, so you can be sure they’re both flavorful steaks.

Juicy Tomahawk Steak

What is the Recommended Smoking Temperature for Tomahawk Steak?

From experience, a tomahawk steak should be smoked slowly on medium high heat to allow all the fats and juices to caramelize and marinate. I advise you to cook a tomahawk steak at an oven or smoker temperature between 225 and 250°F.

How to Buy the Best Tomahawk Steak?

Knowing what cut of steak to choose is an excellent way to improve your odds of buying a good cut of a tomahawk.

Tomahawk steak is a premium cut that’s high in demand, so you need to order it from your butcher or grocery store in advance. My professional tip is to request a steak cut from the loin end of the ribs. Let’s discuss tips to help you select the tastiest tomahawk steak.

1. Examine the Steak

First, examine the steak thoroughly. Pay attention to the color of the steak. A fresh tomahawk should look red.

If you notice any brown or gray spots on the steak, it doesn’t always indicate that the meat is spoiled. These colored spots may mean that the steak has been on the shelf for too long.

In addition, look for intramuscular fat and marbling on the meat cut. Marbling is a term describing the presence of fat on a piece of meat.

Meat with marbling typically tastes better and is more tender when cooked. However, don’t overdo it and pick cuts with too much intramuscular fat.

It’s important to strike a balance. Too much fat will be bad for your health.

2. Check the Meat’s Label

Meat packages come with labels describing the nature of the steak cut. These labels may be unclear to some buyers, so I’ll explain what they mean below.

  • Grass-fed: This does not necessarily mean that the cow exclusively consumed grass. Although some steers are 100% grass-fed cattle, 50% grass-fed cattle also fall into this category. So, the cow doesn’t have to be completely grass-fed to be labeled as such. 
  • Dry-aged: Tomahawks and other premium cuts of meat may occasionally be dry-aged. This means the meat has matured in a controlled, dry environment to enhance its flavor and texture. 
  • Organic: Cattle that have the USDA organic label have not been exposed to artificial fertilizers. These animals only consume grains that are free of hormones and antibiotics.

Feel free to ask your local butcher about the steak labels to learn more.

My Tomahawk Cooking Tips

You need to be cautious when preparing a tender cut of tomahawk steak. Due to the size of the steak, you need to slowly apply heat while cooking it rather than sear it immediately. You wouldn’t want raw insides and charred edges. Below, I’ll highlight more smoking tips.

  1. Allow your steak to sit out of the fridge for one to two hours and let it thaw completely. Then, pat it dry and apply the seasoning. I typically season my steak with 1 teaspoon each of pepper and kosher salt per pound. 
  2. Then, fire up the grill (you can use a gas grill or charcoal grill) and place the meat inside once it’s reached the right temperature. Leave one side empty and place the tomahawk on the grill grate. Next, turn the steak over every 5 minutes.
  3. After 15 minutes, use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. Pull the meat off the grill and wrap it in foil after the internal temp reaches 115 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, give the meat roughly 15 minutes to rest.
  4. The final step is to sear the steak. Increase the grill’s temperature. Then, place the steak on the grill grate after 5 minutes. 
  5. After one minute, remove the steak from the flame after searing all sides. Check the temperature with the meat thermometer. A desired internal temperature medium-rare tomahawk should range between 130 and 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
  6. Now, you’re ready to enjoy this delicious cut. Cut the perfect steak against the grain on a cutting board and serve with your favorite sides.
Barbecue Tomahawk Steak

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How Can I Make a Tomahawk More Tender?

From experience, the tomahawk steak is most tender when I oven roast it after being seared on a cast iron skillet. Drizzle butter, and condiments like thyme, etc., when cooking steak. Then, finish reverse searing to ensure you get a delicious, and incredibly tender meat cut.

2. Is Cooking a Bone in Ribeye Easy?

As you probably know, the tomahawk chop has incredible marbling and a buttery texture. Luckily, cooking this steak is not complicated.

You just must watch the meat more closely than with a regular steak. Refer to my cooking tips for a more detailed guide.

3. Is Cowboy Steak Better Than Tomahawk?

Essentially, these cuts are the same. The cowboy cut is only cheaper than the tomahawk because it is easier to cut and prepare. The tomahawk requires more time and patience from the butcher when carving. The taste and texture are also comparable.

4. What Makes a Tomahawk Steak Different?

The unique aspect of a tomahawk ribeye comes from its unusual form. The long, thick piece of beef resembles a rib eye but has a huge bone down the middle that gives it the appearance of a tomahawk axe. The Instagram ready steak looks spectacular on any dinner table because of its unique presentation.


Tomahawk steak is as premium as they come. You’ll enjoy the incredible flavor of this cut, but some buyers may be put off by the price.

However, in my opinion, the rich flavor and size of the cut make it worth it. Furthermore, feel free to experiment with my grilling tips if you want to prepare this delectable beef rib at home.

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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