If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on this prime 36 ounce ribeye, then don’t be afraid to cook it low n’ slow in your smoker. A cut of meat this good doesn’t come around very often, so I wanted to find out from the experts how they smoke a cowboy steak. Smoking tomahawk steaks isn’t complicated, and I’ll show you a couple of different ways you can do it.
The best way to smoke a tomahawk is to set the temperature of your smoker between 225°F and 275°F and cook the steak until the internal temperature reaches 130°F. For wood, hickory or pecan blend well with beef but you can mix-and-match any of your favorite smoking woods. Dry brine the tomahawk with kosher salt 4-hours prior to smoking and apply a generous amount of Texas-style rub. Use melted butter as a binder to help the rub stick, and baste the meat every 15 minutes with melted butter during the cook. It should take about 1-hour to cook at 175°F, and longer if you are cooking at a lower temperature.
Prepare the Tomahawk
- Prepare the tomahawk by removing the silver skin and trimming any excess fat.
- Season the tomahawk with a rub or marinade (optional).
- Preheat the smoker to 225-250°F (110-120°C)
- Place the tomahawk on the smoker with bone side up.
- Smoke for 3-4 hours or until internal temperature reaches 135°F (57°C)
- Rest for 10-15 minutes before carving
How To Smoke a Tomahawk – Step-By-Step
|1||Dry brine the steak with kosher salt and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours.|
|2||Apply a generous amount of Texas rub to the tomahawk.|
|3||Fire up your smoker and stabilize the temperature of your smoker to 225 Fahrenheit.|
|4||Throw on a few chunks of hickory, pecan or your favorite smoking wood.|
|5||Place a drip pan with some water below the cooking grates to catch any dripping from the meat.|
|6||Once the temperature reaches at least 225 degrees, lay your tomahawk on the grill.|
|7||Insert a leave-in meat thermometer probe into the steak to track the internal temperature.|
|8||Let the tomahawk absorb the smoke for about 25 to 30-minutes before turning the meat.|
|9||Start regularly basting both sides of the tomahawk with melted butter once the steak has been on the grill for about 45-minutes.|
|10||Cook until the internal temperature reaches around 130°F. If you prefer your steaks well done, leave it in a while longer.|
|11||Rest the tomahawk for about 20 minutes to reabsorb all its natural juices.|
|12||Slice and serve.|
About the Tomahawk
The tomahawk steak is a cut of beef that is known for its long, exposed bone, which resembles the handle of a tomahawk axe. The cut is taken from the rib primal of the cow and includes the ribeye muscle and a section of the rib bone, which gives it its distinctive appearance. The tomahawk steak is considered a premium cut of meat, known for its rich, beefy flavor and tender texture.
The history of the tomahawk steak is not well-documented. The cut was likely popularized in the United States in the late 20th century, as it is not mentioned in any significant historical records. However, it is believed that the steak is derived from the traditional “bone-in ribeye” or “cowboy” cut, which has been around for decades.
The tomahawk steak gained more attention and popularity in the late 2000s, especially in the United States, as a unique, visually appealing and flavorful cut of meat that appeals to both home cooks and professional chefs. It’s known for being well marbled and flavorful, also perfect for grilling, broiling, and even smoking.
It is more expensive than the traditional bone-in ribeye due to the additional labor and the high demand for it. It’s a luxury cut that is often served at high-end steakhouses and restaurants, and it has become a popular option for special occasions and celebrations.
What Cut is Tomahawk?
A tomahawk steak is cut from the rib primal of the beef and it is essentially a bone-in ribeye. The cut includes the ribeye muscle and a section of the rib bone that is frenched, or cleaned of meat and fat, leaving a long bone which gives it the distinctive handle-like appearance.
As for the portion size, it depends on the size of the tomahawk steak, but generally one tomahawk steak can feed 2-3 people if the steak is on the smaller side or one person if the steak is large and thick. Tomahawk steaks are quite large and substantial, they usually weigh between 24 oz to 48 oz (680g to 1360g) which makes them ideal for sharing among a group or for a special occasion.
However, it’s also important to consider the appetite of the people you are serving, as some individuals may prefer a larger portion than others. So it’s always good to have a plan for leftovers, or to have additional side dishes available to supplement the meal.
How Much Does a Tomahawk Weigh?
Tomahawk steaks can vary in weight, depending on the size of the cut and the thickness of the bone. Typically, they weigh between 24 to 48 oz (680g to 1360g) although, some can be even heavier.
Most tomahawk steaks are cut between 1 1/2 and 2 inches thick. So if a cut is 1 1/2 inches thick it will weigh around 24 oz (680g) while a 2 inches thick tomahawk can weigh around 36 oz (1kg) which makes them quite a large and substantial cut of meat, ideal for sharing or to feed a bigger group.
When purchasing tomahawk steaks, it’s best to ask the butcher or supplier for the weight so you can plan accordingly for your meal. And keep in mind that tomahawks can be quite large, so you may need to adjust your cooking time and temperature accordingly to ensure the center of the steak is cooked to your desired doneness.
How to Cook a Tomahawk
When it comes to smoking a tomahawk, the most important thing to remember is to start with a high-quality cut of meat. I always look for a well-marbled piece with a good amount of fat that’s going to provide flavor and keep the meat nice and juicy.
Once you’ve got your tomahawk, trim off any excess fat and remove the silver skin. Then give it a good coating of my signature spice rub, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours, or even overnight if you’ve got the time.
When it comes to smoking the tomahawk, preheat your smoker to 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit (110-120C). Then place the tomahawk on the smoker, bone side up. Use a mild wood like post oak, pecan or apple and add a good amount of it to your smoker to give the meat that delicious smoky flavor.
Smoke the tomahawk for 3-4 hours, or until the internal temperature reaches 135 degrees Fahrenheit (57C). At this point, the meat should be tender and juicy, with a nice smoke ring. Let it rest for about 10-15 minutes before carving, so all the juices can redistribute and the meat will be even more tender.
How to Avoid a Dry Tomahawk Steak
- Start with a high-quality cut of meat: Look for a well-marbled piece with a good amount of fat that’s going to provide flavor and keep the meat nice and juicy.
- Proper Seasoning: Proper seasoning with a dry rub or marinade is important, it adds flavor and helps to create a nice crust on the exterior while keeping the inside moist.
- Temperature Control: Cook the steak at the proper temperature, tomahawk steak is best cooked between 225-250°F (110-120°C) which is considered low and slow cooking. It also allows for a better temperature control, and a more consistent cook throughout the meat.
- Rest the steak: Always let the steak rest for at least 10-15 minutes before carving it. Resting time allows the internal temperature to continue to rise and the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more tender and juicy cut of meat.
- Baste the steak: Basting the steak with butter, oil or even juices from the meat can add extra moisture and flavor to the steak.
- Cook to the right degree: Cook the steak to your desired doneness, but be sure not to overcook it. Cook it to the right degree as it can be the difference between juicy and dry. It’s always best to use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature of the meat to ensure it is cooked to your desired level of doneness.
As with any large prime cut of beef, it’s best to start with a dry brine. Dry brining is basically rubbing salt into the meat prior to cooking. When you sprinkle a little kosher salt over a thick piece of beef like a tomahawk steak, you draw out the natural juices to the surface, and allow them to take on the salt. When you allow the salt time to penetrate the meat, during the cook the salt will help the tomahawk retain moisture and prevent it from drying out. The salt will also add flavor to the meat.
For your tomahawk steaks, I’d recommend leaving them to dry brine for about 4 hours (2 hours on each side). Simply lay them down flat, sprinkle half a teaspoon of the Kosher salt on the meat, and leave it in the fridge for 2 hours. Take it out, flip it over, sprinkle another half teaspoon of the salt over the unsalted side, and leave it in the fridge again for another 2 hours. After that, your tomahawk is ready for the rub.
Once the tomahawk is brined, it’s time to infuse it with some delicious Texas barbecue style rub. With the rub, you can use any you like. Be careful using store-bought rubs because they can be a little salty. If you apply a salty rub and brine the tomahawk, then you are giving the meat a double dose of salt, which will ruin your prized steak.
As for the best seasonings, it’s largely a matter of personal preference. Some popular options include:
- Dry Rubs: These are a blend of herbs, spices and salt which can add flavor and create a nice crust on the exterior.
- Marinates: They are a blend of herbs, spices, acidic liquids like lemon juice or vinegar, oil and other ingredients. They can add a lot of flavor and tenderize the meat.
Here are a few examples of dry rubs and marinades that are commonly used for tomahawk steak:
- Classic dry rub: Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika.
- Coffee rub: ground coffee, brown sugar, cumin, smoked paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper.
- Rosemary and garlic: crushed rosemary, garlic, and olive oil.
- Whisky and soy marinade: whisky, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and black pepper.
Tomahawk steak is a large, flavorful cut of beef and can hold up to bold seasonings, feel free to experiment and find the seasoning that you enjoy the most, or that pairs well with the other ingredients you are serving it with.
Making your own rub is easy, and you can experiment with different herbs and spices for my rubs to keep it interesting. Check out my article on how to make your own rub here with detailed instructions using the following ingredients:
- - ½ Cup Paprika
- - ½ Cup Salt
- - ½ Cup Sugar
- - ½ Cup Granulated Garlic
- - ¼ Cup Granulated Onion
- - ¼ Cup Chili
- - ¼ Cup Cumin
- - 2 Tablespoons Black Pepper
- - 2 Tablespoons Dry Mustard
- - 1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
- Combine all the spices together in a large mixing bowl
- Store rub in rub shakers
The Rub Binder
To get the rub to stick to your tomahawk, make sure you use a little olive oil, mustard or bone broth to help the dry rub stick to the meat. This will make sure that it doesn’t just fall off when you come to smoke it. Once you have applied your rub, leave your tomahawk to rest for 30 minutes to let the flavors marry before going into the smoker.
Everything tastes better with butter, right? And tomahawk steaks are no exception! Melt yourself some butter with some of your texas style rub mixed into it. Wait until your steak is almost done and then baste the meat on one side with the butter. Flip it over after a short while, and allow the butter to drip down on to the coals. This will help sear your steak. After a few minutes, baste the unbuttered side of the steak for even more texas style rub and buttery goodness.
You can smoke a tomahawk on any type of smoker, charcoal, offset smokers, pellet grills, electrics or gas. It doesn’t matter what pit you use, as long as you can hold the temperature at 225°F and select a wood that blends well with beef.
Charcoal Smoker Set Up
If using charcoal, as always, set up your coals for indirect cooking and put hot coals on one side of the grill, and then place your steaks on the other. The indirect heat will cook your tomahawk nice and slow. Place the hot coals on one side of the lower grate and add some wood chunks (I’d recommend hickory or pecan wood, but it can be any you love really).
Another way to smoke a tomahawk is by hanging it in a drum smoker. If you’ve ever hung ribs, you’ll know it adds a different texture to the meat without the sear marks and the meat gets a more even amount of smoke. Hanging a tomahawk requires a little more prep work than simple throwing it on a charcoal grill, but it is worth it if you have the time.
The Best Wood
|Wood Type||Flavor Profile|
|Oak||Strong, smoky, and slightly sweet.|
|Pecan||Mild and nutty, with hints of sweetness.|
|Apple||Mild, fruity and sweet flavor|
|Cherry||Mild, slightly sweet and fruity|
|Maple||Mildly sweet with hints of syrup|
|Hickory||Strong, smoky, and slightly sweet with a hint of bacon|
Please keep in mind that the type of wood you choose will also depend on the cut of meat, and the desired flavor profile you are looking for. It’s also important to keep in mind that some woods can overpower the flavor of the meat. It’s always good to use a mild wood first, and then adjust accordingly.
You can also combine the wood you use with the meat, for example, use oak and pecan if you want stronger smoky flavor or use apple and cherry to get a sweeter and milder flavor.
It’s important to use only well-dried, clean woods to avoid creosote build-up, which can give a bitter or acrid taste to the meat.
How To Hang a Tomahawk in a Drum Smoker
To hang a tomahawk, cook the meat as above, but follow the steps below.
- Drill a hole in an inch from the end of the tomahawk rib bone. The hole has to be large enough for a meat hook.
- Insert a hanging rail into your drum smoker
- Once your smoker reaches 220°F – 275, push the tomahawk on to the meat hook and allow it to hang over the smoking coals.
- Rotate the steak it a few times to make sure it properly cooked the meat on every side.
Let it Rest
it’s important to rest a tomahawk after cooking, similar to other cuts of meat. The resting time allows the internal temperature to continue to rise, and the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a more tender and juicy cut of meat. It’s generally recommended to rest the tomahawk for 10-15 minutes before carving it.
|Doneness||Internal Temperature (°F / °C)||Cooking Time (hours)|
|Rare||120-125 / 49-52||3-4|
|Medium Rare||130-135 / 54-57||3-4|
|Medium||135-140 / 57-60||3-4|
|Medium Well||145-150 / 63-66||3-4|
|Well Done||155-165 / 68-74||3-4|
Hopefully, this guide has shown you that smoking a tomahawk is not only possible, but delicious. And it’s not as hard as many people think. Stick to either of the methods above and I guarantee you’ll love the results!
My Favorite Meat Smoking Tools
Thanks for checking out this article. I hope you learned a few things. Here are some of my favorite tools I use when smoking brisket that may be useful to you. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to purchase any of these products, I’ll earn a commission. But in all honesty, these are the tools I recommend to my family and friends who are just starting out.
Meat Thermometer: There are dozens of fancy thermometers on the market, but I still use my trusty TP20. For around $50, I have a high-quality meat thermometer with two probes, and can track the temperature of my smoker with one probe, and my meat with the other probe. The ThermoPro TP20 is an Amazon Best Seller because it’s the easiest thermometer to operate, is durable, highly accurate, and comes with pre-programmed meat settings.
Instant Read Thermometer: Arguably, the second most important tool you need is a fast and accurate instant-read thermometer. These tools play an important role in the latter stages of the cook when the meat needs regular checking in multiple areas. I use the ThermoPro TP19 because it can do everything a ThermaPen can do, but for a fraction of the cost. You can check out the TP19 on Amazon here.
Wireless Thermometer: The latest thermometers on the market have no wires and can be controlled by wi-fi via your phone. Airprobe 3 is the best of this technology.
Butcher Paper: Wrapping brisket in butcher paper has become a huge trend in barbeque thanks to Aaron Franklin. Wrapping your brisket in paper will give you a nice brisket bark. However, you can’t just use any old paper, it has to be unwaxed, food grade paper. You can find it on Amazon here.
Advanced Thermometer and Automatic Temperature Controller: Once you’re ready to take things seriously, the FireBoard 2 Drive is a six-channel Bluetooth/Wi-Fi thermometer that can monitor up to 6 pieces of meat, control and graph your cook sessions on your smartphone, and attaches to an an automatic blower that will convert your charcoal smoker to a set-and-forget. This is one of the most advanced meat thermometers on the market. You can check it out on the FireBoard website here.