If you’re not yet familiar with tomahawk steaks, now is the perfect time to broaden your education. As impressive in appearance as it is in taste, this broad, beefy cut is a grill aficionado’s dream. Read on to learn how to grill a tomahawk steak to juicy perfection—whether you’re using a gas grill, a pellet smoker, or a charcoal-fired unit.
What Is A Tomahawk Steak?
The tomahawk steak is actually a section of the ribeye, that portion of the cow that yields well-marbled steak with a coarse grain, chewy texture, and unbelievable beef flavor.
Unlike the traditional ribeyes that line the butcher’s case, the tomahawk is characterized by a long, curved bone that acts as a “handle” during the grilling process. This bone, along with the distinctive oblong appearance of the meat itself, is what gives the steak its unusual moniker.
A tomahawk steak will typically weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds, including the bone. The butcher will often trim the bone to make it slightly thinner, a technique that’s known as “frenching.” However, they’ll still leave enough of it behind to give you something to grip with the tongs during the cooking process.
Where To Get Tomahawk Steaks
It can be difficult to find these beauties at your typical big-box store or supermarket chain. Even the local grocer might have a hard time getting a hold of them on a regular basis. That’s why it’s best to plan ahead.
If you’re like me, you’re already on a first-name basis with the butchers and meat managers in your area. Ask them if they’d be able to score a tomahawk steak or two if you gave them plenty of advance notice. Who knows? They might just fall in love with the flavor themselves and decide to keep them on hand after all.
If all else fails, you can always order the steaks online from a company like Omaha Steaks or Snake River Farms.
Pro Seasoning Tips
Like most quality cuts of beef, the tomahawk ribeye doesn’t require much in the way of fancy seasonings. You’re looking to accentuate the sweetness of the beef, not drown it beneath a ton of competing flavors.
Before seasoning the meat, make sure it’s fully thawed. If you’ve purchased it from an online retailer, it’s probably sealed in vacuum packaging. Remove the steak from the wrapping and pat the meat thoroughly dry with paper towels.
A traditional blend of sea salt, garlic powder, and freshly ground black pepper should do the trick. Just be sure to apply the blend generously, massaging it into all the creases and even over the fatty sections. Because the tomahawk cut is so large, you may have to make more of this mixture than you typically would when preparing a steak for the grill.
One final tip regarding the seasoning process: Let the steak sit at room temperature for 45 minutes after applying the mixture. This will give the meat time to fully absorb the flavors. The salt will also draw out some of the moisture, which will aid in the searing process later on.
How To Grill A Tomahawk Steak
When it comes to preparation, grilling is the way to go for this behemoth. Why? Because not only is the steak impressively huge on its own, it also comes with at least 6 inches of bone handle attached. For obvious reasons, this isn’t a steak that will fit in your skillet or sauté pan. It’s time to take the party outdoors—which is why I’ve included three different grilling methods for the tomahawk ribeye.
Using a Charcoal Grill
This is far and away my favorite method, as it gives the steak the prized smoky-savory char that I crave. For your convenience, I’ve reprinted a condensed version of this recipe at the end of the article.
1. Season the meat with your chosen blend as advised in Pro Seasoning Tips, above.
2. While the meat is resting, fill your chimney starter with coals. Ignite the stack and wait until the coals are fully coated in a thin layer of silvery ash.
3. Carefully remove the chimney starter, leaving all the coals on one side of the grill. Don’t replace the cooking grate until you’re ready to put the steak on—the idea is to heat it gradually. The searing process will come later—a technique that’s known as the “reverse searing” method.
4. Add the tomahawk steak to the cooler side of the grill.
5. Unlike with most steaks, you’ll want to keep flipping the tomahawk every 5 minutes or so to ensure a slow, even cook. Remember to keep it as far away from the coals as possible. The larger your grill is, the easier this step will be.
Tip: Don’t forget to rotate the steak from side to side, in addition to flipping it over.
6. After about 15 minutes of cooking and flipping, use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature of the tomahawk ribeye. Because the edges will heat up more quickly than the center, it can take some practice to achieve an accurate readout.
7. When the center of the steak has reached a temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to remove it from the grill. Don’t worry—the temperature will rise a few crucial degrees as it rests, and later during the reverse searing process.
8. Cover the steak with foil and let it rest for about 10-15 minutes. If it ends up resting for a bit longer while you prepare the grill for the sear, that’s fine.
9. Return the chimney starter to the empty side of the grill and fill it about half-full with fresh coals.
10. Light the coals and wait until they ash over before adding them to the rest of your pile. Wait about 5 minutes to allow the grill to heat up properly.
11. Return the steak to the grill, this time positioning the meat directly over the hot coals. After about one minute, turn it to sear the other side. When both sides are seared, use tongs to briefly hold the fatty end over the coals so the steak is charred all over.
Tip: If you’d like a stronger sear, you can drop the steak back onto the grill for an additional 20-30 seconds per side.
12. Allow the seared tomahawk ribeye to rest for an additional 5 minutes.
13. Use a sharp carving knife to remove the bone and slice the steak thinly against the grain. Here’s a great visual demonstration on how to carve a tomahawk ribeye for the ultimate effect.
14. If desired, sprinkle the slices with coarse salt and top with a few pats of herb butter.
Using a Gas Grill
While a gas grill might not give you quite the same flavor as charcoal, it’s a decent method if you’re working with limited time. Plus, you’ll be able to sear the steak to perfection. Note that this version doesn’t utilize the reverse sear technique, relying instead on the traditional method of searing the meat right away to seal in the juices.
1. Season the steak and let it rest for at least 45 minutes at room temperature.
2. In a shallow aluminum pan, combine 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 2 smashed garlic cloves, and a sprig of fresh thyme.
3. Preheat the grill to medium-low on one side, and as high as it will go on the other. You’re looking for a temperature of about 500-550 degrees Fahrenheit for the sear, and about half that on the side you’ll use for the low and slow portion of the process.
4. Place the prepared tomahawk steak on the hottest portion of the grill, pressing it down onto the preheated cooking grate. Cook for about 2-3 minutes.
5. Rotate the steak without flipping it, pressing it down into the grate again. Cook for another 2 minutes.
6. Flip the steak to the other side, using a pair of sturdy tongs to grip the bone. Repeat steps 3 and 4 until the steak has been seared for a total of 5 minutes on each side.
7. Shift the tomahawk ribeye to the cooler section of the grill. If your grill is outfitted with a secondary warming area, set the steak on that to keep it as far from the heat source as possible.
8. Insert an instant-read meat thermometer into the very center of the steak.
9. Place the prepared aluminum pan beneath the steak, directly on the grilling grate if you’re cooking the steak on a higher level.
10. Continue to cook the steak for about 30-45 minutes, basting the meat occasionally with the pan drippings. When the thermometer displays a readout of 125 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to take the steak off the grill.
11. Let the steak rest for 15 minutes before removing the meat from the bone and carving it into thin slices.
Using A Pellet Grill
When you cook the steaks on a pellet grill, you can experiment with different wood flavors for a taste experience that’s at once subtle and complex. Because this recipe smokes the meat before searing it, a more comprehensive seasoning blend is in order.
1. Prepare a seasoning rub of 1 tablespoon coarse salt, 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 2 teaspoons garlic powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon light brown sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard.
Tip: This blend makes enough for a single large tomahawk ribeye—feel free to double or triple the recipe accordingly.
2. Rub the steak all over with the seasoning blend and set aside.
3. Set the pellet grill to 225 degrees Fahrenheit and allow it to preheat for 15 minutes.
4. When the grill reaches the set temperature, place the steak on the cooking grate and close the lid.
5. Let cook for about 45 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 120 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
6. Remove the steak from the grill. Cover loosely with foil and set aside.
7. While the meat rests, increase the temperature of the pellet grill to 450 degrees.
8. Return the steak to the grill and sear for 7-8 minutes per side, until the internal temperature reaches 130 degrees.
9. Remove the steak from the grill and let rest for an additional 5 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.
10. Use a sharp carving knife to remove the steak from the bone and slice the meat thinly against the grain.
Once you’ve tasted one of these unique ribeye sensations for yourself, you’ll be tempted to reprise the experience again and again. When you’ve had a few practice runs, feel free to break out the recipe for your family and friends. They’re sure to be justifiably impressed by your know-how and your grilling prowess.
Perfectly Grilled Tomahawk Steak
- Charcoal Grill
- Meat thermometer
- Sturdy tongs
- Cutting board
- Aluminum foil
- Carving knife
- 1 large tomahawk ribeye steak (2.5-3.5 lbs)
- 1 tbsp. kosher salt
- 1 tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp. garlic powder
1. Combine the kosher salt, black pepper, and garlic powder in a small bowl.
2. Season the steak with the prepared mixture and set aside for 45 minutes.
3. Set up a two-zone fire in your charcoal grill, leaving one side entirely free of coals.
4. Cook the steak for about 15 minutes over the cooler side of the grill, flipping every 5 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches 100 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer.
5. Let the steak rest for 10-15 minutes while you freshen the coals to create an even hotter fire.
6. Sear the steak for 1 minute per side, then hold the fat over the heat so it crisps up.
7. Let the steak rest for 5 minutes before carving it into thin slices. Top with additional salt and herb butter, if desired.
- Prep Time: 45 minutes
- Cooking Time: 20 minutes
- Resting Time: 20 minutes
- Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
- Serves: 6