Tomahawk steak is gaining popularity as more people discover how delicious this unique cut can be. If you’re new to the table, you might be wondering: what part of the cow is tomahawk steak, and what makes it taste so good? We’re here to fill in the blanks.
What Part of the Cow is Tomahawk Steak?
Tomahawk steak is another term for a ribeye that still has at least 5 inches of bone attached. It comes from the rib primal, in the upper middle section of the steer. The meat should be tender and well-marbled, with premium beef flavor.
About Tomahawk Steak
The tomahawk steak can be difficult to find in regular supermarkets, especially if you live in a rural area. However, it’s becoming ubiquitous on restaurant menus, owing to its impressive appearance.
This cut is large and round to oblong in shape, but its claim to fame is the sizable bone that protrudes from one end. This gives the steak the appearance of an ax or tomahawk, which is where it gets its name.
Tomahawk steaks are usually cut at least 2 inches thick. It’s difficult to get them any thinner, but since the meat is at its best when served medium-rare, that shouldn’t be an issue.
What Part of the Cow is Tomahawk Steak?
The steak is cut from the rib primal. This portion of the steer is located toward the middle, along the spine—or, more precisely, the rib cage.
The meat in this section of the cow doesn’t get a great deal of exercise. As such, the meat is well-marbled and tender. If you’ve ever eaten a ribeye or a cut of prime rib, you’ll know what we’re talking about.
In essence, the tomahawk is a ribeye—albeit one that still has the bone attached. That’s the difference between the two cuts. The taste and texture should be similar, except that the bone imbues the meat with an extra punch of beef flavor.
Best Way To Prepare Tomahawk Steak
When you invest in a superb piece of meat like this, the last thing you want is to dry it out. Grilling or searing over high heat, or running it under the broiler, are your best bets.
Personally, we prefer to grill tomahawk steak whenever possible. There’s no substitute for meat that’s cooked over an open flame. That said, if your grilling grate isn’t large enough to accommodate the cut, the broiler will work in a pinch.
What’s The Difference Between Tomahawk and Cowboy Steak?
In order to be classified as a tomahawk steak, the ribeye has to include at least 5 inches of exposed rib bone. The butcher will “french,” or trim, the bone to remove any excess meat or fat to make it look more appealing.
A cowboy steak is another term for a ribeye that contains a segment of the rib bone. The only difference between cowboy steak and tomahawk steak is that the tomahawk’s bone is larger. The steak itself might be a bit bigger too, but not necessarily.
Since there’s less bone on a cowboy steak, some grilling aficionados think it’s a better deal. After all, these steaks are sold at a per-pound price, so when a lot of the weight is tied up in an inedible bone, you’re getting less bang for your buck.
Is Tomahawk Steak Expensive?
You can expect to drop a fair amount of cash if you want to enjoy a tomahawk steak. High-end restaurants have been known to attach $100 price tags to these cuts. To be fair, it’s possible for two people to split a tomahawk, but that’s still a steep price.
Why is it so expensive? There are several reasons. First of all, the steak has a singularly impressive appearance. You’re essentially paying for the “wow” factor of a gorgeously presented steak.
Second, the bone does enhance the flavor of the meat. That’s true of most bone-in cuts, but since ribeye is such a delicious steak anyway, this is a classic case of gilding the lily—in other words, just more of a good thing.
Most importantly, the bone makes the steak weigh a great deal more than it would if you were buying the ribeye alone. That would make the steak exponentially more expensive even if it weren’t already set at a high per-pound price.
You might be able to save a bit of money by buying tomahawk steaks and cooking them at home. Still, it’s by no means cheap. Omaha Steaks, for example, charges over $200 for two dry-aged tomahawks. Although each steak weighs in at 36 ounces, this isn’t much of a bargain.
Some retailers sell their tomahawk steaks for as little as $25 per pound. If you want to give this cut a try but can’t afford to shell out $100 per steak, try searching online to find out who offers the best deal.
Bear in mind that while the price might be lower, the quality of the steak might reflect the difference. It’s a good idea to shop from a trusted retailer. You might also be able to score a good deal by checking in with your local butcher.
Prime Rib vs. Ribeye
Is there a difference between prime rib and ribeye? There is, but it has more to do with the butchering and preparation than anything.
A prime rib is a roast taken from the 6th to the 12th ribs on the primal. Since it’s a roast and not a steak, it’s larger than a ribeye and can feed more people as a result.
It’s important to note that prime rib refers to the cut of meat and not the quality. Since “prime” is also a term used in the grading of beef, things can get confusing. In fact, prime rib can be a prime, choice, or select cut (see below).
Prime rib can be sold either boneless or bone-in. It may also be called a “standing rib roast.” If you want to spiff up the presentation, ask your butcher to trim the roast for you before bringing it home.
Ribeye is a single steak that’s cut from the rib primal. As we’ve pointed out, it can also be called a cowboy or tomahawk steak if it’s sold with the bone in.
While prime rib is typically slow-roasted and served with an au jus, ribeye is best when grilled over an open flame. This gives it a beefier flavor and a more complex texture than prime rib, though both are exceptionally tender when they’re cooked to medium-rare.
Prime vs. Choice vs. Select
Per USDA standards, beef is graded based on the age of the animal at the time of slaughter and the amount of marbling in the meat. For the uninitiated, “marbling” is another term for the intramuscular fat that runs through the meat.
Steaks and roasts that receive the Prime grading are cut from young beef cattle that’s been well-fed throughout its lifetime. The meat should contain 8 to 13 percent fat, giving it a high degree of marbling. Only about 2 percent of beef receives a Prime grade.
Since the majority of Prime beef ends up in restaurants, Choice meat is easier to find. It still contains about 4 to 10 percent fat, so it has a decent amount of marbling, though it’s not quite as rich and juicy as Prime beef.
Select is perhaps the most common grade, as you can find it easily in the meat aisle of your grocery store. Since it contains only a small amount of marbling, it won’t be as flavorful as the higher grades, but the meat can still be very tender.
The Bottom Line
Now that you know tomahawk steak is the term for a ribeye with a sizable segment of bone attached, you can decide whether or not it’s worth the cost. While we think it’s worth trying at least once, we would consider it a meal for special occasions only.
Best of luck, and happy grilling!
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!