The tomahawk steak is a thing of meat-loving beauty.
At least, it is if you cook it right. If you don’t cook it right – and plenty of people don’t, pouring meat-money down the drain in a symphony of error, raw centers, charred outsides and carnivorous tragedy – it’s a crime committed on an animal that’s already dead.
A tomahawk steak is a thing to be treated right, or left alone for those who know what they’re doing.
Treated right, it’ll be one of those experiences that strike you fondly in an idle moment years down the line, and make you look over at, or call up, the person you shared the experience with, just to say hey.
Treated wrong, it’s a thing never to speak of again.
Let’s dive into how to grill a tomahawk steak like a pro!
Anatomy Of A Tomahawk
Let’s just make sure we all understand what we’re dealing with here.
A tomahawk steak is named after a Native American ax, for the fairly straightforward reason that it looks like a tomahawk ax. People who named cuts of meat were not, for the most part, fooling around.
It has a usual thickness of at least two inches of meat, and the bone handle usually takes up between 6-8 inches of space.
Utterly unmistakeable on any meat platter, it has a reputation as being “The Flintstone Steak.” It’s essentially a ribeye steak with juicy, juicy knobs on, the rib bone left attached and French-cleaned of any straggly attached meat for the pleasure of the appearance.
With bone-weight included, you can be looking at anything up to 36 ounces of meat – and sometimes even more – in a tomahawk steak.
It’s a prime product, priced accordingly, so if you’re going to cook a tomahawk wrongly, you’re literally throwing not just supreme pleasure, but also hard-earned money, in the garbage bin.
The Trouble With Physics
But here’s the thing. Because a tomahawk is so big, and so thick, complete with an awkwardly long bone right through the center of it, it can be extremely difficult to cook.
If you don’t have both the tools and the talent, physics is against you ever having a tomahawk that’s juicy all the way through. The outsides will cook quicker, while the inside of that 2 inch thick slab of meat are still chilling.
By the time the insides are turning from raw to succulent medium rare, the outsides are yelling “You’re killing me here!” and charring from succulence to cardboard.
Embrace Your Inner Flintstone
So how do you successfully grill a tomahawk? How do you get it to a point where it’s not just edible, but the king of steaks that it deserves to be?
Well, first of all, you’re gonna need to jettison some expectations. Unless you have an enormous skillet pan and probably a central burner, this is not a thing you do in a standard pan.
Again, those numbers are against you – two inches thick, 608 inches of bone. Your standard skillet’s going to run away and hide behind the ladles till you go away.
What you’re going to need to cook a Flintstone steak is a suitably Flintstone heat source.
We’re talking outdoor grills here. You have the meat, get in touch with your Inner Cave Dweller.
Slowly Does It
Now, if you’ve gone for a truly joyful piece of meat, chances are it’s prepackaged, and maybe even frozen. Take the meat from the freezer, keep it in its packet, put it in the refrigerator on a large plate.
Leave it there for 2-days.
Yes, you read that right. This is a slow process. You’re talking about the king of steaks here, you don’t hustle it.
The slow thawing process will slowly, gently melt the ice crystals between the fibers of the meat, leaving the meat itself pristine.
When it comes out of the refrigerator, release it from its package and pat it dry. Make sure there are no parts of the meat that still feel frozen. If there are, cancel all your plans and wait until it doesn’t feel frozen anymore.
You don’t want to mess this up with impatience, and besides, it just gives you a chance to get hungrier so you can do the steak more justice when it’s cooked.
When it’s thawed, it’s time to talk heat sources.
Pick A Team
Your outdoor grill can be powered by whatever you like. It can be a bucket of charcoal bricks, it can be a state of the art grilling android.
That’s up to you and your lifestyle. But here’s where we split you up, like a Choose your own Adventure book, so you can follow the instructions most relevant to you.
If your grill has adjustable temperature control, whack that sucker up to the highest heat you can, while simultaneously preheating the oven to 375 degrees.
You’re going to be using both to get the best out of your tomahawk steak.
If you’re going the charcoal route, you want the coals to turn ashy grey-white before you go any further. When that happens, transfer the coals to the grill pan.
When your grill is up to temperature, season your meat.
Use salt and pepper for human consumption and flavor, add your own particular additional seasonings for personal preference if you like.
Don’t use anything that’s going to rob you of the taste or the succulence of the meat itself – that’s where your big bucks have gone, and that’s the experience you’re after.
Do this at the very last minute – salt your meat too far ahead of time and it will draw liquid out of the mean, increasing your chances of a tough, dry steak.
That said, when you season, season all sides, and use enough salt that you’ll be able to taste the effect it has – remember, this is a thick, thick steak.
Apply meat…to heat.
Sear the steak for 3-4 minutes on the conventional outdoor grill, then flip. How will you know the moment’s right? Easy – the meat will release easily from the grill without a struggle.
Give it the same sear on the underside. If the flames lick up the side, that’s entirely cool. If nothing else, it will render some of the fat and give it color and succulence.
On charcoal, you’re looking at more like 5 minutes per side before you flip.
You’re also looking to keep the steak on the grill for the whole of its cooking time, so don’t forget to flip it not only side to side, but also end to end to get that fat-rendering thing working for you.
Conventional grillers, after you’ve seared both sides, transfer the steak to the pre-heated oven for around 30 minutes – but use a meat thermometer to be sure of your temperatures.
You’re looking for an internal meat temperature of 130-135 degrees. When you hit that (try a few spots, just to be sure), pull the steak out, and leave it to rest for the longest 5-10 minutes of your life.
There. Is. A. Reason.
We’re not just being mean to you. When you cook meat, its fibers tense up, giving a toughness to the meat if you eat it straight away. Let it rest for those 5-10 minutes, and it will literally rest, relax, unclench – and then be juicy and succulent when you eat it.
Charcoalers – after 15 minutes or so of flipping the steak, you’re going to want to start getting in there with your meat thermometer.
Normally the center should be between 130-135 degrees for a perfect medium-rare (naturally, use higher or lower temperatures as a guide to getting blue, rare, medium-well or well done steaks).
But because of the way you’re doing things, you’re looking for a center heat of around 95-100 degrees when you take it off the grill.
Stick with us.
Once you take it off the grill, you’re going to rest it for 10-15 minutes, or maybe even slightly more because of the relatively wild heat source compared to the oven.
While you’re letting the meat rest, go get yourself some fresh coals and heat them up. Sure, you can use the old ones, but that’s like trying to see by the light of a burned-out match. Go. Get the new coals. Don’t skimp now, you’re so close to Steak Heaven.
When it’s rested, then you do your full-on hearty sear, directly over the new hot coals – say a minute each side and a minute directly on the fat, for rendered, golden glory. Be aware, that’s going to be an interesting minute of your life, mixing fat and hot coals. Stand as far back as you can, for the sake of your eyebrows.
When you’ve got the sear that makes you personally drool, you’re good to slice and eat. You don’t need to rest it a second time, and the hard sear will have brought the middle neatly up to medium-rare.
Respect The Tomahawk Steak
The tomahawk steak is a masterstroke of meat and butchery. It deserves your respect, it deserves your skill, and it absolutely deserves your hunger. When you get one, now you’ll know how to do it justice in the cooking process.
Doing it justice in the eating process is up to you.