With this easy reverse seared tomahawk steak recipe, you’ll get a beautiful brown crust, perfectedge to edge doneness, and incredible flavor – every time!
Tomahawk. Cowboy Steak. Big Honkin’ Slab of Meat.
Whatever you want to call it, the tomahawk bone-in ribeye is not just an impressive piece of meat…it’s an EVENT. It’s not something you just toss in your cart like a pint of Chunky Monkey.
No…you’ve been dreaming about marbling and The Maillard Reaction for weeks. Maybe your dad’s birthday is coming up or you’re planning a romantic dinner.
Maybe you just want to treat yourself for not telling off the lady at your kid’s school even though she definitely deserved it (hypothetically speaking of course).
No matter the reason, you’ve shelled out a decent amount of coin and you want your steak to be PERFECT.
Don’t Worry! Whatever your skill level, this recipe is for YOU.
While I will include options for using an oven or a gas grill, I’m going to show you how to cook a reverse seared tomahawk steak on a Weber Kettle charcoal grill. The combination of charcoal and wood smoke will give us amazing flavor. I have used this method countless times to produce steakhouse quality results. After the sear, we’re taking our cowboy cut to the next level with a French technique that’ll blow your guests away.
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If you’re new to the world of grilled meats, you may be wondering….
What is a Tomahawk Steak?
Put simply, the tomahawk chop is a thick-cut bone in ribeye, typically weighing between 2 and 4 pounds, with at least 5 inches of bone left attached. Similar to a rack of lamb, the bone gets “Frenched” for aesthetics which means it is cleaned of meat and fat. The signature bone looks like a handle and thus, the tomahawk steak gets its name.
Because the ribeye comes from non-working muscles, it is heavily marbled and very tender, making it one of the best cuts you can get. (my personal favorite).
Now, there’s always “that one guy” on social media that just HAS to show everyone what a tightwad he is by saying “You’re so stupid…you’re just over paying for bone!”
Yeah, thanks Captain Obvious, you must be really fun at parties. The bone is cool and fun, which you clearly don’t understand.
Alright. It’s time to head to the store to get our hands on one of these behemoths.
What to Look For and Where to Buy a Tomahawk Steak
Most grocers aren’t going to regularly sell tomahawks, but some do. Of course, you can always get them from your local butcher, but you’ll pay a premium price for a cut that is often marked up already for its “coolness” factor. And yes, we do pay a little extra for the bone.
I like to get most of my meats, including my tomahawk steaks at my local wholesale club. Their meat is high quality, and I’ve got to be frugal with 3 teenage boys and a baby in the house.
Prime grade beef is going to have more marbling (intramuscular fat) which will make it both more tender and more flavorful, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with choice grade, especially on a thick cut ribeye.
With this recipe, I promise you that you can make a choice tomahawk so delicious and tender that it can make a grown man cry (just tell them it’s from the smoke!)
The ribeye complex includes several different muscles, but there’s two that steal the show – the longissimus dorsi (the eye), and the spinalis (the rip cap or rib eye cap) which gets smaller and smaller as steaks are cut from the 6th rib on the chuck side of the cow, down to the 12th rib towards the loin.
As you can see in the picture above, the eye is the larger section of the ribeye. It is tender and flavorful – especially from the chuck end. It’s actually the same muscle that becomes a NY Strip Steak towards the loin.
The spinalis though, is the WHOLE SHEBANG. Aside from marbling and some variations of fat seams, the size of the spinalis is what separates an amazing ribeye steak from a ho-hum piece of meat.
A good rule of thumb is to always choose the ribeye with the biggest spinalis. It is incredibly tender (even when over-cooked) and is the perfect bite of steak. When SCA Steak Cook-Off judges take their one bite, this is where it comes from.
Check out this video for more info on choosing the perfect ribeye steak to cook at home or for competitions.
Okay. We picked out our prize and we’re dying to get it home.
But then what?
It’s time to get this party started with a little salt sorcery known as the dry brine!
What is Dry Brining?
Rather than submerging our meat in a salt water solution, we are going to dry brine by sprinkling the outside with kosher salt and then resting uncovered in the fridge on a wire rack. This will help tenderize and keep the meat moist during cooking in addition to adding flavor.
You’ll want to do this several hours in advance and even up to 24 hours. This will dry out the surface of the meat and help produce an amazing sear.
Remember that guy that thinks we shouldn’t be overpaying for the bone? Well, he also thinks we shouldn’t dry brine because salt draws moisture out of the meat.
News flash buddy, we WANT that moisture to come to the surface. What happens is that the water will dissolve the salt and then go BACK IN TO THE MEAT taking that salty goodness with it. That is precisely how the magic happens.
As I mentioned earlier, we are going to utilize the reverse sear method as our roadmap to steak Nirvana. Then we’ll take a page out of the French cookbooks with the Arroser (Ah-row-zay) which means we’ll finish by basting in butter, aromatics, and a secret Kettle Guy ingredient that puts everything over the top.
It might sound fancy, but it’s really easy and it might just be the best steak you’ve ever had!
What is the Reverse Sear Method? It is the BEST Way to Cook Any Thick Cut Steak!
The reverse sear is when you cook a piece of meat indirectly between 200°F and 275°F until your internal temperature is about 20°F below your desired doneness, and then you hot sear it at the end of the cooking process. The sear can be done many different ways, but I prefer using a cast iron pan.
There are 3 distinct advantages to using a reverse sear vs. the traditional sear first method.
It’sMore Forgiving. The reverse sear is an almost fool-proof way to achieve your desired doneness edge to edge with even cooking throughout. By slowly raising the internal temperature we will be cooking the entire steak and not just the outer area near the surface. Since the surface will be dry it will take less time to sear, which means much less overcooked meat underneath.
Better Crust. Not only will the sear happen faster, but we’ll get superior browning and a delicious crust of complex flavors. As Food Network chef Anne Burrell will tell you, “Brown food tastes good!” Reverse searing helps to further dry out the surface of the meat after the dry brining process. This means that our fire won’t have to work as hard evaporating surface moisture and can instead focus on the job at hand – giving us that delicious brown exterior.
Increased Tenderness. I had always suspected through observation that reverse seared steaks were more tender than those cooked only over direct heat. Then I learned that there’s enzymes in meat called cathepsins. They are the reason that dry-aged steaks are more tender. Studies like this one show increased enzymatic activity during sous vide cooking which also brings meat slowly up to temperature like a reverse sear. I won’t say this is conclusive evidence, but I’ve cooked well done steaks for people both ways (I know, don’t get me started) and they’ve come out more tender with the reverse sear.
There ARE a couple drawbacks to the reverse sear method. The obvious one is that it takes longer than if you were to cook over direct heat only. Personally, I feel that 90 minutes to cook a special meal is not bad, and who’s complaining about time to relax with a few cold ones? Not this busy dad that’s for sure.
The other knock against the reverse sear is that most people say you shouldn’t use it on steaks less than about 1 ½ inches thick. I think you can go down to an inch, but you’d want to lower the indirect cooking temp to about 200°F and start searing a bit earlier.
We’re almost ready to get this party started, but first we need to do an equipment check.
Stuff You’ll Need
Charcoal Grill – Of course, I recommend the Weber Kettle. I’ll include options for using a gas grill, pellet grill, or oven in the recipe notes below.
Multi-Probe Thermometer – One probe will get attached to the cooking grate and the other will go in the steak so we know exactly when it’s time to sear. This is the one I use from ThermoPro.
Instant-Read Thermometer – If you don’t have a multi-probe, you could get by with just one of these handy pens. You’ll need some way to check the internal temperature of your steak so you know when it’s done. I highly recommend getting a decent one because the cheapo ones are notorious for inconsistent readings.
Heat Resistant Gloves – I got these gloves on Black Friday and I absolutely love them. They are waterproof and rated to 932°F which is plenty good enough. In the video below you can see me handling a screaming hot cast iron pan.
12 Inch or Larger Cast Iron Pan – This is what we will sear and baste our steaks in. These pans are so versatile that they are great to have for lots of dishes. Check out the recipes notes for alternatives if you don’t have one.
Infrared Thermometer – This one is optional, but they are super cool and are great for reading the temperature of cooking surfaces like pans, griddles, pizza stones, and more. This one is reliable and won’t break the bank
Charcoal – I like briquettes, but lump will do nicely also. Remember kids, no lighter fluid!
Charcoal Chimney Starter – If you use charcoal and don’t have one of these yet, please do yourself a favor and order one from Weber right now.
Wood For Smoking – Chips are ok but I prefer chunks. These can be purchased at most grocery stores and certainly at any home improvement store. Whatever type of wood you like will do fine. I like pecan or hickory with this recipe but any fruit wood or even mesquite would be great. See recipe notes for more info.
We’re taking reverse seared tomahawk steaks to the next level with this easy and amazing recipe! We’re going to brine, smoke, sear, and baste our bone-in ribeye for the ultimate combination of flavors. This one is sure to impress!
We’ll be using the reverse sear method on a Weber Kettle charcoal grill. Please check out the recommended equipment list above. See notes below for options on using a gas grill, pellet grill, or oven.
If you skipped right to the recipe but want to learn more, go ahead and jump back to the top of the page – I promise it’ll be worth it!
Please be careful and use heat resistant gloves when handling hot items!
1 chunk smoking wood such as pecan, oak, hickory, apple, or mesquite (no need to soak in water)
For the Baste:
1 stick unsalted butter
1–2 sprigs fresh rosemary
5–6 sprigs fresh thyme
6–8 cloves garlic (crushed and left in large pieces. Minced would burn too quickly)
1 diced or sliced shallot (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoonsgreen peppercorns in brine – drained (this is the Kettle Guy secret flavor bomb)
Dry Brine 4 to 24 hours before cooking (for more info, please see above)
Pat your meat dry with paper towels and sprinkle with kosher salt on both sides. 1/4 teaspoon per pound on each side is perfect. Rest the meat in the fridge uncovered on a wire rack (you want airflow underneath the meat) for at least 4 hours, but 24 hours is better.
25 minutes before cooking
Light 20 charcoal briquettes in a charcoal chimney. Once mostly ashed over and ready to use, dump them in a pile on one side of your grill and attach a temperature probe to your cooking grate on the other side. 20 coals will work for both the 22″ and the 26″ Weber Kettle grills but you’ll need to close the bottom or top vent about 1/2 to maintain a temp around 250°F.
When your grill reaches 250°F (anything between 225-275 is fine)
Phase 1 – Indirect Cooking
Take the steak out of the fridge. (No need to do this ahead of time. It actually takes many hours to come to room temp sitting on a countertop)
Season with your favorite steak rub or just salt and pepper if you prefer. (Optional, but the brine will not make your tomahawk overly salty.)
Add a chunk of smoking wood about half the size of your fist on top of the lit coals. (see notes)
Insert a temperature probe in to the center of your steak and place steak on the indirect side of your cooking grate. Close your grill lid.
When your tomahawk steak reaches 80°F internal, light a full chimney of coals. (it will take about 30-60 minutes to reach 80°F depending on the size of your steak and your grill temp)
When your steak is 15-20 degrees below your desired doneness, remove it from the grill. If you’re going for the rarer side of medium rare (a.k.a. the perfect temperature) that will be at 110°F. Don’t worry, we’ll be cooking it more in the next two phases.
Phase 2 – The Sear
Time to whip out your instant-read thermometer. Your steak is going to rise in temperature throughout the searing phase and it’s best to stop searing when you’ve either got the beautiful brown crust you want or you’re about 5 degrees below your desired final temperature. Under seared is always better than over cooked!
When your chimney of coals is ready to go, and your steak is 15-20 degrees below your desired doneness, dump the hot coals on top of whatever coals you have left from phase 1. Spread them out in a shallow pile, slightly wider in circumference than your cast iron pan.
Place your cast iron pan over the coals to heat up. Your lid will remain off for the rest of the cook.
After about 8-10 minutes your pan should be about 450°F to 500°F degrees which is perfect. Anything between 400°F and 500°F will work but the hotter the better. We just don’t want to be above the smoke point for the oil or fat we are using to sear.
Carefully pour 2 tablespoons of avocado oil in to the hot cast iron pan and let it heat up for 15 seconds.
Place your tomahawk steak in the pan and sear for 1 minute. (listen to that sizzle!) The bone will probably prevent the meat from laying perfectly flat, so it can help to press it down with a metal spatula or burger press.
Using metal tongs, (or just grab the bone!) flip the steak over and sear for another minute.
Continue the cycle of searing and flipping until each side has been cooked for about 3 minutes.
Put the steak up on its side and sear the fat cap for 1 minute.
Remove the steak from the pan and set aside.
If you’ve seared for 3 minutes each side and you’re still 10 or more degrees under your desired temp, it’s ok! Just place your steak back on the indirect side of the grill and close the lid until it’s ready to baste.
Phase 3 – I’m All About That Baste!
If all has gone to plan your tomahawk steak should be beautifully browned and just below your desired temperature. If you don’t have a pan or just want to skip this step, you would still have a GREAT meal at this point, but if you want to crank your flavor dial up to 11….this is the way!
Melt a stick of butter in your cast iron pan. While it’s melting add the green peppercorns.
Add the crushed garlic, shallot, thyme, and rosemary.
Put the steak in the butter and herb mixture.
Wearing BBQ gloves, lift the bone end of the steak up a bit to angle the steak for basting.
Use a metal spoon in your other hand to repeatedly baste the steak with the butter and herbs for 15 seconds. (try to get some of each of the ingredients up on to the steak)
Flip the steak over and baste the other side for an additional 15 seconds
Final Step: Take a picture for the ‘Gram and enjoy your masterpiece!
For Gas Grills: For 4 burner grills, turn on 2 burners on the same half of the grill. For 3 burner grills, use one burner. Adjust the strength of the flame as needed to maintain a 250°F temperature and cook on the indirect side of the grill. While gas grills aren’t ideal for smoking, you can place 2 chunks of wood right on the grate above the flames. This will produce a good amount of smoke, but most gas grills are designed to let smoke out so the smoke flavor won’t be as pronounced. For the sear I would still prefer a cast iron pan but a searing station would work if your grill is equipped with one.
For Pellet Grills: This will work much like the original recipe except for the sear and baste. If your pellet grill has a searing station you’re all set! If not, you should still be able to crank up the heat enough to get cast iron pan screaming hot. Alternatively you could use a stovetop to sear, but I never do this because I smoke out the house every time I try!
Using an Oven: Professional chefs use an oven and stovetop to make steaks all time, so this won’t be a stretch. We’ll just be doing it in reverse order. Cook your tomahawk steak at 250°F just like on the grill. When it’s time to sear and baste, just make sure you’ve got good ventilation because it can get a wee bit smoky (ask me how I know). All you’ll be missing is the wood smoked flavor, but it will still be delicious.
If you don’t have a cast iron pan, you can sear using a griddle topper, Grill Grates, or right over the fire. Since you wouldn’t be basting, you could always make a compound butter ahead of time to finish your steaks with. I am obsessed with the basting process though and the flavor is out of this world.
I tried to be as thorough as possible because I want to help people of all experience and skill levels produce amazing results. When cooking over live fire, things don’t always go 100% according to plan. Just keep in mind that temperature is the most important factor. Keep an eye on the internal temperature of your steak throughout the cook and you’ll do great!
If you prefer more smoke flavor, feel free to use a larger chunk or more than one even. If it’s your first time, I would start with a chunk about half the size of your fist and then adjust up or down from there. For more info on using wood, check out these tips on smoking meat on a charcoal grill.
I can’t stress enough the importance of using good BBQ gloves. I highly recommend using gloves that are waterproof (also scalding hot oil proof) which also provide some forearm protection. The ones I linked above are not expensive and fit the bill nicely.