Learn how to smoke a tomahawk steak using the reverse sear method. The perfect way to smoke and grill a thick cut bone-in ribeye steak for a truly unforgettable dinner.
Chances are you’re here because you love steak. Not only do you love steak, but you also want to take on an epic showstopping tomahawk ribeye steak. Good choice!
If you’ve purchased a tomahawk from your local butcher or an online retailer (I used this wagyu tomahawk from Snake River Farms) then you will want to take a few minutes and dive through this article so you can learn everything you need to know to have a successful cook.
It is important to note that while this recipe and tutorial is for smoking a tomahawk, you will be utilizing the reverse sear technique.
This involves smoking the steak first using indirect heat to cook it through evenly, and then finishing off with a beautiful sear at the end over direct heat. Check out my full guide to reverse seared steak here.
I’ll go into a lot more detail below as well as provide a very thorough FAQ to give you as much context as possible for this tomahawk steak recipe.
When done right, a smoked tomahawk steak is truly an incredibly delicious and visually impressive steak cook to take on. Let’s dive in!
- Small Baking Sheet
- Cooling Rack
- Meat Thermometer
- Heat Proof Gloves / Oven Mitts
- Cast Iron Skillet (optional)
- Aluminum Foil
Welcome to my virtual classroom! Use the guided notes below where I often answer commonly asked questions I get from readers and cooks just like you.
This information is meant to help you have a stronger understanding of this recipe and the process so you can find success all on your own to make the best steak!
Ready to begin cooking? Simply jump to the recipe below and begin.
Is A Tomahawk Steak The Same As A Cowboy Steak?
No, they are classified differently based on the way the bone is left in the ribeye steak (but both are still ribeye).
A tomahawk steak at a butcher is cut between the 5th-12th rib bone and the bone attached to the steak is several inches long (around 6 inches).
A cowboy steak is also a ribeye steak however the bone is usually frenched at the end; only a few inches remain.
Ultimately though, they’re both larger, thick steaks that require reverse searing for the best results.
- Three-pound Tomahawk Steak
- Kosher Sea Salt
- Black Pepper
- Olive Oil
- Optional- Steak Rubs (if preferred)
- Melted Butter or Beef Tallow
Dry Brine Preparation:
Properly preparing a tomahawk steak for the smoker is a huge part of the final outcome and truly makes a big difference in the taste of the meat. This is the best way to increase flavor and allow the meat to really shine.
I would encourage you to start at least a day ahead of time before smoking the steak and utilize the dry brining process.
What is dry brining a steak?
Dry brining is the process of adding salt to the steak without soaking or submerging the meat in a liquid (like I do with this apple cider brine recipe for example).
All you need for dry brining is kosher sea salt added to the outside of the steak; covering the top, bottom, and all sides of the steak. The salt begins to draw the moisture out of the meat and as that moisture comes to the surface it dissolves the salt.
Over a minimum of two hours, the salt is fully dissolved and reabsorbed back into the meat. This creates the perfect steak because it seasons it fully from the inside out.
Place steak onto a cooling rack over a baking sheet to allow airflow and place it uncovered into the fridge to rest and dry brine. I prefer to do this 24 hours in advance to enhance the flavor.
Salt time can vary. You want at least two hours, but the longer the better with this larger cut of meat.
Can I add more seasoning to the steak?
Yes. Before smoking, bring the steak out of the fridge and allow the tomahawk steak to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes prior to smoking. At this point, season the steak with a little olive oil and add any other dry rubs you desire (like this Texas style rub) to the outside of the meat.
Smoker Set Up:
You can smoke a tomahawk steak on a pellet smoker or any other traditional-style smoker. I’ve made this style steak cut on my Big Green Egg ceramic charcoal smoker and my Yoder 640s pellet smoker. Both these grills can be used for smoking and searing making it easy to utilize the reverse searing process.
A pellet grill or electric smoker doesn’t always yield as much smoke flavor, so opt for a smoker tube if desired. But, either grill type will work for this recipe (just note you may have to use another style grill to sear if your smoker doesn’t have this ability).
If using a traditional charcoal grill set up, light charcoal fully. Once you have hot coals, add your wood chunks and set the smoker for indirect heat.
Dial in the smoker to a lower temperature to hit between 225 F.-250 F.
How To Smoke A Tomahawk Steak:
- Place the tomahawk steak on the smoker grate and insert a thermometer into the center of the cut of the meat. Use a quality temperature probe for accuracy (I like this Thermoworks smoke probe).
- Smoke the tomahawk steak until the internal temperature reaches 110F-115 F.
- Remove the steak from the smoker and place it on a baking sheet. Tent with foil and allow the steak to rest while you increase the smoker to high heat. If using only a pellet smoker, preheat a propane grill as well if needed for the searing process.
- Once you have a hot grill (grill temperature should be at least 600 F.), place the tomahawk steak down onto the grill grates to sear. Be aware of flare up’s. Many tomahawk steaks have a large fat cap and as that fat renders at higher heat it will intensify the flames on the grill.
- After a minute or two, flip and sear the reverse side for those beautiful sear marks. Use tongs or high heat-proof gloves and sear the sides of the tomahawk steaks to help render off some of the thicker fat cap.
- Remove when the internal temperature of the steak hits your desired level of doneness (I like a medium rare and pull around 125 F.). Pro Tip- Want to ensure you hit the perfect temperature? The steak will have some carry-over cooking of about 5 degrees, so pull it off the grill earlier if needed.
- Allow the steak to rest for 10 minutes or so. Place a pad of butter over the top if desired and cover with foil while the meat rests before slicing.
How Long Does It Take To Smoke A Tomahawk Steak?
When smoking at around 225 F. it takes about 25 minutes per pound to reach the 110-115 F. internal temperature.
There are a lot of factors though that impact the time of a cook:
- How cold is your steak when it goes into the smoker?
- How thick is the steak?
- Does your smoker have hot spots?
It’s important to use time as a rough guideline to plan out the cooking process but ultimately use temperature as the indicator for when your tomahawk steak is ready to sear or be pulled from the grill.
Slicing And Serving:
To break down the tomahawk steak, begin by using a sharp carving knife and slicing the meat away from the bone.
For tender steak, always slice pieces against the grain. This steak is so large it’s best to slice it completely so it can be shared and placed on a platter with the bone on the side.
Add some additional butter in a small bowl or try my red wine compound butter recipe too. You can finish off the sliced pieces with a little more salt or dry rub over the meat too.
See this article on 7 easy ways to add additional flavor to your steak for more serving ideas as well.
This steak is the best of both worlds; a delicious smoky flavor running throughout with that perfect grilled crust on the outside!
How To Smoke A Tomahawk Steak
- 3 lb. Tomahawk Ribeye Steak
- 1 tbsp. Kosher Salt
- 1 tbsp Black Pepper
- 1 tbsp. Olive Oil
- Additional Rubs as desired
- Read through the dry brining section in the article above. Set aside a minimum of 2 hours (but best if done at least a day ahead of time) for this process.
- Remove the tomahawk steak from the packaging and pat it dry with paper towels.
- Salt the entire steak, top, bottom, and sides.
- Place it over a wire rack sitting over a smaller baking sheet (so the air moves around the steak). Leave it uncovered and place the tomahawk steak into the fridge.
- Allow the salt to penetrate and absorb into the meat.
- Remove the steak about 30-45 minutes prior to smoking from the fridge.
- Lightly oil it and add any additional seasonings (black pepper or other steak rub of choice).
- Preheat the smoker (can be pellet, charcoal, or even gas) to 225 F.
- Place the tomahawk steak onto the smoker grates and insert a smoke probe thermometer into the center of the meat.
- Let the tomahawk smoke until it hits an internal temperature of 110-115 F.
- Remove the steak and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
- While the steak rests, either increase the temperature and set the smoker up for searing or light a gas grill as needed. The grill should reach a minimum temperature of 600 F.
- Place the tomahawk steak down onto the grill grates over direct heat and sear about 60-90 seconds. Be cautious of flare up's from the fat cap on the steak.
- Flip to sear the reverse side of the tomahawk and repeat as needed to create the grill marks or until the steak hits a desired level of doneness. For medium rare, remove the tomahawk steak from the grill when it hits 125 F.
- Let the steak rest, tented under foil about 10 minutes.
- Use a boning knife and remove the steak from the bone. Set the bone aside.
- Slice the steak into thin pieces, against the grain for tender steak.
- Place the steak meat and the bone back onto a platter and fan the meat out.
- Serve with your favorite sides and some compound butter.