Ribeye steaks are known as one of the best cuts of meat for their rich, beefy flavor. Upgrade that ribeye to an American Wagyu Tomahawk steak and you’re in for a meal to remember. Once you’ve purchased such a high quality steak, be sure to prepare it just right. With bigger cuts like these, heat transfer and the careful monitoring of internal temperatures are at the core of a perfect cook.
What is a Tomahawk Steak?
The tomahawk is a large bone-in rib-eye steak cut from between the 6th and 12th ribs of the cow and usually weighs between 30 and 45 ounces (ours were about 50 ounces each). The meat is tender and well-marbled, and the steak’s frenched bone makes a very impressive presentation.
Wagyu is a specific Japanese breed of cattle. “Wa” meaning Japanese, and “gyu” meaning cow. Meat from these sought-after breeds is prized for its intramuscular fat, or marbling (see the image to the right). The marbling is where the juicy, rich, beefy flavor comes from.
Why Check the Temperature?
Achieving perfect doneness with your steak can be easier said than done. You can’t just look at the meat to know if it’s medium-rare, you can’t touch it with you finger to tell if it’s done, and you sure can’t tell by touching palm side of your hand! Experts agree, temperature is the only way to know when your meat is done—regardless of the cooking method used. As heat is transferred, protein fibers become firm, squeezing out juices present in the meat. To achieve the doneness you’re after, accurate temperature tracking is critical.
Use a Thermapen®!
The top-rated Thermapen is the ideal tool for grilling a steak. When cooking over the high heat of a grill you want to hold your hand over the heat source for the shortest amount of time possible to avoid burns. The Super-Fast® 2-3 second readings of the thermocouple sensor give you the accuracy you need in a flash. If you’re cooking for a crowd with several steaks on the grill at once, a Thermapen makes it easy to spot check each individual steak quickly and verify doneness for each one.
The thermocouple sensor is located in the very 1/8″ of the tip of the probe so you’re guaranteed a full, accurate reading whether you’re spot-checking a 2″ steak, or a very thin piece of fish. The Thermapen Mk4 allows you to hold the thermometer at any angle with its auto-rotating display, and its automatic backlight makes readings clearly visible, even if you’re grilling at night. With its speed, accuracy, and ease-of-use, the Thermapen is a must-have grilling tool!
…buy a digital instant-read thermometer. You will never over- or undercook a piece of meat again. Do it. No more excuses, no more timing charts or poking with your fingers. Just buy a good thermometer, and don’t look back. I guarantee you will not regret it. —The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt
Cooking the Mighty Tomahawk: Two Stages Are Best
Working with thicker cuts on the grill can be tricky. These strapping Tomahawk Steaks from Snake River Farms weighed in at just over 3 pounds each, and were a whopping 2 inches thick! Such a large steak would burn to a crisp on the outside by the time the center of the meat was cooked to the proper temperature using standard grilling methods.
With thicker cuts like the Tomahawk, a two-stage cooking method works best starting with a low temperature cook to bring the meat almost all the way up to its pull temperature, followed by a second fast, high-heat cook to give the exterior a delicious sear. This method of finishing with high heat is known as reverse searing.
Ultra-thick Flintstones-sized double-cut bone-in big-enough-to-serve-two-fully-grown-Thundercats rib-eye steaks require a bit of extra care when cooking. Their thickness makes it all too easy to end up with a burnt exterior and a cold, raw middle… A prewarmed steak will sear much faster, minimizing the amount of overcooked meat under the surface. —The Food Lab, Kenji Lopez-Alt
Doneness Temperatures vs. Pull Temperatures
Another difference with Tomahawks is that thicker cuts of meat can experience more carryover cooking than thinner cuts. What is carryover cooking, you ask? It’s when latent heat in the outer edges of the meat continue moving toward the center (lowest temperature area) after being removed from the heat source. Knowing this, it’s important to pull your steak from the grill before it reaches the desired doneness temperature.
The degree of carryover cooking a cut of meat will experience depends largely on two factors: 1) the intensity of the heat used for cooking, and 2) the overall size of the mass of meat. Meat cooked with high heat will experience more carryover cooking than low and slow cooking (with some low and slow cooking methods there isn’t any carryover cooking whatsoever). Also, large pieces of meat have more surface area for the heat energy to transfer from, resulting in a more dramatic rise in temperature during the rest (full turkeys can experience up to a 15°F [8°C] rise in temperature after being removed from direct heat) . With most average-size steaks, carryover cooking will increase the internal temperature by about 5°F (2°C). If you want your steak at 130°F (54°C) for medium rare, its pull temperature should be around 125°F (52°C).
Tomahawk steaks are very large, but because of the two-stage cooking method starting with low and slow, and finish with very brief high heat, the carryover cooking is still in the range of about 5°F (2°C).
Typical Steak Doneness Temperatures
- 2 American Wagyu Tomahawk Steaks
- Salt and pepper
- Wood chunks for smoking
- The first low-temperature cook can be done in an oven or smoker. We smoked ours with hickory chunks in a Pit Barrel Cooker.
- Preheat oven or cooker to between 225-250°F (107-121°C) and add your choice of wood chunks. A ThermoWorks ChefAlarm® with a Pro-Series® air probe and grate clip is the perfect setup to monitor the internal temperature of your smoker. A ChefAlarm works great for low temperature cooking, but is not recommended for high temperature cooking when grilling (the high temperatures can damage the probe). Set the low alarm to 215°F (102°C), and the high alarm to 250°F (121°C). If an alarm goes off during your cook, you’ll know when to adjust the vents, or adjust the thermostat of your cooker.
- At this low temperature, the thick steak will reach its pull temperature in about 1 hour of cooking.
- To prepare the steaks, rinse and pat them completely dry. Wrap the exposed rib bone with a damp paper towel, then cover the bone completely with heavy-duty foil to shield it from scorching.
- Sprinkle the steaks on all sides with salt and pepper.
- To track the temperature of the meat during the low-temperature cook, use a ChefAlarm, or DOT®. Place the probe into the center of the thickest part of the steak, away from the bone. Set the thermometer’s high alarm for 100°F (38°C). This lower pull temperature will allow us to cook the steak a second time over high heat for searing without surpassing our ideal doneness temperature.
- Place the steaks on the grate in the smoker, and allow them cook until the targeted 100°F (38°C) is reached. Once the high alarm sounds, verify the internal temperature in several places with an instant-read thermometer like a Classic Thermapen.
- Note: You can spot-check the internal temperature of the steaks throughout the low temperature cook with just a Thermapen, as well, but a leave-in probe thermometer allows you to constantly monitor the temperature without opening the cooker’s lid—losing both smoke and heat.
- On a grill preheated to high heat, sear the steaks on all sides to form a flavorful crust, and track the internal temperature with a Thermapen. The Super-Fast readings are a lifesaver when cooking over high heat!
- Pull the steaks from the grill when the internal temperature reaches 125°F (52°C) (for a final medium rare temperature of 130°F [54°C]), and allow to rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
It’s important to tailor your cooking method to the type of meat being used. These thick American Wagyu Tomahawk steaks need a two-stage cooking process in specific temperature zones for them to finish just right. Monitoring the temperature every step of the way is the only way to guarantee consistent results every time. And how does is taste? This meaty masterpiece may just be hands-down the best steak you’ve ever had!
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