Learn how to Smoke Tomahawk Steaks the RIGHT WAY on ANY grill or smoker, whether its a Traeger or Pit Boss pellet grill, a Masterbuilt electric smoker, or just a simple Weber kettle!
Start these monster smoked tomahawk steaks low and slow and then finish with a blazing hot reverse sear to create the BEST steaks you've ever had!
Let's get started!
You've probably seen them listed on a nice steakhouse menu, but what exactly IS a tomahawk steak?
A tomahawk steak is also sometimes known as a tomahawk ribeye.
That's because it's essentially a gigantic bone-in ribeye steak, usually about 2-3 lbs in precooked weight, cut from somewhere between the 6th and 12th bones of the rib primal.
In order to make it extra caveman-y, at least 5 inches of the bone must be left frenched and intact in order to be considered a TRUE tomahawk steak.
Picture a beautiful standing prime rib roast with a 2 inch thick steak cut right out of the center.
This is the ultimate prize in over the top meaty luxury.
What to Look for When Buying Tomahawk Steaks to Smoke
When buying steaks to smoke before searing (don't worry, we'll get to that), your best bet is usually to get the thickest steaks as you can find.
And if you're buying a tomahawk ribeye to smoke, this likely won't be a problem. They are generally about 2 inches thick to begin with and this is what makes them PERFECT for smoking.
Look for well marbled, prime grade tomahawk steaks.
You want a thick piece of fatty meat that will not dry out during the smoking process and still stand up to a blazing hot sear at the end without overcooking.
Thinner, less marbled choice and select grade steaks will likely not hold up to all of this abuse and you are better off just cooking them in a more straightforward manner over a hot grill with direct heat.
You may need to venture away from the standard meat case at your local chain grocery store and hit up a quality butcher or meat market in town in order to find a tomahawk ribeye steak to smoke.
No, tomahawk steaks will not be cheap, but keep in mind a single steak will likely feed 2 hungry adults.
Preparing your Tomahawk Steaks for Smoking
Use a High Smoke Point Oil
This will allow the seasoning to stick to the meat and keep the steaks from sticking to the grill or smoker racks during the smoking and searing.
Because we are going to reverse sear these after we smoke them, you want to stick with a high smoke point oil.
Lower smoke point oils like extra virgin olive oil will not hold up to the searing temperatures and could cause an acrid taste when they burn.
Don't skimp on the oil after splurging on the steak!
To learn more about different oils and their smoke points, check out this article about the best oils for grilling.
When you are preparing your tomahawk ribeye steaks its best to season them at least 2 hours before cooking, preferably even overnight, before putting them on the smoker or grill.
This allows the salt time to penetrate the meat, ensuring you have flavorful steak all the way to the center and not just salty on the exterior, and bland in the middle.
Also, if the meat is fully salted throughout, it is chemically more able to hold onto is juices and retain more moisture during the cooking process.
Water and salt are buddies and once they find each other, it takes a lot of additional energy to break them apart.
Hence why the boiling point of saltwater is higher than that of pure water.
Seasoning Tomahawk Steaks for Smoking
Since we are preferably smoking some high quality prime grade steaks here, we recommend keeping it simple.
Salt and pepper work just fine on their own. Mixed with the woodsmoke, along with the juices, rendered fats, and oils from the smoked tomahawk steak, you will be in heaven, trust us.
However, there is nothing wrong with using your favorite steak rub as well.
Pro Tip: Stay away from anything that contains sugar or little bits of dried garlic (garlic powder is fine) because these will both burn when you sear the steak at the end.
Best Smoking Wood Choices
Like we've done previously with smoked lamb chops, since you are only smoking these tomahawk steaks for a shorter period of time relative to something like a beef tenderloin or leg of lamb, you can get away with using some stronger flavored smoking woods.
We prefer the mid range smokey flavor of hickory wood on our smoked steaks, but if you want an even bolder flavor you can try using mesquite.
If you DO want to try mesquite, we would only recommend applying smoke for the first 30 minutes and no longer.
Otherwise, your smoked tomahawk steaks can get TOO smoky and the mesquite will overpower them.
If you are looking for a milder wood to smoke them with, you can try oak, apple, or cherry instead.
Best Times and Temperatures
Although we want to choose thick and well marbled tomahawk steaks for smoking, relative to something like beef brisket, steaks are still fairly lean and delicate, with almost no connective tissue.
You will need to watch both your cooking temperature and internal temperatures carefully when smoking your tomahawk ribeyes.
You don't have much room for error if you overcook them.
So keep your initial smoker temperature at about 225°F and no higher if you can help it.
How Long does it Take to Smoke a Tomahawk Steak?
On a 225°F smoker, it will take about 45-60 minutes to bring your cold, raw tomahawk steak up to an internal temperature of 110°F.
This is the point where you want to take it off the smoker to finish it by reverse searing it which we will discuss below.
Now, this time will vary widely depending on how thick the steaks are, how humid it is outside, and how cold the steaks were to begin with i.e. whether they came straight out of the refrigerator, or sat on the counter for a while.
The point is you can't go by time alone when cooking steaks. Always cook to temperature, not to time.
You HAVE to use a good instant read meat thermometer to know where your temperature is.
If you don't yet own an instant read thermometer, ThermoPro makes a good one.
Monitoring your Smoker Temperature
Almost every grill and smoker will have some sort of temperature gauge on them.
Now, if you are using a pellet grill or electric smoker, you should be able to pretty accurately dial in your desired temperature of 225°F with the turn of a dial.
This is what makes them so convenient.
If, however, you are using a charcoal or propane grill/smoker though, you can't rely on the cheap lid mounted temperature gauge.
We have found these can sometimes be up to 30°F off from what the true actual temperature of your smoker at the grill grate level is.
This is unacceptable.
This is why you will always see competition cooks, and backyard chefs who know their stuff, using wireless digital probe thermometers to keep track of both their meat AND their cooking chamber.
And even if you have a fancy pellet grill or electric smoker, it can't hurt to double check how accurate your temperature settings are to the true temperatures you are getting.
We are big fans of the ThermoPro Wireless Digital Meat Thermometer series.
While we have used and recommended ThermoPro for years, lately we have also become big fans of the MEATER leave in thermometer.
It is extremely accurate and has an incredible 165 foot Bluetooth range and works right with your smartphone so you don't need to carry a separate controller around with you like many other remote thermometers require.
It's got a great free app that is constantly being updated and even has an algorithm to predict how much longer your type of meat will take to cook based on cooking temperature, target temperature, current internal temperature.
It's like a GPS for your meat!
Reverse Sear Method
"Reverse Searing" is just a fancy term for searing your meat at the very end, once it is pretty much all the way cooked through, in order to get a nice crispy exterior crust that you just can't get from low and slow smoking alone.
This works great for thick cuts of meat like tomahawk steaks that need time to slow cook and absorb smokey flavor but then benefit from a nice outside sear.
Much like our smoked pellet grill steak, we like to smoke and then reverse sear our tomahawk steaks.
This brings about the best flavors AND textures in your steak.
If you are cooking steaks on a pellet grill and struggling to get a high level of direct heat, try using a set of Grill Grates to help create a searing station on one side of your cooking area.
Grill Grates are specialty...well...grates that sit right over the existing grates on your pellet grill that help capture and direct all that ambient heat and give you a nice searing station in the corner of your pellet grill.
They claim to get temperatures up to 200°F HIGHER than the temperature you set your pellet grill, meaning even if your nice Traeger only goes up to 500°F on the control panel, you can still sear some steaks, pork chops, or chicken at 700°F at the beginning or end of the cook to give them a nice sear.
You can also reverse sear in a hot pan with butter, a flat top grill with oil, or over a hot propane burner or searing hot batch of charcoal on any grill.
In order to reverse sear your steaks without overcooking them, only bring your tomahawk steaks up to about 100-110°F on an internal meat thermometer.
Then immediately sear them hot and fast for about 2-3 minutes on each side.
This, along with resting them after searing, will naturally bring them up to about 130-135°F internally which is a perfect medium rare.
Finish the reverse sear when they are about 5°F shy of where you prefer your final doneness temperature to be as they will continue to rise in temperature about this much while they are resting.
Pro Tip: Be conservative with how long you leave them on the smoker.
When in doubt, take them off early. Especially if you've never smoked tomahawk ribeyes before and don't know how much they will rise when you sear them.
The thinner your steaks, the further the internal temperature will rise when you sear them so adjust accordingly.
You can always sear them for longer than you initially planned to bring the internal temperature up to where you want it, but once you go too high, there's no putting that toothpaste back in the bottle.
Setting up your Smoker for Tomahawk Steaks
Vertical or Offset Charcoal Smoker
Fill your firebox or lower charcoal basin with about 20 pieces of unlit charcoal and create a small hollowed out depression in the center where you can add your lit briquets.
If your smoker comes with a water pan, like the Weber Smokey Mountain, fill the water pan as well to help stabilize the temperature and add moisture to the cooking chamber.
Light a charcoal chimney about ¼ way with charcoal and wait about 15 minutes for it to fully ignite.
Fill your water pan first, then add the lit briquets to the center depression you created.
Keep the dampers about ½ way to ¾ open until the temperature is to about 180°F. Then slowly close them down until they are just barely open and you are maintaining a temperature of 225°F.
Place 1 chunk of smoking wood on top of your lit charcoal once the smoker is up to temperature and put your tomahawk steaks on.
Meanwhile prepare a skillet or separate grill to reverse sear the steaks when they are ready to be taken off.
Propane or Electric Smoker
Propane and electric options are some of the easiest smokers for beginners to start with.
For Propane: Open your gas valve and light the bottom burner. Adjust it to keep the temperature constant at 225°F.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
Need a refresher? Check our our Complete Guide to How to Use a Propane Smoker HERE.
Fill the water tray if there is one.
However, we recently found a great solution.
If you are tired of having to reload fresh wood chips into your electric smoker, especially on longer cooks like pork butt and brisket, then check out this Masterbuilt Automatic Slow Smoker Attachment.
It basically burns new fresh wood chips at a constant rate, much like how a pellet grill works, freeing you up to do other things while getting your food nice and smoky!
Fill the hopper of your Traeger or Pit boss or other pellet smoker with your choice of smoking wood pellets.
When the pellet grill has come up to temperature, place your tomahawk steaks on the grill grates.
The great thing about a pellet grill is you can likely just leave the ribeye steaks in place when they hit 115°F internally and then crank the heat as high is it will go, or move them over to a hot set of Grill Grates as described above for the final sear.
Check out our full in depth summary of how to cook steaks on a pellet grill here.
Never used a pellet grill before? Read our ultimate guide to pellet grills to learn why they are so easy and how to set one up for success every time, whether its a Traeger, Pit Boss, Camp Chef or any other brand.
Gas or Charcoal Grill
On a gas or charcoal grill you will likely need to use a smoker box filled with wood chips, or a pellet tube smoker filled with wood pellets.
Think you need a fancy smoker to smoke food at home? Think again. Great smoked food can be made right on your current gas or charcoal grill!
If you are unfamiliar with these gas grill smoking devices mentioned above, no worries, we have you covered!
In the case of tomahawk steaks, we would opt for just using the smoker box filled with wood chips since you won't need all the burn time that comes with lighting a tube full of pellets.
Set up your gas or charcoal grill for indirect cooking with the burners or a small amount of lit briquets on one side and plan for your meat to be on the other side.
Once the temperature of your grill is at 225°F, place your smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the lit burners and once smoke begins coming out, place your steaks on the opposite side of the heat.
If you are doing the reverse sear method, once the steaks hit no higher than 110°F internally, either crank the gas burners under the steaks or move them over to above the hot charcoal for 2-3 minutes per side as described above in the Reverse Sear section.
Resting the Steaks
After reverse searing the tomahawk steaks, transfer them to a plate and let them rest, UNCOVERED for at least 10 minutes.
During this time they may rise another 5°F in temperature internally so keep that in mind when deciding when to take them off the hot grill.
Best Ways to Serve Smoked Tomahawk Ribeye Steaks for Two
For many purists, the best way to serve a nice steak is on a plate. Seasoned with only salt and pepper.
And if this is your first time smoking a tomahawk ribeye steak you may want to do just that, in order to fully appreciate the fatty complex flavors of the smoked and seared ribeye meat.
If you want to do something different though, there are many ways to amp up the presentation, either by topping with an herbed butter, a homemade steak sauce, a creamy bearnaise, or even some shrimp or crab meat to do a surf and turf.
You'll want to slice the tomahawk steak in ¼ inch thick strips against the grain in order to share with a friend or loved one.
For drinks we recommend a full bodied red wine like a Cabernet or Burgundy.
If beer is more your thing, stick with a crisp and hoppy pale ale to help cut through the fattiness of the tomahawk ribeye.
Smoked Tomahawk Steak - Reverse Seared
- Propane, Charcoal, or Pellet Smoker -OR-
- a Gas or charcoal grill with a smoker box or pellet tube smoker.
- Hickory or Mesquite Wood chips, chunks, or pellets
- Large Cast Iron Skillet
- Instant Read Thermometer
- 32-40 oz Tomahawk Ribeye Steak bone-in and frenched, roughly 2 inches thick
- 3 tablespoon Cooking oil preferably avocado or grapeseed
- Kosher Salt
- Fresh Black Pepper
- 4 tablespoon Butter
- 2 tablespoon Cooking oil preferably avocado or grapeseed
Prepare the Tomahawk Steak
- Trim any excess fat from the edges of the tomahawk steak.
- Coat your steak in oil and a generous amount of kosher salt and pepper on all sides.
- Wrap the steak in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours, preferably overnight.
Setup the Smoker or Grill
- Set up your smoker (or grill with indirect heating) to 225°F
- Remove your steak from the refrigerator and unwrap.
- When the smoker or grill is up to 225°F, add your wood chunks to the coals, or wood chips to the electric smoker tray or smoker box. Alternatively, you can add wood pellets to a pellet tube smoker. Place the smoker box or pellet tube smoker over the hot coals or burners.
- When smoke begins to come out, place your steak on the grates, away from the direct heat if using a grill.
Smoking the Steaks
- While the steak is smoking heat a cast iron skillet on medium heat and warm up 1 tablespoon cooking oil and 2 tablespoon of butter in the skillet.
- Monitor your steaks internal temperature. After about 45-60 minutes your steak should reach an internal temperature of 100-110°F, but it may reach this sooner.
Reverse Searing the Steaks
- Once the steak reaches 100-110°F internally, remove the smoked tomahawk steak from the smoker onto a platter and bring over to the preheated cast iron skillet.
- Turn the heat on the skillet up to HIGH and when the oil begins to smoke put the steak in the skillet.
- Let the steak sear for about 2 minutes on one side and then flip to the other side.
- Check the internal temperature of the steak, continue to flip in the skillet to cook evenly and when it is about 5°F shy of your desired doneness (see notes below), remove it from the skillet.
- Let all the steak rest 10 minutes before serving. Do not cover in foil as it will overcook.
- If sharing, slice against the grain in ¼ thick slices and serve immediately.