Tomahawk steak

Tomahawk steak on the BBQ

The tomahawk steak is the food of kings, according my newest columnist, Matt Emery. In this article, he shares what it is, how to cook it and where to find it in Norfolk. Warning: this post may cause you to salivate.

The tomahawk steak is the new kid on the block.

And to be honest, it looks more like a weapon than a steak. I’d be more comfortable using one in a fight than using it on a BBQ. The tomahawk steak consists of the rib of beef, bone-in and rib cage bone left in full. It’s visually stunning – a real showpiece.

It looks more like a weapon than a steak

Open your mind and imagine a caveman with it slung over his shoulder after making the kill. I look at the mighty cut of tomahawk and I’m there. Aside from a Flintstones costume, a hulking, confident, tannin-heavy bottle of red is the next best accompaniment.

Tomahawk over coalsBut what’s the best way to cook steak? I think there’s only one answer. Over fire. No ifs, no buts. You achieve the perfect steak with fire. Sure, in the depths of winter we’d all prefer to stay warm and dry and cook inside, but be assured, you’ll never reach the dizzy heights of what’s possible without the wind in your hair (and probably the rain) and flames licking at your nostrils.

Cook inside, stay dry. Have an okay steak. Cook outside, and it’s possible to feel ‘that’ feeling I’ve only ever had a couple of times in my life.

I’ll explain. I love food. Always have, always will. I’ve worked with food all of my career and I suspect I always will. They talk about ‘no truer love than the love of food’ and, yep, I’m in. Head over heels. So, ‘that’ feeling.

Still not getting what I mean?

It’s when you eat something that you just know is the pinnacle of what can be created. Like when Leonardo painted the last brushstroke on Mona. Or when Prince added the high bit at the end of Purple Rain. Perfection, right there in front of you. You just know it. To add poignancy, temper it with the bittersweet feeling that this perfection is fleeting. It’s a flash in time that will be gone, and over too soon.

Buying a tomahawk steak

Raw tomahawk steak
Look for marbling in your tomahawk steak

When you make the plunge and buy your tomahawk, those fine, tiny little lines of fat running through it might put you off. You’ll be tempted to choose a steak that’s full and red, without those annoying fatty little lines. Don’t be tempted. Those fatty little lines are called ‘marbling’, and are exactly what you are looking for. It will permeate through the meat and be juicy, and certainly not fatty. This is the initial sign that you’ll be creating something beautiful. It can’t be understated how important the fat is. You’ll notice, during cooking, if the fat turns buttery yellow while cooking, instead of staying white, you’re onto a winner. Look for it, you’ll see.

It can’t be understated how important the fat is

When it comes to the seasoning, keep it simple. Salt, pepper, oil. Done. The meat is the star of the show, nothing else. Pair the mighty tomahawk with a box of Micro Chips for all I care. Just don’t over complicate it. The height of good cooking isn’t what you can add to something. It’s what you can take away.

How to cook a tomahawk steak

With your tomahawk seasoned, oiled (only ever oil the meat, not the pan or the griddle) and coming to room temperature, get your fire going. If you use a drum barbecue, get one half full of coals, and one half without. This will help you control the heat going into the meat, so you don’t end up with a ball of charcoal between your knife and fork. This is where your tomahawk handle (the bone) is really useful. Step aside tongs, we don’t need you here.

The level to which a steak is cooked is called ‘cuisson’. For me, the rare side of medium-rare is ideal. A little more, a little less – it’s actually not important. As long as it’s tender, juicy and delicious. So let’s all stop worrying so much. The key when you cook steak, is to take the meat off the heat before it’s how you want it. If you’ve over done it, you can never go back. Under done, it’s fixable.

The key when you cook steak, is to take the meat off the heat before it’s how you want it

Perfectly cooked tomahawk steak
Perfectly cooked tomahawk steak

For the perfect tomahawk, cook for two minutes on each side for about ten minutes. Make sure you turn it every two. Then rest it in your oven on the lowest heat possible for eight minutes. That way it won’t go cold, but will still be tender and beautiful.

Before this starts to sound like a recipe, let me tell you what you should be seeing. As the steak cooks, its juices will fall onto the coals and return back to the meat as lick of fire. This is where the magic happens. It’s where we all stand there and watch. This is the primal bit. Food. Fire. And that smell.

Texture. Moreover, different textures, are what help us enjoy certain foods. If you can hold your nerve long enough to create the almost burned, charred, barky edges, yet retain that sweet, pink, almost silky texture inside the steak, this is nirvana. The joy in food isn’t how it tastes. It how it makes you feel. Eat this, and you’ll achieve culinary nirvana.

Start your journey, and opt for the tomahawk. I hear the Butchery on the Elveden Estate Food Hall do the finest….

Matt Emery is a major foodie and the Food Hall Manager at Elveden Estate.


Hi, I'm Lucy. I've lived in Norfolk since 2001 and in that time I've grown to love this fine county. From the city of Norwich, to the countryside villages and sweeping coastline, there's so much to explore and hope to share my experiences with you here.

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