Cowboy Steak vs Tomahawk: What’s the Difference?

Butchers and steakhouses offer various beef cuts, from porterhouse steaks and filet mignons to cowboy steaks and tomahawks. And while all cuts are great in their own rights, telling the difference between them might prove tricky, especially when you’re not quite the ‘beef connoisseur.’

In this article, we’ll focus on two nearly similar cuts of beef—cowboy steak vs tomahawk steak.

What’s the difference between them? Well, read on to find out!

What Is a Cowboy Steak?

cowboy steak vs tomahawk

The “Cowboy steak” may also be difficult to define; different resources will offer you varied descriptions of a “cowboy” steak.

Here are a few examples of more common definitions:

  • It’s essentially a frenched ribeye
  • It’s any large steak grilled over an outdoor fire grill—either charcoal or wood powered
  • It’s any short loin primal steak, such as the porterhouse or T-bone
  • It’s basically a bone-in ribeye

The most prevalent of these ideas is the one describing a cowboy steak as just a bone-in ribeye that may be frenched or sometimes not. But if frenched, the bone’s length typically doesn’t exceed 5 inches. If it does, it’s no longer a cowboy steak but a tomahawk. 

This massive steak cut boasts a lot of marbling, which gives it a rich, savory flavor without much aid from sauces. Quick tip? Grilling the steak might be the best way to get the perfect sear and the maximum flavor.

Why the Name “Cowboy Steak?”

The term “cowboy steak” comes from the cut’s size. It is believed that the name was once used to refer to big steak cuts such as the ribeye, top sirloin, and porterhouse. Today, “cowboy steak” calls for a short-bone frenched cut of ribeye steak. 

Other Names for Cowboy Steak

Although frequently mistaken for tomahawk and ribeye steaks, there are several other names for cowboy steak. They include:

  • Bone-in Ribeye Steak
  • Frenched Rib Steak
  • Cowboy Ribeye Steak
  • Cowboy Cut Steak
  • Cowboy Rib Steak
  • Rugged Cowboy Steak
  • Cowboy New York Steak
  • Rib Bone-In Steak

But regardless of what you want to call it, the cowboy steak is arguably the most popular and thus ideal for whichever occasion.

Nutrition Facts

Cowboy steak makes a great source of zinc, iron, and protein. According to the USDA, a 3 oz serving includes:

  • Protein: 23.8 g
  • Calories: 199
  • Fat: 10.8 g
  • Zinc: 5 mg
  • Iron: 3 mg

What’s the Size of a Cowboy Steak?

A cowboy steak’s weight and size may vary depending on its thickness, cut, and the cow’s size to boot. However, a typical cowboy steak should weigh somewhere between 1 and 3 pounds and have a thickness of roughly 2 to 3 inches.

What Is a Tomahawk?

cowboy steak vs tomahawk

A tomahawk is essentially a bone-in ribeye cut from the steer’s longissimus dorsi, otherwise known as the rib section. Like the cowboy steak, it’s left attached to a rib bone, typically not less than 5 inches, with some protruding up to 20 inches, making it look more like a giant beef lollipop.

The muscles from which it’s cut are rarely utilized in the daily lives of cattle. As such, the meat found there remains tender throughout the steer’s life. As such, it is a pricey cut, which wasn’t easy to come across until recently. So, if you’re yet to try one, it would be understandable—not unless you consider yourself a grill maestro.

Why the Name “Tomahawk?”  

As mentioned earlier, the tomahawk steak is cut with an extra-long rib bone intact, giving it a signature look that resembles a tamahaac, a Native American tomahawk ax.

Nonetheless, the story behind the tomahawk steak isn’t elaborately laid out. But it’s hard to assume that its name doesn’t originate from the tomahawk ax.

Other Names for the Tomahawk Steak

Like many other steaks, the tomahawk steak also goes by some other names, including:

  • Tomahawk ribeye
  • Bone-in ribeye
  • Tomahawk chop
  • Rib steak

But despite the many names, you’ll barely come across a butcher unfamiliar with a tomahawk steak.

Nutrition Facts

A 3 oz serving of tomahawk steak includes the following:

  • Protein: 23 g
  • Calories: 190
  • Saturated Fat: 4 g
  • Zinc: 5 mg
  • Iron: 2.2 mg

What’s the Size of a Tomahawk?

Like with cowboy steaks, the size of Tomahawk steaks also varies based on the steer’s size. As you’d expect, tomahawk steaks from bigger cows boast more flesh and lengthier, more prominent rib bones than smaller steers.

Moreover, the size may also depend on the butcher. Seasoned butchers know where to cut to ensure the most flesh remains on the rib bone. A tomahawk steak will often have 2 or 3 inches thick of meat around the bone.

Regarding weight, a tomahawk steak is pretty massive, weighing roughly between 2 and 3 pounds.

Tomahawk Steak vs Cowboy Steak vs Tomahawk: Comparison

As stated earlier, cowboy steak and tomahawk are often used synonymously, and the confusion is forgivable considering their shared parallels.

For one, both are cut from the steer’s rib section and feature frenched bones attached to give each chop an enhanced presentation. Moreover, they both make excellent steak choices for grilling, thanks to their thick cuts, juicy flavor, and natural tenderness.

Despite their similarities, one significant difference exists between the cowboy steak and the tomahawk steak. You’ve guessed it right—a tomahawk boasts an extra-long frenched rib bone compared to a cowboy steak, whose frenched bone is much shorter. That’s it!

Cowboy Steak vs Tomahawk: Final Take

The cowboy steak and the tomahawk steak are great cuts of steak, and deciding between the two narrows down to individual taste. After all, both chops are rich in flavor, incredibly tender, and ideal for tossing on the grill for your BBQ night outs.

So, if you are looking for the perfect cut for a BBQ with your loved ones and friends, either choice is splendid.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much is a cowboy steak?

The average cost of a cowboy steak ranges between $30 and $50, depending on the meat grade. However, some butchers and stores might sell their high-grade beef for as high as $100.

How is the tomahawk different from a ribeye?

If we’re talking meat alone, a tomahawk is a ribeye, as they are both cut from the same rib section. The primary difference between the two is in the aesthetics—tomahawks include a long bone, whereas ribeyes is boneless.   

How should you cook a tomahawk steak?

As mentioned, a tomahawk is excellent for grilling because of its large cut. However, there are other ways to cook it, including reverse searing and pan searing.

What should one consider when purchasing a tomahawk steak?

When buying a tomahawk steak, size is the first thing to consider. Pick a steak with plenty of meat and a decent bone to capitalize on your money.