A tomahawk pork chop is a thick cut of meat from the pork rib primal or rack. It contains ribs that are frenched, meaning the meat is cut away from the ends of the bones for attractive presentation. Tomahawk pork chops are similar to cowboy ribeye steaks from beef in that they contain a long rib bone attached for a dramatic visual effect.
Where does the tomahawk pork chop come from on the pig?
The tomahawk pork chop comes from the rib primal, which is located towards the front of the hog between the shoulder and loin primals. This section contains a rack of ribs with layers of fat and meat between each rib bone.
To make a tomahawk chop, a butcher cuts between each rib bone to separate them. The meat is trimmed away from the ends of the bones on one side. What’s left is a thick pork chop with a long rib bone resembling the shape of a small tomahawk axe.
What rib bones are used?
Tomahawk pork chops can come from any of the rib bones between ribs 6 through 12. Lower rib bones are larger due to the greater movement and weight bearing required towards the front legs. The bones must be sufficiently long enough to create the dramatic tomahawk shape.
Ribs 6 through 9 are most commonly used. The upper ribs 11 and 12 are smaller and less substantial. Rib 10 is in the middle and can be used as well in a tomahawk cut depending on personal preference.
How thick is a tomahawk pork chop?
There is no standard thickness for a tomahawk pork chop. In general, they tend to be cut between 1.5 to 3 inches thick or more. This provides a generous portion of meat attached to the long bone.
Thinner cut tomahawk chops of around 1 inch can also be found. However, thicker chops are more desirable for achieving a juicy, flavorful interior when cooked while also producing dramatic presentation.
How is the meat prepared?
The most desirable tomahawk pork chops will have a layer of fat left attached to one side of the meat. The fat cap providesbasting and protects the chop from drying out during cooking.
The meat can be prepared several ways:
- Bone-in with fat cap attached
- Bone-in with fat cap removed
- Boneless with fat cap attached on one side
- Boneless with all fat trimmed off
Leaving the bone attached and the fat cap on provides the richest flavor and juiciest results. However, boneless and fat-trimmed chops are easier to cook evenly.
How much meat is on a tomahawk pork chop?
The amount of edible meat on a tomahawk pork chop depends on the thickness of the cut and size of the rib bone.
Here are some general guidelines for meat quantities:
- 1.5 inch chop – Around 8 ounces of meat
- 2 inch chop – Around 10-12 ounces of meat
- 2.5-3 inch chop – Around 14-16 ounces or more of meat
Thicker chops from lower rib bones will generally have more meat than thinner upper rib chops. Once cooked, figure on about half the raw weight in edible meat off the bone.
How many people will a tomahawk pork chop serve?
One tomahawk pork chop is usually sufficient to serve 1-2 people, depending on the thickness.
Here are some serving guidelines based on chop size:
- 1.5 inch chop – 1 person
- 2 inch chop – 1-2 people
- 2.5-3 inch chop – 2 or more people for sharing
Tomahawk chops are meant for special occasion meals or romantic dinners for 2 rather than serving a crowd. Their impressive appearance makes them ideal for date nights in or restaurant presentations.
The nutritional value of a tomahawk pork chop depends on the thickness of meat, whether bone is attached, and amount of fat trimmed.
In general, a 6 ounce boneless, cooked chop with fat trimmed provides:
- Calories: 164
- Fat: 4g
- Carbs: 0g
- Protein: 32g
Pork from the rib primal is slightly higher in fat than loin chops but still considered lean. The fat provides flavor and moisture when cooking bone-in or with a fat cap. Trimming will remove some calories but also affects juiciness.
How to Cook Tomahawk Pork Chops
Tomahawk pork chops can be prepared using nearly any pork chop cooking method. Their thick cut and dramatic presentation make them ideal for grilling, smoking, baking, or pan searing.
Here are some recommended cooking techniques:
Grilling is a fantastic way to cook tomahawk pork chops and take advantage of the smoke flavor from the bones. Use indirect heat with a two-zone fire, searing them first over direct heat then moving to indirect heat to finish cooking. Grill until they reach an internal temperature of 145°F.
Smoking allows the bones to impart maximum flavor. Cook low and slow at 225-250°F until reaching an internal temp of 145°F for juicy, tender results. Use wood chips like hickory, apple, cherry, or maple.
Sear the chops in a hot pan before finishing in a 400°F oven. The bone-in chops can be propped up in the pan so the meat cooks evenly while the bone browns.
For easy hands-off cooking, bake the chops in a 400°F oven. Position them upright to expose all sides to the heat. Baste periodically with pan juices for added moisture.
Cooking low and slow via sous vide produces exceptionally tender chops. Cook for 1-4 hours at 135-140°F before finishing with a quick sear.
What are the best side dishes for tomahawk pork chops?
The rich meatiness of tomahawk pork chops pairs nicely with a variety of side dishes. Consider these flavor-complementing accompaniments:
- Roasted potatoes or baked sweet potatoes
- Sauteed apples or grilled peaches
- Green beans or roasted asparagus
- Rice pilaf or couscous
- Dinner rolls or cornbread
- Crisp green salad
Starchy sides help to soak up the savory juices. Fruits add sweetness to balance the umami flavors. Creative cooks can experiment with global flavors as well, like plantains, polenta, or chimichurri sauce.
What are the best seasoning and marinades?
Tomahawk pork chops have a rich pork flavor on their own that can also take well to a variety of seasonings:
- Dry rubs with brown sugar, chili powder, garlic, and paprika
- Brines for added moisture and flavor
- Marinades with acidic elements like wine, vinegar, or citrus
- Savory marinades using soy sauce, mustard, or Worcestershire
- Herb and spice marinades such as rosemary, thyme and pepper
The pork’s mild flavor allows it to shine with nearly any flavors. Dry rubs or short marinades of 1-4 hours work best to prevent the meat from becoming too salty.
What sauce goes well with tomahawk pork chops?
While tomahawk pork chops are flavorful enough to be enjoyed on their own, sauce or condiments can take them to the next level. Consider serving with:
- Barbecue sauce – classic, spicy, or mustard varieties
- Chimichurri – herb and garlic sauce
- Cherry, peach, or plum compote
- Maple bourbon sauce
- Mole sauce
- Romesco sauce
- Pear mustard
- Green peppercorn sauce
Choose lighter sauces that won’t overwhelm the flavor of the pork. Fruit-based sauces provide a nice balance of sweet and savory.
Tomahawk Pork Chop Recipes
Here are 3 recipe ideas for preparing spectacular tomahawk pork chops:
Garlic Herb Tomahawk Pork Chops
- Marinate 2-3 inch chops for 2 hours in a mix of olive oil, chopped garlic, rosemary, thyme, S&P.
- Grill over medium heat for 8-10 minutes per side until 145°F.
- Let rest 5 minutes before serving with lemon wedges.
Brown Sugar Bourbon Chops
- Rub 2 inch chops with brown sugar, chili powder, cumin, S&P.
- Sear in cast iron skillet, then bake at 400°F for 15-20 minutes until 145°F.
- Finish with bourbon glaze the last 2-3 minutes.
Cherry Barbecue Tomahawks
- Smoke 3 inch tomahawks at 225°F for 1-2 hours until 145°F.
- Baste several times with cherry barbecue sauce.
- Serve sauce on the side for dipping.
Get creative with unique flavor combinations in rubs, sauces, and glazes. Tomahawk pork chops make a stunning presentation any night of the week.
Buying Tomahawk Pork Chops
When purchasing tomahawk pork chops, look for:
- Thick cut, at least 1.5 inches or more
- Long rib bone, ideally 6 inches or longer
- Meaty chops from ribs 6-9 for optimal size
- Deep red color instead of pale
- Some marbling visible through the meat
- Fresh, minimal odor
- Fat cap on one side of bone-in chops
Tomahawks are pricier than standard chops due to their dramatic shape and generous portion. Expect to pay $15-25 per chop depending on thickness. Check for sales around major holidays when demand increases.
Purchase chops within 1-3 days of cooking for best quality. Store loosely wrapped in the coldest section of the refrigerator.
Where to Buy Tomahawk Pork Chops
Finding tomahawk pork chops may require a visit to a specialty butcher shop. Not all grocery stores carry them routinely. Check at:
- Butcher counters at high end grocery stores
- Specialty meat markets
- Butcher shops and meat purveyors
- Online mail order steakhouses
- Direct from pork farms with butcher operations
Call ahead to check on availability and costs. Be sure to specify the thickness desired, with 2 inches or larger being ideal.
While not common, some regular supermarkets may carry pre-packaged tomahawk chops on occasion. Read labels closely to confirm cut, thickness, and quality.
How to Prepare Tomahawk Pork Chops
Follow these steps for working with raw tomahawk chops:
- Unwrap chops and pat dry with paper towels.
- Trim any loose pieces of fat or meat from the bones.
- Season or marinate as desired, coating all sides.
- Allow chops to come towards room temp before cooking.
- Heat grill, pan, or oven to the proper temperature.
- Cook using chosen method until internal temp reaches 145°F.
- Let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.
Handle raw pork safely by keeping it separate from other foods and thoroughly cooking to safe internal temperatures.
For easy removal after cooking, leave a paper towel wrapped handle on the bone. Carve around bone to serve if desired.
Tomahawk Pork Chop Competition Cuts
Within the barbecue competition circuit, specially fabricated tomahawk pork chops have become popular. These over-the-top versions involve entire hog racks with all ribs left intact instead of single chops.
Some feature racks upwards of 15 pounds with bones extending 1-2 feet long. They resemble enormous rack of dinosaur bones more than a traditional pork chop.
These customized showpieces allow teams to demonstrate their skills trimming, seasoning and cooking an entire rack accurately. They produce incredibly impressive and photogenic results when presented whole alongside pulled pork and other barbecue fare.
While challenging to cook, the super-sized racks make a smoky, meaty feast suitable for feeding large gatherings when portioned. They showcase just how generous and mouthwatering tomahawk pork chops can be.
With their impressive presentation and incredible flavors, tomahawk pork chops make a fabulous meal for special occasions or any time you desire a thick, juicy cut of pork. Choose chops around 2 inches thick for the optimal balance of meaty and dramatic bones. Sear, grill or smoke the chops using your favorite seasonings and serve with sweet or savory sauces on the side. Impress your guests with these rock star pork chops off the grill or smoker anytime.