Recipe: How to Make Chef John Manion’s Tomahawk Steaks
You’re already a master griller, a fact your apron collection unequivocally attests to. You have a favorite wood to burn, a favorite spatula, a favorite beer to grill. Invitations to your barbecues are so competitive that they have caused quarrels among your group of friends.
But are you already building your own barbecue? Because Chef John Manion is.
Rich in experience acquired at asados in Argentina and Brazil, the wood-fired cooking specialist Chicago Grandstand Phil Vettel, nicknamed “the master of the flame,” brings his expertise from El Che Steakhouse & Bar to your backyard with an unmistakable recipe: tomahawk steaks slow-cooked over an open fire and slathered in tangy chimichurri and homemade meat butter.
It’s true: meat butter.
To grill these rib eye steaks, you’ll start by building your own fire pit and lighting a roaring fire. Manion likes to start with white oak, which is readily available in the Midwest and imparts a subtle flavor that complements the food “without becoming too much of a bullet hog.”
For Manion, it is important to light the fire for at least 15 minutes before you start cooking. This will give you time to poke a hole in your tomahawk bone and tie it with stainless steel wire so the steak can hang over the fire in that soft, smoky spot. So what? Leave alone.
“Every novice grillmaster always wants to turn, poke, poke and otherwise disturb their steaks,” Manion told InsideHook. “Leave them alone. Damn, don’t touch it until you absolutely need to. The steak? The fire cooks. You are just supervising.
For the most part, at least. The only job left is to baste the steak occasionally with that aforementioned meat butter, a concoction made by slowly cooking the beef trimmings until rich, browned and delicious. It’s the perfect way to make your beef taste even beefier.
“Unless I’m in a bistro, I’ve never been a big fan of beef swimming in butter, which a lot of steakhouses do,” Manion says. “Our mission has always been to let the Creekstone Farms beef we cook here taste what it is.”
After about 45 minutes of cooking, basting, and looking at a pattern, your job of slow-cooking the steaks will be done, which means there’s only one thing left to do: brush them with even more meat butter and slam them over the embers in a caveman-inspired reverse trigger that’s sure to have you gawping, clapping, or, let’s be honest, a bit of both.
Tomahawk Rib Eye Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce
For the chimichurri
- 3 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves (no stems!), about 3 bunches, very finely chopped
- 6 garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- 1 ½ tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano leaves
- ¼ cup distilled white vinegar
- 1 C. kosher salt
- 1 C. freshly ground black pepper
- ¾ c. dried red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the meat butter
- 3 pounds. trimmed beef fat, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Salt to taste
For the steaks
- 2 tomahawk rib eye steaks (48 oz) (Manion uses premium dry-aged beef from Creekstone Farms)
- Kosher salt, as needed
- Freshly cracked black pepper, as needed
- ½ cup meat butter
- sprigs of rosemary
- Asado cross or 60 inch iron tripod
- Cinder block (optional)
- Small dry wood
- 30 pounds. split hardwood, preferably white oak
- Vegetable oil as needed
- Venting device, such as a square of torn cardboard
- Charcoal in pieces
- 2 3 ft. stainless steel wire lengths
- Drill with a bit large enough for your wire to fit through
- Heat-resistant gloves, such as leather welding gloves
- Shovel or rake
- Digital Probe Thermometer
1. Prepare the chimichurri. In a medium airtight container, combine the parsley, garlic, oregano, vinegar, salt, black pepper, bay leaf and red pepper flakes. Stir in olive oil, cover and refrigerate overnight.
2. Prepare the meat butter. Cut the fat into very small pieces, place it in a food processor and process until it has the consistency of hamburger meat. Transfer to a Dutch oven and cook slowly over very low heat, stirring occasionally and taking care not to burn it, skimming off any impurities that rise to the surface, until it looks like crumbs and until you have a good amount of golden liquid, about 3-4 hours. Strain the fat through cheesecloth, then transfer it to a container. Refrigerate until semi-soft, then add the garlic and season to taste with salt. Beat with a stand or hand mixer for 2 minutes. The meat butter will keep for up to a month, covered, in the refrigerator.
3. Light the fire. First, determine which direction the wind is blowing. You can seriously lick your thumb and hold it up like they do in the movies. Install the center brace of the asado cross or the center of the iron tripod about a foot downwind of where the flames will be. Don’t stress too much about it; you’ll need to set it up once your fire is lit anyway. If you’re using an asado cross, drive it straight into the ground at an angle of about 65 degrees. You can secure the asado cross once you’ve started cooking by sticking it into the hole in a cinder block.
4. Light the fire. Gather some dry kindling and stack cross-hatched hardwood logs to form a 10-inch square, building it on three levels. Place the kindling in the center. Drizzle the newspaper with a little vegetable oil and light it to fuel the initial burn. Fan the flames furiously with a square of cardboard. Add more wood or charcoal as needed to keep the fire burning for at least 15 minutes before you start cooking. It should look like a real campfire and produce a decent amount of smoke.
5. Use a drill to drill a hole in each tomahawk bone about an inch from the end. Season the meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Thread each piece of yarn through the hole in each ribeye bone, creating a small loop around the bone. Twist the wire on itself at one end to secure it. Wearing your heat resistant gloves, wrap the other end of the wire around the S-hook of your asado cross or tripod, adjusting the length of the wire to ensure the bottom of the steaks is at least 8 inches away from above the flames. Twist the other end to secure it. You may need to move it around a bit; your goal is to make sure both steaks are evenly surrounded by smoke.
6. If the wind turns again after your steaks start to smoke, move the fire, not the tripod. Use the shovel or rake to push the entire burning pile all at once, again making sure the steaks are enveloped in smoke.
7. Every 30 minutes or so, use your tongs to rotate the steaks 90 degrees to ensure that the heat and smoke are always distributed evenly over the entire surface. Use the rosemary sprigs to baste the steaks occasionally with meat butter. (Note: Rosemary has minimal aromatic function, but it guarantees you a cool look.)
8. After about 45 minutes, start checking the temperature of the meat in the thickest part next to the bone with a digital thermometer.
9. Once the steaks reach 100 degrees, remove them from the heat. Remove the wire from the bone and let them rest.
10. Add more charcoal if needed to ensure you have enough surface area to sear the steaks and heat until the coals are completely white, about 15 minutes; you want to see embers, not flames here. Using a shovel or rake, create an even bed with the embers. Fan your coals furiously to remove any excess ashes. (If you prefer your steaks marked, you can lay a grill grate directly over the coals; let it heat up for 15 minutes before adding the steaks.)
11. Wrap each tomahawk bone in foil to protect it from burning (optional) and place the steaks directly over the coals.
12. Sear the steaks for 3 minutes on each side, until well caramelized and the internal temperature has reached 120 to 125 degrees for rare. When you turn the steaks, remove the coals that stick to the meat.
13. Remove the steaks from the coals and let the meat rest, uncovered, for at least 5 minutes. Brush the steaks with generous amounts of meat butter while they rest.
14. Slice each steak along the bone to remove the ribeye. Cut against the grain in thick slices. Enjoy.
15. To extinguish your fire: let it burn until it is almost entirely in ashes, then with your rake, turn the ashes several times, smothering them with earth and stones. Do not pour water on it. He will turn the ashes into mud, which will make cement.
This article was published in the Inside Hook Chicago newsletter. Join now to learn more about Windy City.