Beef tenderloin is a tender meat cut perfect for barbecue and slow cooking. From meat prep to cooking techniques, discover everything you need to know about this delicious beef steak.
Beef tenderloin is a cut that comes from the loin of the beef and is also called eye fillet, filet, fillet, and filet mignon. Beef tenderloin is located between the sirloin and top sirloin and goes through the short loin region. The name tenderloin is derived from the word tender as beef tenderloin is the most tender cut of beef.
Let’s look at beef tenderloin in detail to know what makes it special and the various ways to cook it.
What is Beef Tenderloin?
Beef tenderloin is the muscle that sits between the short loin and sirloin primal cuts, and can be enjoyed whole or cut down into smaller steaks. It’s long and round in shape and weighs between four to six pounds in an adult cow.
This tender beef cut is best enjoyed cooked whole, either barbecue smoked or slow-roasted in the oven. It can also be sliced into two-inch steaks before fired up on a charcoal grill.
Filet mignon comes from one side of the tenderloin, reaching up to the short loin, and is famously one of the most delicious (and expensive) steak cuts. One piece of filet mignon can be divided into as many as six two-inch thick steaks.
Beef tenderloin is high in fat content (about 25%), making it extremely tender. However, beef tenderloin is not only the most tender cut of beef, but it is also the most expensive one. The high-fat content appears as considerable marbling on it. The marbling is visible to the naked eye as it forms several thick and thin white fat streaks all across the muscle.
The high-fat content in the muscle keeps it juicy when it’s cooked. It can be cooked in a variety of ways. However, beef tenderloin shouldn’t be cooked for a long time as it can get tender and shred within the pot when cooked for a long time. The high-fat content helps make it flavorful too.
What Part of the Cow Is Beef Tenderloin?
Beef tenderloin is located near the cow’s back, between the sirloin and top sirloin. It ends where the sirloin ends and goes lengthwise through the sirloin into the short loin. Tenderloin is easy to distinguish because, compared to sirloin, it has high fat content and richer marbling.
Beef Tenderloin vs Filet Mignon
While all filet mignon comes from beef tenderloin, not all of the tenderloin is filet mignon. Beef tenderloin is a prime cut of beef divided into filet mignon, chateaubriand, tail, muscle on roast, and chains. While the entire meat portion is tender, filet mignon is especially tender despite being a lean cut of beef.
Filet mignon is only 17% fat compared to the 25% found in beef tenderloin. However, the lower quantity of fat doesn’t make filet mignon tough or dry. In fact, since it is approximately the center of the muscle, the muscles are tender on their own.
While the filet mignon cut is preferred in individual steaks, chateaubriand and tail are preferred for roasts. Butchers and cooks also prefer cutting another thick-cut between the sixth slice of filet mignon and tail.
This cut is sometimes called small roast and, as the name suggests, is used for roasting purposes. Some butchers and cooks also cut the chateaubriand or the head of the beef tenderloin into steaks too.
It is important to account for two factors when buying beef tenderloin. The first factor is the number of people for whom you will be cooking. As a rule of thumb, buy about half-pound beef tenderloin per person. Beef shrinks as it cooks, but this rule accounts for shrinkage. However, you can pair the beef main with filling side dishes if you’re scared it won’t be enough.
The second factor that you need to account for is the recipe you want to follow. The recipe will help you determine which subsection of beef tenderloin you should buy.
For barbecue recipes, buying the tail of the beef tenderloin or the filet mignon would be a great option. For whole roasts, you can buy the tail. On the other hand, if you want to serve individual steaks, you can get filet mignon either as separate cuts of steaks or a whole. If you are only cooking for a party of two, buying individual filet mignon steaks would be perfect.
The head is usually sold as smaller cubes or strips in the supermarkets. You can use the chateaubriand cubes to make tender and juicy kebabs on the grill. However, you can get the whole chateaubriand from the butcher and cut it into cubes yourself.
In the supermarket, the different sub-sections of beef tenderloin are mentioned with their names of the tail, filet mignon, muscle on roast, and small roast. But chateaubriand can also be labeled as tenderloin head in some places.
These cuts of beef tenderloin can be labeled as trimmed or untrimmed. Untrimmed beef tenderloin portions have excess fat around the meat. They may be a little cheaper than trimmed portions, but you will need to get rid of the excess fat in any case.
If you cook untrimmed beef tenderloin without removing the excess fat, the cooked meat will end up with an undissolved layer of fat on the sides which may impact its flavor or make it even more tender to the point it shreds while cooking.
Since beef tenderloin already has a high percentage of fat content, it is best to buy it trimmed. Buying it untrimmed might also disturb the calculations you make for the number of people and reduce the quantity of cooked beef later on. Some places also sell trimmed beef tenderloin labeled as ‘peeled’.
When buying beef tenderloin or any other cut of beef, make sure that the meat is fresh and comes from cows raised on ethical farming practices. Look for a purplish-red hue on the meat to ensure freshness. If you doubt the freshness of the beef in supermarkets, you can source it from a butcher.
The excess fat and the silver skin around the raw beef tenderloin can be easily removed with the help of a thin, sharp knife. You will also need to cut the chains and muscles on the roast portion during this process.
Once all the silver skin and fat are removed, you will be left with a large portion of tenderloin that can be roasted on its own. If you don’t wish to roast it as one piece, you can further cut it into sub-sections, including the tail, small roast, filet mignon, and chateaubriand or head. You can also choose to skip the small roast and keep a larger piece of tail.
If cooked as a roast, beef tenderloin can be cut into pieces the same way an uncooked piece would be cut. As it is one big muscle, cutting it lengthwise makes you slice it against the grain. Cutting against the grain is the right way to cut any meat. It lets the meat hold its shape and maintain its texture.
Beef tenderloin is the most flavorsome cut of beef and is difficult to substitute. However, rib-eye comes close despite being higher in fat content. The higher fat content in rib-eye will make you tweak the recipe a little. However, most cooks and food enthusiasts prefer pork tenderloin when beef tenderloin is unavailable.
How to Smoke Beef Tenderloin
Beef tenderloin is best barbecue smoked whole because it allows the rich fat content to slowly render and tenderize the meat over a long period of time.
To make the best smoked beef tenderloin, fire up your smoker to 250°F (120°C) and heat the tenderloin until it reaches an internal temperature of 130°F (54°C). This is usually about 3 hours. Remove it from the heat and sear it over high heat for 2-3 minutes before serving immediately.
Since beef tenderloin is a tender and expensive cut of beef, it should be reserved for barbecue recipes such as roasts and steaks only. However, it can taste great when cooked right through any method and paired with warm, hearty sides.
It tastes great with a variety of roasted vegetables. Roasted tomatoes and potatoes go especially well with the tender and juicy beef steaks. However, you can also serve it with rice or beans.