What Does Beef Tenderloin Look Like? A Complete Visual Guide

Beef tenderloin is one of the most prized and expensive cuts of beef. Its delicate flavor and melt-in-your-mouth tenderness make it a favorite for fine dining restaurants and special occasions. But what exactly does this upscale cut of meat look like?

Read on for a complete visual guide to identifying beef tenderloin, the different cuts and sections, and how to select the best quality tenderloin at the store.

Where Beef Tenderloin Comes From

  • The tenderloin is a long, tapered muscle that runs along the spine of the cow.

  • It sits inside the loin primal cut between the ribs and sirloin.

  • This muscle doesn’t get much use, so it stays very tender.

  • When the tenderloin is removed from the loin primal, it is sometimes called the “short loin”.

Whole Tenderloin

  • A whole untrimmed tenderloin is an oblong, tapered shape.

  • It ranges from 2-4 feet long and 4-7 lbs.

  • The fat end (closer to the sirloin) is wider, the tip end is narrow.

  • It has a thick layer of fat around it called kidney fat or suet.

  • The suet insulates it and keeps it from getting tough.

![Whole untrimmed beef tenderloin][]

Trimmed Tenderloin

  • Once trimmed of fat and silverskin, the tenderloin is more cylindrical in shape.
  • It looks like a “filet”, which is French for “long and lean”.
  • The tip end tapers to a point. The sirloin end is wider.
  • The chain muscle runs partially alongside it.![Trimmed beef tenderloin roast][]

Sections of the Tenderloin

  • The tapered shape of the tenderloin lends itself to different cuts along its length.
  • The tip can be portioned into appetizers or folded under the roast.
  • The mid section is ideal for filet mignon steaks.
  • The wider end produces club steaks or can be left whole as a roast.![Beef tenderloin sections][]

In the Meat Case

When shopping for tenderloin, you may see:

  • Whole tenderloin roast: Can be trimmed or untrimmed. Good for roasting.
  • Tenderloin steaks: Filet mignon or sometimes chamions cut. 1-2 inches thick.
  • Tenderloin medallions: Round slices from the wide end, often wrapped in bacon.
  • Tenderloin tips: The narrow end cut into bite-sized pieces.![Beef tenderloin cuts at butcher shop][]

What to Look For

  • Uniform shape: Tapered, not oddly misshapen.
  • Bright red color: Indicated freshness.
  • AMPLE marbling: Thin white lines of fat throughout the meat.
  • Firm texture: Should have slight springiness when touched.
  • Fresh cut surface: Meat should not be dry or brown at the cut side.

Common Uses

  • Filet mignon steaks
  • Tenderloin roasts
  • Roast beef tenderloin sandwiches
  • Fancy beef entrees
  • Special occasion meals

Cooking Tips

  • Cook quickly over high heat to medium rare.
  • Add flavor with rubs, marinades or sauces.
  • Don’t overcook or it becomes dry and tough.
  • Roast tenderloin pairs nicely with red wine pan sauce.

Beef tenderloin has a distinct long, tapered shape that makes it easy to identify. Know what to look for when buying it and how to cook it properly to enjoy this luxurious and delicious cut of beef.

How To Butcher A Beef Tenderloin


Is a beef tenderloin the same as a filet mignon?

To sum up: Filet mignon is part of a beef tenderloin, but a beef tenderloin is not a filet mignon. Instead, it houses the filet mignon, which comes from the end portion of the tenderloin. The rest of the tenderloin can create other steak cuts or a delicious tenderloin roast to feed the family.

What is beef tenderloin called at the grocery store?

Beef Tenderloin Steak (Filet Mignon)

What is special about beef tenderloin?

Tenderloin, Boneless | Lean A long, narrow, and lean muscle located within the Loin, this is the most tender cut of beef available. The Tenderloin is the source of Tenderloin Steak or Filet Mignon, and is a component of T-Bone and Porterhouse Steaks.

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