What is Beef Tenderloin? A Look at This Prized Cut of Beef

Beef tenderloin is considered one of the most tender, elegant, and desirable cuts of beef. Fetching high prices at steakhouses and butcher shops, the tenderloin is a moderately sized roast that sits nestled under the back ribs of the cow. When properly prepared, slices of tenderloin offer a luxuriously soft, buttery texture with a mild, refined flavor.

This article provides an in-depth look at where beef tenderloin comes from, how to cook it, and why it is such a prized cut of beef.

Where Beef Tenderloin Comes From on the Cow

The tenderloin is a tapered, oblong muscle that runs along the spine of the cow from the hip through the lower rib section. It sits beneath the ribs along the backbone.

Since this muscle gets very little exercise as the animal moves, it contains less connective tissue. This makes the tenderloin one of the most naturally tender cuts of beef.

The tenderloin is encased in a layer of fat called the kidney fat or suet. This can be rendered into tallow or ground for use in sausages.

Key Characteristics of Beef Tenderloin

  • Extreme tenderness – With little connective tissue, tenderloin is exceptionally soft when cooked.

  • Mild flavor – The tenderloin has a subtle, refined beef taste compared to fattier cuts.

  • Lean – As an underworked muscle, the tenderloin contains very little marbling or fat.

  • Small size – The whole tenderloin roast weighs just 4-7 pounds.

  • Expensive – Due to scarcity and demand, tenderloin sells for a premium price.

How to Cook Beef Tenderloin Properly

With its lack of fat and connective tissue, tenderloin can dry out and toughen easily if overcooked. Use these methods to keep it juicy:

  • Roasting – Cook whole roast to 135°F for medium-rare doneness. Monitor temperature carefully.

  • Grilling – Sear steaks briefly on high heat then finish in a 450°F oven. Don’t overcook.

  • Sous vide – Cook individually sealed steaks to 130°F for 2-4 hours. Torch or sear before serving.

  • Pan searing – Cook steaks in a very hot pan for 1-2 minutes per side. Baste with butter as they cook.

Flavor Profile of Beef Tenderloin

When cooked properly to a rosy medium-rare, beef tenderloin offers a mild, subtly beefy flavor. It lacks the rich robustness of fattier ribeye or strip steaks.

Expect lighter notes of:

  • Beefiness – The flavor is all beef but more muted than fattier cuts. Almost delicate.

  • Butteriness – Well-marbled cuts have a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

  • Woodiness – Subtle wood smoke flavors when grilled or roasted over charcoal.

  • Pepper – Coarse black pepper provides a pleasing contrast to the mild beef.

Where to Buy Beef Tenderloin

You can purchase whole beef tenderloin roasts at higher-end grocery stores or butcher shops. Ask the butcher to trim and tie it for easy roasting. Plan on around 1 pound per person.

Tenderloin steaks like filet mignon can also be purchased individually, packaged, or as part of T-bone or porterhouse steaks. Look for good marbling and thickness of at least 1.5 inches.

When purchasing, expect to pay significantly more per pound for tenderloin than other cuts like sirloin or chuck that contain more connective tissue. The tenderloin’s scarcity and wild popularity drive the steep prices.

How to Portion Tenderloin into Steaks

You can save money by purchasing a whole tenderloin roast and cutting your own steaks. Here’s how:

  1. Trim excess fat and silverskin from the roast.

  2. Cut the tenderloin crosswise into 2-inch steaks starting from the wide end.

  3. Cut the tip into smaller sections, slices, or cubes to use for kabobs or stir fries.

  4. Tie or fold under the skinny “tail” end to cook evenly.

  5. Prepare steaks by grilling, pan searing, or cooking sous vide. Enjoy!

Common Beef Tenderloin Steak Names

The tenderloin is turned into several upscale steaks:

  • Filet mignon – From the narrow tip of the tenderloin. Most tender.

  • Chateaubriand – Center cut from the widest part of the roast.

  • Tournedos – Slices from the tapered end of the tenderloin.

  • Tenderloin medallions – Small, round steaks from the thickest part.

  • T-bone – Has a tenderloin section as well as strip loin.

No matter what you call it, beef tenderloin offers sought-after tenderness and indulgence. Treat yourself to this celebrated cut for your next special meal.

Fool Proof Beef Tenderloin

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