Learn how to cook a beef tenderloin, from A to Z.
Though they might feel intimidated at first, novice cooks can rest assured that learning how to cook a beef tenderloin is not a technique reserved only for the masters. A classic American roast, beef tenderloin is prized for its sublime tenderness and intense flavor. It is the primal cut from which the popular "filet mignon" and "chateaubriand" cuts are taken.
Because of its comparatively steep price, beef tenderloin is usually reserved for special occasions, like holidays and weddings. However, busier home cooks can roast the entire tenderloin on the weekends and then use slices of it during the week to prepare quick dinners, such as steak salads and cheese steak heroes. Read on to learn how to cook a beef tenderloin to perfection.
A whole tenderloin usually weighs between 4 and 8 pounds. Beef tenderloin is cut from the short loin of the cow, a section from the lower back between the ribs and the round. When the short loin is cut as an entire strip, it is called "tenderloin." When sliced into individual steaks, it is called "filet mignon" and "chateaubriand." Dry heat cooking methods work well with naturally tender lean beef tenderloin.
Beef tenderloin is a healthy alternative to other beef cuts. According to Peer Trainer, a 3-ounce serving of beef tenderloin contains 185 calories and 9 grams of fat. The same size portion has only 6 grams of saturated fat, more than 20 grams of protein and is rich in essential B vitamins. The American Heart Association recommends beef tenderloin and other cuts from the short loin.
If purchased trimmed from a butcher, beef tenderloin is a costly piece of meat. A cost-saving alternative is to buy vacuum-packed tenderloin at a local supermarket. Home cooks can then make the meat oven-ready, just as a butcher would.
Using a sharp utility knife, trim the surface fat. Tuck the thin tail end of the beef under and tie it to make it even in thickness with the rest of the roast. Trim away the silver skin extending down the length of the roast. The meat is now ready to cook.
Cooking professionals and beef aficionados agree that tenderloin cooked past the medium rare stage is dry and bland. According to the national Beef Checkoff Program and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), beef tenderloin is medium rare and safe for consumption when the internal temperature has reached 145 F. Using a meat thermometer is the safest and most accurate way to determine the tenderloin's doneness.
Oven-roasting is an easy and foolproof method for preparing beef tenderloin. The USDA recommended oven temperature is 425 F for a 4- to 6-pound whole tenderloin.
Remove the trimmed beef from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to cooking. Blot the surface dry with paper towels. Coat the tenderloin with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Brown the meat in hot oil in a heavy roasting pan or cast-iron skillet large enough to contain the meat in one piece. Sear the meat on all sides for approximately 10 minutes, then sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs and place in the oven until the meat's internal temperature registers 135 F on an instant read thermometer.
Remove the meat from the oven, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and allow it to rest on a warmed serving platter. Keep in mind that as the meat rests, the internal temperature will continue to rise 5 F to 10 F.
The Food Network recommends stuffing the beef tenderloin prior to roasting to add moisture, boost flavor and create a more dramatic presentation when serving. Run a sharp utility knife lengthwise down the roast without cutting through to the other side.
Sear the roast on the stove top for about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat and carefully push open this "pocket" to add ingredients, such as garlic slivers, bleu cheese, chunks of lobster meat or roasted red peppers. Use butcher's twine to tie the roast every 3 inches, then roast until the internal temperature reaches 145 F. Remove the roast from the oven, wrap it in aluminum foil, and allow it to sit for 15 minutes before serving.
Like roasting, grilling is a highly recommended method for preparing beef tenderloin. Preheat a gas or charcoal grill to its maximum heat setting. Brush the meat with oil and rub coarse sea salt and coarsely crushed whole black or green pepper corns into its entire surface. Place on the grill and sear the meat for about 5 minutes on each side. Move the meat to the coolest part of the grill and continue cooking for an additional 40 to 60 minutes, turning occasionally. Once the meat reaches 135 F, move it to a warm platter and allow it to rest for 15 minutes prior to slicing.
When handling raw meat, always be sure to follow proper food safety guidelines. For more information on safe beef handling practices, including safe defrosting, cooking and storage methods, refer to the USDA Beef Fact Sheet.