Valentine’s Day is best celebrated with a memorable meal, and filet mignon—that most luxuriant of beef cuts—often tops the list of menu options for special occasions. Of course, the price of a tenderloin steak entreé at a restaurant often borders on the exorbitant.
You don’t have to choose between a nice V-Day dinner and your budget, though. Slicing your own steaks from a whole beef tenderloin, then reverse-searing them to perfection, is a great way to bring the price of dinner down dramatically. We have expert tips and the thermal keys you need to grill an impressive and romantic dinner for your sweetheart.
For a guide on how to cook any steak by our favorite method, check out this video.
Beef Tenderloin: Indulgent and Tender
Because it has almost no connective tissue that needs to be broken down, beef tenderloin is the most tender muscle on the animal. Not only is it naturally tender, but it also has very little fat (the leanness of the cut is why tenderloin steaks are sometimes wrapped in bacon). Because of this, tenderloin steaks are best-suited to quick, high-heat methods of cooking such as grilling and pan-searing. After you put in the effort to butcher and trim that tenderloin yourself, you’ll certainly want to keep from overcooking it!
Delicate tenderloin is a refined cut of beef that’s truly an indulgence. Since it’s very lean, beef tenderloin should never be cooked to more than medium, so have a digital thermometer on hand to ensure the beef doesn’t overcook.—Diva Q’s Barbecue, Danielle Bennett
Getting the Most out of Your Beef Tenderloin
When shopping for a tenderloin, look for a Peeled Side Meat On cut (PSMO, or a whole, untrimmed tenderloin) often found in many discount club stores. A PSMO beef tenderloin is vacuum-packed and much cheaper per pound than the pre-butchered plastic-wrapped cuts in your grocer’s freezer. (In some cases as little as 1/3 the price!)
How to Butcher a Whole Beef Tenderloin
There is a bit of extra prep work required when starting with the whole tenderloin, but a little investment of time pays off with significant savings, plus you’ll have plenty of meat for several meals.
➤ Important: Use a sharp boning knife for this process, and be careful.
- Trim away fat and connective tissue from both top and bottom to expose the muscle.
- Once the fat and connective tissue are trimmed away, the tenderloin’s side muscle will be exposed. This side muscle is often referred to as the “chain.” Cut the side muscle away completely and set aside.
- Peel away the silverskin. The silverskin is a layer of connective tissue (elastin, not collagen) covering the muscle that will not dissolve during cooking. Slide your sharp knife just under the silverskin and slice it away along the length of the tenderloin.
- Clean the fat and silverskin off the chain muscle.
- The chain meat is great for beef stroganoff, Philly cheesesteaks, or ground up for burgers.
- Cut off the tail end—the thin, tapering 4–5 inches [10–13 cm.]. This is often sold as the “tenderloin tip”.
- Use the tenderloin tip in pasta, grilled kebabs, beef carpaccio, or sliced thin for a fast high-class stir fry.
- The head (the bulbous, fatter end) can be cut into two separate pieces (chateaubriand and petite roast) portioned into steaks, or tied and prepared as a roast.
- Cut the steaks into 2–2-1/2″ steaks, which will yield pieces weighing about 6–8 ounces
Set aside two steaks for the following recipe, then wrap, label, and freeze the rest of the tenderloin cuts for later use. You know, like, for dessert.
(If you’d like to see how these steps work, check out our video on how to butcher your own tenderloin.)
Value: Cost Analysis
Compare these numbers to an average of about $30 per pound for pre-portioned filet mignon steaks. That’s a final cost of about $8-10 per steak. That savings adds up quickly when you’ve been able to cut several steaks!
- AP Cost—This is the As Purchased cost, or the cost per pound when purchased from the store. Our tenderloin (USDA Choice Grade) broke down like this:
- Cost per Pound: $10.69 (or 67¢ per ounce)
- Total Weight: 7.21 lbs
- AP Cost: $77.07
➤ Waste After trimming the meat we had 2 lbs. of waste. This waste needs to be accounted for in adjusting the original cost per pound.
- EP Cost—The Edible Portion cost after trimming all waste.
- Original Cost/EP Weight=New Cost per Pound
- EP Cost: 77.07/5.21= $14.79 per lb (92¢ per ounce)
➤ New Cost To figure out the cost of each steak, divide the new cost per pound by 16 (16 oz. in a pound)
- Price per Ounce: $14.79/16= .92¢ per ounce
- Cost per Portion: 6 oz steak: $5.55, 8 oz steak= $7.36
*Note: AP and EP are restaurant terms used by professionals in calculating food cost.
If both steaks are 8 oz. (227 grams), the bottom line cost for both is only $14.72—far less expensive than even one filet mignon at a restaurant! And when you’re using a Thermapen® Mk4 to verify doneness you know it’s going to be cooked to perfection.
Reverse-Seared Grilled Filet Mignon for Two
Reverse searing a steak is a great way to maximize edge-to-edge pink perfection with a dark and flavorful crust. In the two-stage cooking process, the meat’s fine protein fibers are slowly heated in a low-temperature oven before being seared on a ripping-hot grill. The finished steaks have a flavorful crust with tender, succulent meat from edge to edge.
- 2 6–8 oz filet mignon steaks
- Vegetable oil
- Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 275°F (135°C).
- Sprinkle both sides of each steak liberally with salt and pepper. Place the steaks onto a wire cooling rack set over a parchment or foil-lined sheet pan. Place the Pro-Series needle probe of your DOT into the thermal center of one of the steaks.
- Set your DOT’s high alarm to 90°F (32°C).
- Place the steaks into the oven and cook until they reach an internal temperature of 90–95°F (32–35°C). This will take about 10–20 minutes.
- While the steaks are warming in the oven, fire up your grill.
- When your DOT‘s high alarm sounds, verify the steaks’ internal temperature with a Thermapen Mk4 and remove them from the oven.
*Note: Due to the high temperatures of a grill’s surface (500–700°F [260–371°C]), we do not recommend using leave-in probe thermometers when grilling. Spot-checking food temperatures with an instant-read thermometer like a Thermapen Mk4 is always best for grilling. Read our posts on The Difference Between Grilling and BBQ and Probe Safety for more information on grilling temperatures.
Searing on the Grill
- Lightly oil the grill rods and place the steaks on the grill. Cook about 3–5 minutes per side to develop a brown, flavorful crust.
- Spot-check the steaks’ internal temperature frequently with a Thermapen Mk4. For medium-rare doneness, pull from the grill once the internal temperature reaches 125°F (52°C).
- A pull temperature of 125°F (52°C) will allow for a final resting temperature of about 130°F (54°C)—perfect medium-rare doneness.
You can also sear your steaks in a cast iron pan. Add about 1 tablespoon (14-3/4 ml.) of high smoke point oil to the pan and heat to about 500°F (260°C), and sear as described above.
➤ On Resting Meat
When meat protein is cooked it denatures and coagulates. This is what causes the meat fibers to become firm and to shrink, expelling juices. Given a chance to rest, meat can actually reverse a little of that process.
…the coagulation process is apparently at least partly reversible, so as you allow the meat to rest and return to a lower temperature after cooking, some of the liquid is reabsorbed by the protein molecules as their capacity to hold moisture increases. …which in turn makes for much juicier and more tender meat. —Master of the Grill, America’s Test Kitchen
- Allow the steaks to rest for about 5 minutes. These steaks are delicious enough to be served without anything else, but a pan sauce or a bit of compound butter are nice accompaniments.
Preparing your own meat and grilling it with precision tools make a special occasion meal a memorable one. Cooking meat to temperature really is the secret to preparing restaurant-quality steak every time. Once you try these tips at home, your new favorite steakhouse may well be your own kitchen!