If you have ever eaten a beautiful filet mignon you have enjoyed a cut of the most tender and juicy beef tenderloin. Learn how to break down a beef tenderloin into a half dozen filet mignons, beef loin tips, and a beautiful tenderloin roast in about 30 minutes.
The tenderloin is located near the backbone of the cow. It is tucked up under the ribs and because it isn’t worked much, the meat is the most tender cut of meat on the animal. A whole beef tenderloin weighs in somewhere around 4-5 pounds which will feed anywhere between 8-12 people. Considering how much a full-grown steer weighs it is no wonder that this small cut is so desirable.
While the expensive cuts of Chateaubriand’s (beef filet roast) and filet mignon which are the main cuts of meat in the beef tenderloin, there is a wonderful secret. It is simple and very economical to buy a whole beef tenderloin and cut it into just what you want to eat. It only requires a sharp boning knife and a little bit of time to make the cuts.
Anatomy of a Beef Tenderloin
When purchasing a whole beef tenderloin, you probably will find them in the packaging known as cryovac. Big box stores often have the best prices for this tender primal cut of beef. Buying the whole tenderloin and breaking it down yourself makes the steaks and roasts cut from the meat very economical. You can find the meat trimmed, sometimes called peeled, for a higher per-pound price, or untrimmed which will be the least expensive way of buying a beef tenderloin.
Choosing a Whole Beef Tenderloin
Look for a cryovac package that contains a thicker and shorter rather than a long and thin piece of meat. This will allow you to cut more filets and a larger roast. The thin tail makes wonderful beef tips. You can plan on about 6-8 ounces of untrimmed beef tenderloin per person. (When trimming and cooking each serving will shrink by about 2 ounces.)
Trimmed or Untrimmed Beef Tenderloin
An untrimmed (or unpeeled) tenderloin may also include a thin strip of meat (called the chain) loosely attached to the side of the tenderloin. This long thin piece can be trimmed of fat and connective tissue and cut into pieces to be used in stir-fries. It may also have a flap of meat connected to the thick end that can easily be removed and cut into beef tips.
Open the cyrovac bag and discard the thick bloody liquid. Using a paper towel, pat all sides of the beef tenderloin dry. I don’t normally rinse meat unless the packaging is particularly stinky. Removing the liquid will get rid of much of any smell.
Once the meat is out of the bag, you can check out what the tenderloin looks like.
Trimming the Silverskin from a Beef Tenderloin
Silverskin can be found on the thick end (called the butt) and running down the side of the meat. This shinny tough tissue does not break down and makes the meat very unpleasantly chewy. It runs in a very thin layer and can be cut off the meat by way of a sharp boning knife,
You may need to cut thin ribbons of silverskin off from the meat in order to only cut off the unwanted connective tissue and leave the meat. Repeat the process until you have cut away all the silverskin. You should also remove any pockets of fat that may be found tucked around the beef tenderloin.
Breaking Down a Beef Tenderloin
If your beef tenderloin has a flap of meat called a wing attached to the thick butt end of the meat, cut it off where it joins the main piece of the meat. This meat makes wonderful beef tips.
Once the meat has been thoroughly trimmed, it is time to start subdividing the tenderloin into individual cuts. Decide if you want a tenderloin roast called chateaubriand (pronounced shaa-tow-bree-aand). This 3-4 pound cut from the middle of the beef tenderloin will feed 6-8 people. You want the roast to be the same diameter from end to end.
If I’m planning on cutting a filet roast, I choose a thicker piece of meat. If I want more filets, I choose a longer beef tenderloin.
Cutting Filet Mignons
You can cut thick steaks from the butt end or thinner steaks that can be used for carpaccio. When you get to the thinner end, the steaks can also be called tournedos (pronounced toor-nuh-doh) and are often cooked and served with a sauce.
When cutting filets—measure out 2” thick slices and using your sharp knife, smoothly cut as many filets as you can until you come to the thin tail end that you can cut into beef tips.
If I plan to wrap the filet in bacon, I wrap and tie each one at this step. Then they are ready to be vacuum-packed and frozen until you are ready to serve them. Since these filets are so tender, I’d advise you to only cook them to medium, or better heat, medium-rare.
While each tenderloin yields different servings depending on what you prefer, you can get around 12-20 servings out of a whole cut of beef.