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How is tenderloin best cooked?

What is tenderloin?

Tenderloin is a cut of beef taken from the short loin primal cut, which runs along the spine of the cow. It sits beneath the ribeye and sirloin cuts and connects to the flank. The tenderloin is the most tender cut of beef because it contains very little connective tissue and fat. This makes it perfect for quick, high-heat cooking methods like grilling, sautéing, or roasting.

There are two main types of tenderloin steaks:

  • Whole tenderloin: This is the whole, untrimmed tenderloin muscle. It can weigh 4-6 lbs and serve a large party when roasted whole.
  • Tenderloin steak: These are portions of the tenderloin, cut crosswise from the whole tenderloin into 2-3 inch steaks. Common names for tenderloin steaks include filet mignon, chateaubriand, and tournedo.

When purchasing tenderloin, choose cuts that are bright red in color with minimal marbling. Avoid pieces with dry, brown edges or spots. Tenderloin is quite expensive due to its desirability, so is often reserved for special occasions.

How to Cook Tenderloin

There are several excellent methods for cooking tenderloin steaks and roasts to perfection:


Grilling is a fast, high-heat method well-suited to tenderloin’s leanness. It develops a flavorful, caramelized crust while keeping the interior moist and tender. To grill tenderloin steaks:

  • Pat steaks dry and brush lightly with oil. Season well with salt and pepper.
  • Prepare grill to high heat. Place steaks over direct heat.
  • Grill 2-4 minutes per side for medium rare doneness, turning once. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

For whole tenderloin roasts, grill over indirect heat at 400-450°F until an instant read thermometer reaches 120-125°F for medium rare.

Pan Searing

Pan searing in a hot skillet or pan is ideal for developing an alluring brown crust on tenderloin steaks:

  • Pat steaks dry and season all over with salt and pepper.
  • Heat a skillet over high heat until very hot. Swirl in a small amount of oil or butter.
  • Add steaks and cook undisturbed 2-3 minutes per side until well browned.
  • Baste steaks with herb butter as they cook for extra flavor.

Remove steaks to a plate when they reach 5°F below desired doneness and rest before serving.


Roasting uses dry oven heat to gently cook tenderloin roasts while retaining moisture:

  • Pat roast dry, coat lightly in oil, and season all over.
  • Sear roast in a hot pan briefly until browned on all sides.
  • Transfer to a rack set in a roasting pan. Do not add liquids.
  • Roast in a 450°F oven until an instant thermometer reaches 120-125°F for medium rare.

Roasting whole tenderloin is popular for the holidays or dinner parties.

Sous Vide

Sous vide utilizes precise temperature controlled water to cook tenderloin to the perfect doneness edge to edge:

  • Season steaks or roast all over then vacuum seal in a sous vide bag.
  • Cook in 140°F water bath for 1-4 hours depending on thickness.
  • Remove and sear quickly in a hot pan or on the grill before serving.

Sous vide delivers exceptionally tender, evenly cooked results every time.

Doneness Guide

Properly cooking tenderloin is vital to prevent overcooking this lean, delicate cut. Use a good instant read meat thermometer and the guide below to determine doneness:

Doneness Level Internal Temperature Appearance and Texture
Rare 120-125°F Bright red center, soft and juicy
Medium Rare 130-135°F Warm pink center, firm but tender
Medium 140-145°F Hot pink center, firmer texture
Medium Well 150-155°F Trace of pink, firmest texture

Cooking tenderloin beyond 155°F will quickly dry it out. Always allow the meat to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing to evenly redistribute juices.

Best Flavor Pairings

Tenderloin’s mild flavor benefits from bold seasonings and sauces:

  • Rubs: Cracked peppercorns, dried herbs like rosemary or thyme, garlic, mustard, chili powder
  • Sauces: Red wine, béarnaise, peppercorn, blue cheese, steak sauce, chimichurri
  • Sides: Roasted or mashed potatoes, wild rice, sautéed mushrooms or green beans

Enhance roasted whole tenderloin with a flavorful spice rub. Top grilled filet mignon with compound butter. Serve with a rich bordelaise or red wine reduction sauce.

Common Mistakes

It’s easy to dry out or overcook tenderloin. Avoid these common mistakes:

  • Overcooking – Use a meat thermometer for accuracy.
  • Cutting into meat too soon – Always let rest 5-10 minutes before slicing.
  • Basting while roasting – Roasting works best without added liquids.
  • Turning too often – Flip just once during grilling or pan searing.
  • Mishandling raw meat – Prevent cross contamination and foodborne illness.

Handle tenderloin gently, monitor cooking temperatures, and resist cutting into the meat right away. Proper technique will reward you with tender, juicy results.


Tenderloin deserves its reputation as the most tender, desirable cut of beef. Treated right, it delivers a sublime steakhouse experience at home. Focus on quick, high-heat cooking methods like grilling and searing. Monitor internal temperatures to prevent overcooking. Pair with robust seasonings and sides to highlight its mild flavor. With minimal effort, you can enjoy perfectly cooked, mouthwateringly tender beef tenderloin.