Grilling beef tenderloin to perfection requires knowing the right temperature to cook it to. Undercooking tenderloin can lead to a raw center, while overcooking results in a tough, dry piece of meat. Finding the sweet spot when grilling tenderloin comes down to a few key factors.
What is beef tenderloin?
Beef tenderloin, also known as filet mignon, is a cut of beef from the short loin primal cut. It comes from the psoas major muscle, which does little work on the steer, resulting in an extremely tender piece of meat.
Tenderloin is very lean, with little marbling or fat running through it. This leanness contributes to its mild flavor and tenderness. While cuts like ribeye or strip steak have more robust beefy flavors from fat marbling, the tenderloin has a subtle, delicate flavor.
Due to its desirable tenderness, beef tenderloin commands a high price at the grocery store or butcher shop. It is often sliced into filet mignon steaks, but can also be purchased as a whole roast.
Why grill tenderloin instead of pan searing?
Both grilling and pan searing are excellent cooking methods for beef tenderloin. Grilling imparts some smoky charcoal flavor, while pan searing gives a crispy crust from the hot metal of the skillet. So why choose grilling?
- Grilling lends a smokier flavor from the charcoal or wood chip smoke.
- It can be cooked over higher heat than a skillet on the stove.
- Grilling territorializes and brands the tenderloin with attractive grill marks.
- Grilling gives a crust on all sides, not just the bottom that touches the pan.
- Grilling is simply a fun way to prepare tenderloin outdoors.
That said, pan searing certainly has its virtues and can result in an excellent tenderloin as well. It all comes down to personal preference!
What temperature should you grill tenderloin to?
Beef tenderloin should be grilled to an internal temperature of 125-135°F for medium rare doneness. Here are the recommended grilling temperatures for various doneness levels:
|155°F and above
medium rare is the generally recommended doneness for tenderloin, as it retains moisture and tenderness at that temperature. Rare tenderloin may have a cool, raw center. Medium and beyond results in a tougher, drier steak.
Use a meat thermometer
The only way to accurately gauge doneness on the grill is to use an instant read digital meat thermometer. Thermometers take the guesswork out of determining if the tenderloin is cooked to the proper internal temperature. Insert the probe into the thickest part of the tenderloin and get a reading within 2-5 seconds.
Meat thermometers are inexpensive investments that lead to perfectly cooked grilled meats every time. Never rely solely on the old finger poke test or cutting into the meat to determine if it’s done.
Allow for carryover cooking
When grilling tenderloin, it’s important to account for carryover cooking. This is the continued cooking that happens after the meat is removed from the heat source. The internal temperature can rise 5-10°F after grilling.
To allow for carryover cooking, remove the tenderloin from the grill when it reaches an internal temperature 5-10° lower than your target temperature. For medium rare tenderloin, remove it from the grill around 115-120°F and allow the temperature to coast up to 125-130°F as it rests.
Grilling tips for perfect tenderloin
Follow these tips for grilling beef tenderloin flawlessly every time:
- Trim excess fat: Trim off any thick sections of fat so they don’t burn and flame up on the grill.
- Season generously: Coat all sides with kosher salt, cracked pepper, garlic powder, herb rubs or other seasonings.
- Use high heat: Grill over direct high heat, around 400-450°F, for best sear.
- Sear, then move to indirect heat: Sear over direct heat 1-2 minutes per side. Finish cooking over indirect heat for even cooking.
- Rotate: Rotate the tenderloin every 2 minutes or so for even exposure to direct heat.
- Let rest: Allow to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing for juices to redistribute.
There are a few different approaches to grilling tenderloin for the best results:
1. Direct heat only
Cook the tenderloin entirely over direct high heat, searing the outside while the inside cooks. Rotate frequently and watch closely to avoid overcooking.
2. Sear then indirect heat
Sear over direct heat, then move over indirect heat to finish cooking. This allows the inside to gently cook through without over-charring the outside.
3. Reverse sear
Cook first over indirect heat until close to desired doneness, then sear at the end over direct heat. This gives even cooking throughout, while finishing with a flavorful sear.
Roast the tenderloin on a rack over indirect heat, without any searing. The smoke from the grill provides flavor as the tenderloin gently roasts.
Consider adding extra flavor to tenderloin before or during grilling:
- Herb rubs – rosemary, thyme, oregano work well.
- Spice rubs – chili powder, cumin, paprika, garlic powder.
- Marinades – balsamic, teriyaki, wine-based.
- Flavored butter – compound butter with herbs and garlic.
- Wood chips/chunks – mesquite, hickory, oak, cherry.
What should you serve alongside your perfect grilled tenderloin? Here are some excellent choices:
- Roasted or grilled vegetables – asparagus, Brussels sprouts, potatoes.
- Rice pilaf or risotto.
- Pasta – gnocchi, fettuccine.
- Potatoes – baked, mashed, or roasted.
- Bread – rolls or garlic bread.
- Salad – Caesar, wedge, mixed greens.
For tender, juicy grilled beef tenderloin, follow these guidelines:
- Grill at 400-450°F over direct heat to sear and develop crust.
- Pull 5-10°F before target internal temp to allow for carryover cooking.
- Shoot for 125-135°F for perfect medium rare doneness.
- Always rely on a thermometer for accuracy, not eyeballing it.
- Let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing into thick medallions.
Mastering the art of grilling tenderloin results in a sublime grilled steak. The smoky flavor pairs wonderfully with hearty sides and a nice glass of red wine or stout beer. Next time you fire up the grill, throw a tenderloin over the hot coals for a cut above the rest.