Trim a Tenderloin
Exercise Checklist:
Estimated Time
15 minutes
Tournedos, Petite Filets, Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, and Trim
  • 1 Whole Beef Tenderloin
Tools & Equipment
  • Cutting Board
  • Butcher Knife
  • Fillet Knife

In the previous Exercise, we covered what a Tenderloin is and how to work with one. The objective of this Technique Exercise is much simpler: we will show you how to break down a full Beef Tenderloin into its usable parts to get the most tender cut of Beef, at the best price.

At retail, you will typically see the Tenderloin for sale already butchered into expensive portion cuts like Filet Mignon, Tournedos, Medallions, Filet Steak, Filet de Boeuf, Biftek and Châteaubriand. Some of the Tenderloin may also be included in cross-cut steaks like, the T-Bone Steak, or the Porterhouse Steaks which has some other muscles plus some of the Tenderloin.

What most of us usually miss at the grocer/butcher is the large, long bag of beef labeled Beef Tenderloin (sometimes called “Whole” or “Full”). The whole Tenderloin will be an expensive purchase, overall, compared to a single portion of Steak, or even two portions, but on a pound for pound basis purchasing the whole Tenderloin is the lowest cost option if you want to serve the most tender Beef. Don’t think of it as overkill; instead think of it as chefs trumping the cooks by using Organization and knowledge/skill. Use what you need for your first meal and refrigerate or freeze the rest for another three or four fabulous entrees. You will be into each meal for about 30% to 40% less than purchasing 6 portions of Châteaubriand.

If you go for it and make the bigger Meat purchase, you will then be left wondering what to do with this beef bargain, unless you join Teaching Chef in the Instructional Video as he explains "How to Trim and Butcher a Whole Beef Tenderloin at Home."

Before he begins, Teaching Chef prepares his Mise en Place using a clean Cutting Board with a moist towel underneath, so the board doesn't slip. He also has a small Fillet Knife and a Butcher’s Knife. Both are very sharp with good edges. You should make it a practice to Steel Your Knife before starting. If you can Sharpen Your Knife before starting out, that would be better.

Teaching Chef reminds us that cleaning up a Tenderloin could be done with the hands alone but that the knife helps keep the process moving along rapidly. Teaching Chef’s first step is to place the tenderloin on the cutting board. He takes a moment to note the separate parts of the muscle, including the Chain (long portion that extends the entire length of the meat), the head, the chateaubriand, and the tail before removing the Chain. He works carefully with this fatty-looking bit of Meat so as not to damage any of the underlying tender Beef.

Any excess fat is removed by Teaching Chef by running the backside of his knife down the meat. The Silver Skin may look innocuous but in your final dish it will be a “Tough Chew.” Removing it early during Preparation is the best plan. Remove the Silver Skin from the tail towards the head, so the meat releases from the Silver Skin.

Hold the Fillet Knife vertically and make a careful incision under the Silver Skin to free it from the meat. Remove the Silver Skin cleanly and evenly without wasting the precious meat by angling the Fillet Knife towards the Silver Skin and away from the meat that you want to preserve. Be patient. It is important for safety and the finished product to go cautiously and slowly, especially the first time.

To end up with the best Portion Cuts, use a Beef Tenderloin that is at least 5 lbs (2.27 kg) but here “bigger is better” and you can go all the way up to 8 lbs (3.63 kg) if a large Tenderloin, is in your grocer’s case and in your budget.

With the Silver Skin off, all the rest of the work is Slicing in the right place to separate the whole Tenderloin into it's component parts. This work is what a Butcher’s Knife is designed for, so it is time to switch knives.

Begin the separation, by removing the head. Gently Slice through the Tenderloin with your Butcher’s Knife. You may notice that Teaching Chef imagines his work (by laying the knife blade along his future cuts) before actually making the irreversible Slices. It is not a bad plan to measure once (or twice) before making those first cuts. With the prices paid for Tenderloin, mistakes can quickly add up.

The goal is to create cylindrical pieces of Filet Mignon, so each individual portion is a uniform size and shape. As we know, a uniform size and shape helps promote even cooking, a more professional presentation and is a good cost control so all your guests get their fair share.

In the Instructional Video, Teaching Chef cuts uniform 2 oz (57 g) individual slices which could be cooked as faster cooking Tournedos. Another option would be to double the width between slices and make a 4 oz (114 g) Petite Filet Mignon. A third choice might be to make still larger slices, creating an 8 oz (227 g) Filet Mignon.  How you decide to break down the Tenderloin will impact your Yield, Costs and Efficiency. All of which matters for feeding a family of 4 or a dining room filled with 100 hungry customers.

The Chateaubriand, cut from the middle of the Tenderloin is a great meal for two and can be served with various Sauces.

The same techniques that Teaching Chef applied to the head of the Tenderloin can be used for the Tail of the Tenderloin. In the Instructional Video, Teaching Chef works quickly and carves 3 Filet Mignon steaks from the Tail, to demonstrate a method for salvaging 1 last good, tender, steak, in the narrow "Tail."

To utilize the last part of the Tenderloin Tail, stand the tailpiece on one end and push down, this will alter the narrow, thin “tail-shaped” piece into a more serviceable and carveable cube shape. If it seems like a bit too much work, just recall what you paid for the entire Tenderloin. Teaching Chef employs a tightly wrapped towel and a bit of Pounding with the heel of his hand to finalize the transformation.

Because the Tail has been shaped, Teaching Chef suggests wrapping the Tail Filet Mignon in Bacon, as Barding (adding Fat to the exterior of a product) and as a way to encourage the Steak to hold its new shape during the cooking process.

The Larding will add moisture and some flavor to the lean cut of meat and as it cooks and shrinks, the bacon will tighten and act like a corset or girdle (helping it retain its desired shape) for the cooking Filet Mignon. The important thing will be to remember to remove the toothpicks before service. Pointy wooden stakes make for a good law suit but not for a “Good Chew.” Though Teaching Chef recommends this bacon-wrapping technique for the salvaged tail end steak, you can, if your wish to, use it for all of your individual cuts carved from the lean Tenderloin.

Finally, Teaching Chef sets his sights on The Chain, which to all appearances is just a big piece of scrap meat. The problem is that you paid as much for The Chain (pound for pound) as you did for the rest of the Tenderloin. If you want to be “Smart” in the kitchen, you don’t want to waste $20 or $30 (at your cost) of the best cut on the Steer.

Cleaning up The Chain, by separating the meat from the Gristle and Fat, as Teaching Chef demonstrates, is a great way to increase your Yield. Even if you go for 80% to 90% of the good Meat on The Chain, you will still retain enough meat for a good meal for two to four people depending on how you utilize the trim meat and what you serve with it.

Teaching Chef Juliennes his salvaged meat. The shape of the cut suggests use for a Beef Stroganoff, or a Stir Fry but resist this immediate, impulsive use. Beef Stroganoff and Stir Fry, do fine with higher end cuts of meat but they are mainly used with tougher cuts.

You might think to grind it up for Hamburgers, but frankly it is better than that. It is also fairly lean to form a fine burger. The Tenderloin Trim Meat, is very tender and can be used more creatively with Dry Heat Methods such as Grilling, Sautéing or Pan Frying. Try to maximize it creatively with a higher and better use.

In the next exercise, we will focus in on the slightly less tender Top Sirloin.