Maybe you are seeking to impress friends and family with a delicious meal made from the best cut of meat, maybe you want to challenge your own cooking skills with a premier entrée, or maybe you’re simply uncertain what to order at that fine dining restaurant.
Whatever your case, understanding the basics of tenderloin, why tenderloin is so expensive, and how best to cook will help you as make your culinary decisions.
What is Beef Tenderloin?
Beef tenderloin is a long, thin muscle that is located along the cow’s back, extending just beneath the spine from about mid-way down the cow’s back to nearly its backside.
This muscle does not bear weight, and in cows raised for meat production, will generally not get worked on or otherwise exercised much. The tenderloin muscle also has significantly less connective tissue than other muscles and areas of the cow.
hese combined aspects of the tenderloin muscle in cows — low-worked muscle, non-bearing muscle, and minimum connective tissue — lend to this being one of the most tender cuts of meat from the animal.
Is All Beef Tenderloin the Same?
No! Before you put that beef tenderloin into your grocery cart, it is important to know what grade of meat you are buying.
The USDA, the government agency responsible for inspecting facilities and determining meat quality, separates all beef products, including beef tenderloin, into three key categories: USDA Prime Beef, USDA Choice Beef, and USDA Select Beef.
The USDA separates meat cuts into each quality category based on their flavor profile (tenderness, juiciness, and flavor) and how much usable lean meat is available. In other words, how good of a deal is the consumer getting?
The best quality meat with the most usable meat per ounce bought receives the USDA Prime Beef label. Tenderloin sold as USDA Prime Beef is often the most expensive cuts of beef, but for many, it also tends to be the best in terms of flavor, marbling, and deliciousness.
Why Tenderloin is Considered As the Most Expensive Cut of Meat?
Beef tenderloin is considered as the most expensive meat largely because of supply and demand market forces. As its name suggests, beef tenderloin is very tender, making for a juicy and flavorful culinary and dining experience.
So, naturally, this taste profile is going to make it sought-after both by restaurateurs and the average consumer.
However, because the tenderloin is just one muscle and that muscle is not very large, there is only so much tenderloin to go around and so, this is a cut of meat with high demand but small overall supply (similar to the beef tongue situation).
This market situation for beef prices is the big reason behind why is tenderloin so expensive and why it is rated as among the most expensive cuts of meat.
Is Tenderloin Better Than Filet Mignon?
First, filet mignon is actually tenderloin (but not all tenderloin is filet mignon).
Filet mignon is a type of steak that comes from the foremost tip of the tenderloin muscle. This small part of the muscle gets even less movement than the rest of the cow, making it the most tender cut of meat you can get (ditto ribeyes). It is that tenderness that makes it so desirable and, thus, more expensive than other parts of the tenderloin.
So no tenderloin is not better than filet mignon because part of tenderloin is filet mignon. Yet, filet mignon is considered better than other parts of the tenderloin.
Why Is Beef Tenderloin So Expensive Right Now?
Beef tenderloin has been more expensive than other cuts of meat for many decades now. But recently, the price of beef tenderloin along with all other cuts of meat exploded, becoming more expensive than ever before.
The current big spike in beef and beef tenderloin prices is due to a big mixture of market forces that include worker shortages, supply chain disruptions, climate issues (namely droughts across much of the United State’s cattle country), and increasing demand by consumers for more select choices of meat.
Prices were further exacerbated by general inflation. Even more frustratingly, the aforementioned and other market forces have led to fertilizer prices doubling from the summer of 2020 to the winter of 2021.
This will have a future effect of either keeping beef and beef tenderloin prices at their current high, or making them even more expensive.
So if you have been waiting for prices to go down before you buy beef tenderloin, you might be waiting a long, long time. Now is as good of a time as any to purchase this delicious cut of meat (or get it as part of a side or whole cow)
Is Beef Tenderloin Expensive?
Yes, beef tenderloin is expensive and the reason why is tenderloin so expensive goes back to those market forces. For the lowest USDA grade beef tenderloin at a large grocery retailer, you can expect to pay around $10 per pound (filet mignon cuts of the tenderloin will be more expensive on average).
Prices from here can go way up, with some premium, locally-sourced, grass-fed beef tenderloin fetching well over $100 per pound.
Is Beef Tenderloin Nutritious?
Yes! Beef tenderloin, along with many other quality steak cuts is extremely nutritious. Even a small cut of beef here comes loaded with protein, iron, potassium, and key vitamins like vitamin B6.
The recommended serving size for a tenderloin steak is about 3 ounces, which will generally translate to around 275 calories.
One thing to watch out for with beef tenderloin is the fat content. Some of this is good fat (monounsaturated fat which helps to improve cholesterol) but not all.
Untrimmed beef tenderloins come high in saturated fat content, which the American Heart Association warns that a diet high in saturated fat content can put an individual at greater risk of heart disease and stroke. You can reduce the risk by trimming away excess fat before cooking.
How Do I Trim Tenderloin?
When butchers and recipes refer to trimming tenderloin they are talking about two similar but separate tasks: Trimming the fat and trimming the silverskin.
Trimming the fat from tenderloin is a relatively easy process and is important to reducing how much undesired saturated fat you and anyone you are serving consume.
Here, you will take a sharp knife, a boning knife works best, and slice off any large white strips of hard strips of white fat you might see along the edges of the tenderloin.
After trimming the fat on a large cut of tenderloin, you will need to remove the thin shiny membrane attached to one side of the tenderloin. This is called the silverskin.
You should be able to slide your knife fully underneath the silverskin at the narrowest end of the tenderloin. Make an incision here and holding the knife in one hand and the newly cut part of the silverskin in the other, slice the full way down, separating the silverskin from where it connects to the tenderloin.
How Should I Cook Beef Tenderloin?
The tender, juicy nature of beef tenderloin lends it to being incredibly versatile. Roasting beef tenderloin in the oven is probably the most popular way to cook this meat.
Roasting brings out that juiciness and makes it easy to pair the meat with various sauces, spices, and side dishes.
If you love cooking outside, grilling beef tenderloin is also a fantastic option. But if you do choose to grill, chefs recommend not fully cooking the cut over the grill.
You will want to cook until just before your desired temperature and then remove the cut from heat, allowing it to set and having the internal heat finish the cooking process.
This prevents overcooking and helps ensure you enjoy the best of the meat’s tenderness and juiciness.
Is Beef Tenderloin Better than Pork Tenderloin?
Which you will like better between beef and pork tenderloin will depend upon your personal tastes and other things you are looking for in a cut of meat. Pork tenderloin comes from the same part of the pig as beef tenderloin comes from in a cow. As such, pork tenderloin is similarly the most tender cut of pork you will find available.
But while both types of tenderloin are more tender than the other muscles of their respective meats, there are a lot of differences here. Pork is much leaner than beef, making for a milder flavor.
Pork is also a lot cheaper, so if you are frustrated in learning why is tenderloin so expensive, then you should consider swapping beef tenderloin for pork tenderloin. Finally, pork tenderloin is much faster to cook.
So if you want a fast, cheap, but deliciously tender meat, consider pork tenderloin. If you would prefer a center protein that is juicier and more flavorful and do not mind cooking time or price, consider the beef tenderloin on your next shopping trip.
What is the Cheapest Cut of Beef?
What is the cheapest or most inexpensive cut of beef will depend upon where you live and ongoing sales, but one cut of meat that will almost always among the cheapest cuts to buy per pound is top round steak, also known as London broil.
Top round steak comes from the rear legs, parts of the cow that often move and see exercise (similar to a brisket flat or cube steak). Due to this, top round steak is much leaner and tastes tougher than beef tenderloin and other beef cuts.
This taste profile is seen as inferior and thus makes top round steak less popular and thereby less expensive, but don’t let this dissuade you from trying it!
Top round steak is quite delicious and filling when properly prepared. Broiling and slow cooking with flavorful sauces tend to bring out the best in this cheap cut of meat.