The whole beef tenderloin roast is sometimes called a "whole filet", a "filet mignon roast", or a "tenderloin tip roast". It is a long, tapered muscle located on the inside of the short loin, extending from the 13th rib to the pelvis.
A whole tenderloin has three distinct areas:
The tail is usually folded under the center section and tied to create even thickness for even cooking.
Beef tenderloin is the most expensive and most tender cut of beef, but it also has a reputation for mild taste because it does not contain a lot of intramuscular fat. Fortunately, with some careful trimming and a little bit of salt, pepper, and smoke, you can transform this cut into something really special for the holidays or any day!
Here's a description and photos of how I cooked a whole beef tenderloin on November 19, 2005. Be sure to check-out the accompanying video for a "quick" overview of how to prep the meat for cooking.
As always...click on any of the pictures to view a larger image.
Select And Prepare The Tenderloin
Choose a 5-6 pound, USDA Choice whole beef tenderloin. This cut of meat will cost a ton of money if you buy it from a good butcher fully trimmed and tied. If you want to save up to 50% and are willing to spend 20-30 minutes trimming and tying the meat yourself, then buy a whole tenderloin in Cryovac packaging at a wholesale warehouse store.
I bought the USDA Choice whole tenderloin pictured here at Costco. Photo 1 shows the tenderloin after I trimmed and tied it. It weighed 5.60 pounds before trimming.
If you want to try your hand at trimming and tying a whole tenderloin, I would suggest that you do it the night before. This gives you plenty of time to work with the meat without feeling rushed.
You will need the following tools:
Here are the steps for trimming the roast. Take your timeŚremember, this is an expensive cut of meat, and you want to remove the waste without losing much of the valuable meat.
Here are the steps for tying the roast. Tying is done to create even thickness for even cooking and to secure any floppy bits of meat. For a lesson in tying knots, watch the How To Tie A Roast video.
Wrap the tied tenderloin in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, remove the tenderloin from the refrigerator one hour before cooking it. Pat dry with paper towels.
Sprinkle all sides with 1-1/2 Tablespoons of kosher salt. Wrap in plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for one hour. This step allows the salt to penetrate the meat and will help it cook more evenly.
Just before cooking, apply a thin coat of olive oil and sprinkle with a good amount of freshly cracked black pepper.
Video: Preparing A Beef Tenderloin
This video demonstrates the process of preparing a whole beef tenderloin for cooking. Click on the video to play.
Fire The WSM
Fire-up the cooker using the Minion Method. Fill the charcoal chamber 1/2 to 3/4 full with unlit Kingsford charcoal briquettes, then place 20-40 lit coals on top of the unlit ones.
Put the water pan in the cooker and fill it with hot tap water to help with temperature control. Use hot water so the cooker comes up to temperature quickly.
Smoke The Tenderloin
Place 2-3 small chunks of dry smoke wood on the coals. Use a mild wood, and don't use much of it. I used three chunks of apple wood, maybe equivalent to a single fist-sized chunk (Photo 2).
Assemble the cooker and
place the tenderloin on the top grate (Photo 3). Set the three bottom
vents to 100% open. Open the top vent fully and leave it that way
throughout the entire cook.
Cook the tenderloin to an
internal temperature of 120-125░F for rare/medium-rare or 130-135░F for
medium-rare/medium, approximately 55-65 minutes.
Here's how the cooker temperatures and vent settings went during my cook:
Photo 4 shows how the tenderloin looked after one hour of cooking.
Sear The Tenderloin
Most recipes call for searing a roast at high temperature at the beginning of the cooking process, then reducing the heat and cooking until done. However, for the most even doneness inside a roast, you want to do the oppositeŚcook the meat at low temperature until almost done to your liking, then sear it quickly at high temperature at the end.
Don't skip this searing step, because it creates lots of great flavor on the surface of the meat.
Remove the top cooking grate from the cooker and set it aside. Carefully lift off the middle cooking section (making sure not to spill any water) and set it aside. Use tongs to evenly spread out the hot coals in the charcoal chamber, if necessary.
Place the cooking grate directly on top of the charcoal chamber. Sear the tenderloin on all four sides, approximately 2 minutes per side or until browned to your liking.
I seared this tenderloin on two sides by curling it into a c-shape, then seared the other two sides by holding the meat on edge with tongs, as shown in Photos 5-6.
Rest Then Slice The Tenderloin
Remove the tenderloin from the cooker. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing.
Snip the kitchen twine and remove it. Slice the meat into 1/4" to 3/8" slices across the grain.
Photos 7-8 show the seared tenderloin after a 10 minute rest.
Photos 9-11 show the consistent doneness inside the roast. The meat is evenly pink across almost its entire diameter, which is achieved by using the "sear at the end" cooking process.
Here's how I described this tenderloin in my cooking log:
Sauces For Beef Tenderloin
Beef tenderloin has a mild flavor, so it is often served with a sauce on the side. Your smoked tenderloin will have more flavor than most, and you may find that a sauce is not necessary.
I like a creamy horseradish sauce with beef, and I'm quite satisfied with the ones I find at the supermarket, especially Beaver Cream Style Horseradish from Beaverton Foods.
If you'd like to try your
hand at making a sauce, here are some recipes
to get you started.