Buying and Prepping a Tenderloin, Beef or Pork

Whether using a beef or a pork tenderloin, we’re talking about the same cut. For many, this is the absolute premium part of the animal. In beef, this is the same cut that is sliced into Filet Mignon and one of the more famous uses of pork tenderloin is the Pork Tenderloin sandwich.

Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Cranberry Chutney
Spice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Rhubarb Cranberry Chutney

Buying Your Tenderloin:

There are different strategies for buying beef and for buying pork tenderloins.

Beef Tenderloin:

These can range from $5.99 a pound up to $100.00 a pound! The best prices are generally found around the fall holidays and sporadically during the summer grilling season. Buy them at the lower end of the price scale at the grocery store or the big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, etc. Frankly, in our frugal household, where we don’t eat much red meat to start with, I don’t normally pay that much for meat unless it is a special occasion.

  • Grocery store: Tenderloin can be found, rarely, in our stores for $5.99 to $6.99 on a deep sale. The quality is usually not that great, although they are still delicious. It’s not likely you’ll find gorgeous ones you can cut into fillets, but consider them if you enjoy them; be prepared to trim and fold (see below) into a nice even shape, and have a use for the scraggly tips and scraps. These are fantastic for things like beef tips served in a gravy over rice or noodles or stroganoff.
  • The Sam’s Clubs and Costcos are one of the best places to buy this cut, again, usually the best prices, and seem to be of a bit better quality than the ones I find at the grocery store. Be prepared to do your own trimming, to have a use for the trimmings (like the beef tips or stroganoff, mentioned above.) They seem to be larger than the ones at the grocery store, so they can be cut into medallions or fillets. I haven’t bought one recently, and I don’t have a membership (If I need something, I go with a friend who does – I’ve found I save far more money by shopping the sales at the regular grocery store.) but as I recall, a decent tenderloin can be bought for a far more reasonable price than one might think.
  • Beware the fillets often sold at the grocery store, which are passed off as “steak” but cut into the shape of filet mignon or other steaks. These are often the cheap round steak at a vastly expensive price! While they’re good if carefully cooked and left on the rarer side, you’ll be in for an expensive mistake if you try to cook them like a regular steak or a fillet mignon, and you’ll pay a LOT more than if you bought a round roast (one of the cheapest cuts of meat) and sliced it yourself into steaks.

Pork Tenderloin:

There is a definite strategy to buying pork tenderloin at the store. Since it is mostly sold now in cryovac packaged, often by Hormel or Armour or other pork producers, it is a “brand” item. Brand items mean…you got it…coupons! For this reason, I don’t buy this cut at the big box store, where coupons are not accepted. Most of these coupons are for a dollar off one, sometimes a dollar off two. Some may be in the paper, but often the producer’s website or other sites have printable coupons, which allows one to generally print two.

  • I look for sales that coincide with these coupons, and one of the best is when there is a buy one, get one free. Most stores will allow you to use a coupon for each tenderloin, and they can then be had at a very reasonable price. If the tenderloin is on sale at $6.99 on a bogo, and you use two $1.00 off coupons, you’ll get two tenderloins for $4.99, about $2.50 each. *
  • If it is a per pound price, pick two that are roughly the same size – you’ll get the least expensive one free, so it doesn’t pay to get a skimpy one as the free one. If it is a package price, say $5.99 for the tenderloin, buy the largest tenderloins if there is any variance.
  • I avoid the premarinated ones, because I like to make my own, and I can avoid some of the additives and some very intense, strangely flavored meat.
  • Most tenderloins weigh about a pound, which is usually “just” enough for a family of four to have two our three small slices, but make sure that you have enough of other items on the plate.
  • Beware the new, cut down to tenderloin size, cheaper but still expensive Pork Loin, which is a whole different animal than Pork Tenderloin. It’s a dryer, leaner cut of meat that can often be bought very inexpensively, but has been at our stores for the past few months in a cryovaced package that looks exactly like the pork tenderloin, but costs just slightly less…but costs about two to three times the cost of a regular pork loin on sale.

Prepping Your Tenderloin:

The same two issues plague the cut, whether beef or pork.

  • There is always a bit of silver skin – an inedible portion that runs, usually on one edge of the thicker portion of the tenderloin. It is best removed.
  • The cut can be uneven; one side much rounder and larger than the other then tapering to a thin tail that cooks unevenly.

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Dealing with both issues is a simple fix.

Take your knife and slide it under the silver skin, close to the edge. Turn the knife so the sharp part of the blade is facing upwards toward the silver skin and cut with a dragging motion along the silver skin to the edge of the tenderloin. You’ll be left with a little “handle” of silver skin.

Pick up the piece of silver skin, hang on to it tightly, and reversing your knife, keep running the knife along the rest of the silver skin. Use a bit of a sawing motion, but try to keep the blade of the knife at an angle and facing upward. Continue until you reach the edge of the silver skin.

Because the tenderloin is an uneven cut, fold the thin flap back on the tenderloin and give it a tie with a bit of string. While some tie the whole tenderloin up every few inches, I generally don’t bother. The only reason I tie it at all is so that it will cook more evenly.

Short, sweet and simple, the whole process takes about 3 minutes, and is well worth your time.

* Note on the pricing of pork tenderloins – when I can get them at this sales price on a bogo (Buy one get one free) pricing and use two coupons to bring them down to about $2.50 a pound, I’ll buy extra and chuck them in my freezer. Sometimes the sales are limited to two, but I just stop at the store a couple of times during the sales week and pick them up.

That makes this a rather fun meal to serve at a dinner party or barbecue. I sometimes hear comments from people who know I’m on a budget (these are the ones that I’ve talked to about coupons, groceries or shopping to try to help them out – many of my friends and acquaintances don’t know about my “cheap” ways) say something like, “Well, I don’t know how you can afford this…” Frankly, at this price, it’s cheaper than most of the sales priced hamburger in our area, and a pound of pork tenderloin goes further than a pound of hamburger at a barbecue!

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