I’m going to talk about Buying and Prepping a Tenderloin, Beef or Pork at a budget price. If you’re not on a budget and buy at a butcher, it could be this won’t apply to you unless you need to do some trimming. If you are on a budget, It’s likely you’re buying at the grocery store or buyer’s club and we’re in the same boat. I shop very carefully for both beef and pork tenderloin, and I’ve learned a few things over the years (actually decades). While beef tenderloin is reserved for the most special of occasions, I frequently use pork tenderloin as a special or company dinner; it’s a budget cut compared to the beef tenderloin
Whether using making a beef tenderloin or a pork tenderloin, we’re talking about the same cut of the respective animal. For many, this is the absolute premium part of the animal. The tenderloin sits beneath the ribs, next to the backbone. It has two ends: the butt end and the “tail”. The smaller, pointed end, the tail, begins just a little past the ribs and increases in thickness until it ends in the sirloin, which is closer to the butt end of the beef or swine. Since very little work is done by this muscle, it’s very tender.
While prized by many for that tenderness, the tenderloin does not have the marbling of many cuts, and generally whether cooked whole or in slices, is seared over high heat and then finished off at a lower heat. There are very different strategies for buying beef tenderloin as opposed to pork tenderloin, although prepping either (see below) follows a lot of the same principles.
Buying Your Beef Tenderloin:
In beef, the tenderloin is the same cut that is sliced into Filet Mignon, Chateaubriand, or Tournedos of Beef, although generally, you’ll usually save money if you buy a whole or partial beef tenderloin and slice it yourself. When you’re buying a budget-priced tenderloin, you’ll likely need to do a bit of trimming and will have several nice filets plus scrappier pieces. Save every bit; the larger pieces can be gently pounded into medallions and the small bits are great for recipes like Beef Stroganoff or Beef Tips in Gravy; either can be served over rice or noodles.
Beef Tenderloin generally ranges from $5.99 a pound for grocery store tenderloin on a great sale and up to $100.00 a pound or more at a butcher! The best prices are generally found around the Winter Holidays, especially Christmas and New Year’s, Valentine’s day and sporadically during the summer grilling season. Frankly, in our frugal household, Beef Tenderloin is reserved for special occasions, and can only be considered frugal if comparing the cost to have at home compared to a restaurant dinner.
Buy beef tenderloins at the lower end of the price scale at the grocery store or the big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, etc. or watch for great prices at the grocery. but beware:
- Tenderloin can be found, rarely, on a deep sale in our basic grocery stores, for $5.99 to $6.99 a pound. The quality may be variable, and it may or may not have a USDA stamp declaring the grade of prime, choice or select. Usually, the unstamped beef tenderloin is a “Standard” or “Commercial” grade of beef and may be marked as a store brand. It’s not likely you’ll find gorgeous beef tenderloins in these sales, especially ones that can be sliced into filet mignon, although you may be able to gently pound slices into thinner medallions. These grocery store tenderloins are generally scrappier and require a bit of trimming and some folding and tying (see below) to get an even shape.
- The buying clubs like Sam’s Club and Costco are one of the best places to buy beef tenderloin at a reasonable price and seem to be a better quality than the grocery store specials. As a rule, they seem to be larger than the ones at the grocery store, so they can be cut into medallions or fillets. Again, be prepared to do your own trimming and tying.
- Beware the packages of filets often sold at the grocery stores, which are labeled as “steak” but cut into the shape of filet mignon and wrapped in bacon, like filet mignon often is. These are often the cheap eye of the round at a vastly inflated price for the cut. While they’re good (read that as good, not great) 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 filet mignon. You’ll also pay a lot more per pound than if you bought the same cut, labeled properly as the eye.
You might find Alton Brown’s Episode Tender is the Loin from his Food Network show, Good Eats informative, too. I think you might be able to find the video for free, but the Food Network’s EPISODE is $1.99.
Buying Your Pork Tenderloin:
There is a definite different strategy for buying pork tenderloin unless you’re buying at the butcher; if you are, you can still watch for sales there. Most of the pork tenderloins you’ll find at the grocery are put out by large pork producers, Hormel, Armour, and a few others, in cryovac packages. Brand name items like this mean – you got it – coupons, and when coupons are combined with sales, the savings are multiplied.
For this reason (and others) I don’t buy this cut at a buyer’s club, where coupons are not accepted. Generally, the everyday prices at Sam’s or Costco don’t touch a sale price at the grocery, although they might be a bit less than the standard grocery store price. The few times I have bought pork tenderloin at Costco, I’ve opened the package of what looks like a good-sized tenderloin to find two, small scrappy tenderloins smooshed together. While scrappier pork tenderloin may taste the same, it can be very difficult to work with, especially if you’re wanting to stuff and roll your tenderloin, although they can be tightly tied together to sear and roast.
I avoid the marinated pork tenderloins, whether I’m buying at the grocery or at the buyer’s club simply because
I’m a food snob (although I am, a food snob on a budget if there is such a thing) I like to make my own marinades and recipes and I personally don’t care for the overly strong flavors in the pre-marinated tenderloins. Some people enjoy them, but regardless, the buying strategy is the same.
To buy pork tenderloin on a budget, buy at the grocers, watch for sales and coupons, and if you see paper coupons or printable coupons on the producer’s site or are notified by your coupon matching site, save them for a sale. Most coupons will be for a dollar off one, sometimes a dollar off two. Great sales are generally “buy one, get one free” and good sales are “buy one, get one half off” while others are simply a dollar amount off. Since pork tenderloin freezes very well (and doesn’t take up much room in the freezer), take advantage of the best sales and use coupons when they happen. Sometimes the sales are limited to two, but consider stopping at the store more than once during great sales weeks.
- Most stores allow one coupon per item (check their policy) so by careful shopping the savings really add up. Look especially for buy one, get one free sales and apply two $1.00 coupons, one for each tenderloin. If your tenderloin is $6.99 (make sure the prices aren’t hiked too much before the sale) and you use two one-dollar coupons, your tenderloins will be $2.50 each. An example of a buy one get one half off sale, if the first is $6.99, the second will be $3.50 and it totals $10.50. With two one dollar off coupons, you’ll get your tenderloins for $4.25 each.
- In either of the above scenarios, make sure to pick two tenderloins that are roughly the same size; the smaller one (or the cheaper one if you want to look at it that way) will always be the one free or discounted. It doesn’t pay to get a skimpy one as either the free or “half off” tenderloin. Most tenderloins weigh about a pound, which is usually “just” enough for a family of four to have two or three small slices, but make sure that you have enough of other items on the plate.
- Beware the new, cut down to tenderloin size “tender loins.” They are usually cheaper than tenderloin, but still expensive for what it is, Pork Loin that’s been cut down to tenderloin size. Pork Loin is a dryer, leaner cut of meat that can often be bought very inexpensively under its own name; in my area it drops down to 99 cents a pound. It may be much cheaper than pork tenderloin when it’s all fancied up in a package labeled as “tender loin” and may be treated to make it moister and more tender but it is normally priced at two to three times the cost of a regular pork loin on sale.
Prepping Your Tenderloin:
The same two issues plague the tenderloin 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. It is inedible, difficult to cut through, and may cause your tenderloin to curl as it will shrink when cooked.
- The cut can be uneven; one side much rounder and larger than the other. which then tapers to a thin tail. That will cause uneven cooking.
Dealing with Silverskin:
Silverskin is a hard, inedible portion of the tenderloin and gets its name because it’s silverish in color. You’re going to want to remove it. Take your knife and slide it under the silver skin, close to the edge of the thickest part of the tenderloin. 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 end of the silver skin. Sometimes it will be buried when it gets down to the tail end. Just work diligently to separate it from the meat.
Tying the Tenderloin:
Because the tenderloin is an uneven cut, fold the thin flap back on the tenderloin until the shape is even in circumference and give it a tie with a bit of string. The main reason to tie, other than it makes for a more attractive presentation, is that it will cook more evenly. Short, sweet and simple, the whole process takes about a minute and is well worth your time.
If you want a beautiful tenderloin, do tie about every inch and a quarter or so, all the way down the length, starting with the thinner end, which at this point will be folded over. You can use one piece of string, tie it off then keep wrapping and looping all along the tenderloin. Or you can take the easy route and use multiple pieces of string and wrap each around and tie. Start at the short end and tie, then move to the thick end and tie, then tie in the center. Work the other ties in between. You’ll want to tie any thicker areas tighter than any areas that are slimmer so the whole tenderloin is an even cylinder.
The Butcher’s Knot:
The butcher’s knot is super easy. It’s just like a regular old square knot, but at the beginning, when you normally take one loop around, you’ll take two. The advantage is that this knot doesn’t slip as you tie it, letting you get a good tie. With a square knot, when dealing with meat, which is going to be at last a little wet and slippery, it can be hard to get a good tie.
Try using this knot when tying packages. You’ll never have to ask someone to slip their finger in the knot as you tie.
Living Better on a Budget:
I sometimes hear comments from people who know I’m on a budget (these are the ones that I’ve talked to openly about coupons, groceries or shopping – 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…” With the tips and tricks in Buying and Prepping a Tenderloin, Beef or Pork, almost anyone can!
Frankly, pork tenderloin bought carefully is usually a better price than sales priced ground beef in our area, and a pound of pork tenderloin goes further than a pound of beef per person, especially with great sides. And while even the cheapest beef tenderloin is pricey, shopping well and buying it at the right time makes a huge difference in the cost.