Do any of you guys have that one Aunt? The one that always made you feel special and had just a little something extra to her personality? Mine was my Aunt Ginny, my Dad’s sister. She was definitely the fun Aunt, and she was fabulous. And she was a fabulous cook, too. I have a couple of her recipes on my site but my favorite is The Best Beef Stroganoff.
If there’s one thing I don’t spend a lot of money one, it’s usually steak; it’s pretty “rare” around our house. (Ok, I have a rule, only one bad joke per post, so it’s safe for you to keep reading, now.) And if I do splurge, it’s not your average dinner night. That doesn’t mean, though, that we don’t have Steak every now and then. Or every once in a blue moon, Beef Tenderloin. And that’s when I want to make Medallions of Beef with Red Wine Reduction.
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 might be likely this article doesn’t apply unless you get either home and find you need to do some trimming, but if you are on a budget, 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 (make that decades). While beef tenderloin is reserved for the most special of occasions at my house, 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 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 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.
- 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 fillets 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 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 or the eye or another round roast and sliced it yourself into steaks.
Buying Your Pork Tenderloin:
There is a definite different strategy for buying pork tenderloin unless you’re buying at the butcher where you can still watch for sales. 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 is multiplied.
For this reason (and others) I don’t buy this cut at a buying club, where coupons are not accepted. Generally, the everyday prices at Sam’s or Costco don’t come near a sale price at the grocery, and 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. 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 generally avoid the marinated pork tenderloin, whether I’m buying at the grocery or at the buyers club simply because
I’m a food snob I like to make my own marinades and recipes and don’t care for the overly strong flavors in the pre-marinated tenderloins.
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, take advantage of the best sales and use coupons when they happen. 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.
- 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 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 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. It may be much cheaper than pork tenderloin when it’s all fancied up in a package labeled as “tender loin” 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.
- The cut can be uneven; one side much rounder and larger than the other then tapering to a thin tail that cooks unevenly.
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 edge of the silver skin.
Tying the Tenderloin:
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 and often only tie the portion that is folded over, especially if I’m not serving company. 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 a minute and is well worth your time.
Of course, if you do want a beautiful tenderloin, do tie about every inch and a quarter or so, all the way down the length. Start at the folded end, then tie the opposite end, then 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.
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…” Well, 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.