Foolproof Beef Tenderloin

At $18 a pound, beef tenderloin is an extravagance you can’t afford to cook improperly. As with all beef roasts, this cut responds best to low-temperature roasting. But there are some unique issues that confront the cook when preparing beef tenderloin.

First, you must choose the roast. We think a whole tenderloin, which weighs 5 to 6 pounds, is not the best option. First off, a tenderloin roast varies greatly in thickness. Folding the thin end under can solve this problem, but this roast is really big—you can’t sear it in a skillet so the crust is never great. Plus, a whole roast serves 12 to 16 and can cost $100. We prefer to serve tenderloin to a smaller crowd—it’s relatively affordable and the smaller roast is also easier to cook.

Since tenderloin is the leanest roast on the animal (it’s also the most tender), it needs some special treatment. Beef tenderloin is more prone to drying out than fattier roasts and it’s also thinner than most beef roasts. As a result, we found that searing the roast and then putting it into a low oven often resulted in a gray band of meat under the surface.

We had much better luck when we switched the order to roasting then searing. Roasting the meat in a low-temperature oven dries out the exterior of the roast so it can be seared very quickly.

Also, because this cut has so little connective tissue, we found we could boost the oven temperature to 300 degrees from our usual 225 degrees, which we used to promote tenderness in cuts like top sirloin or eye round. We needed to keep the temperature low to prevent moisture loss, but we didn’t need to worry about creating oven conditions designed to make the roast more tender—tenderloin is already plenty tender.

Two more points: We found that salting the meat and letting it stand for an hour helped intensify the beefy flavor in this mild cut. Also, we found that slathering the roast with softened butter before it went the oven further boosted flavor.

To dress up this roast, we slather it with a compound butter flavored with shallot, garlic, and parsley. You can vary the flavors in the compound butter, adding blue cheese, chipotle chiles, other herbs, or grated citrus zest.


Total Cooking Time: 150

Preparation Time: 15

Active Cooking Time: 60

Make Ahead: Serve immediately

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Difficulty: Easy

Core Equipment

The right tool can make or break a recipe. At America's Test Kitchen, we test kitchen equipment in search of brands that offer the best value and performance. Since we accept no advertising, our ratings are unbiased. Check out our recommended products for the equipment you'll need in this course.
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