How to butcher (trim and cut) a whole beef tenderloin (a.k.a. “PiSMO”) into filet mignon steaks

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How to butcher a whole beef tenderloin (PSMO) into filet mignon steaks

Several years ago, I learned how to butcher a whole beef tenderloin (a.k.a. “pismo”) from watching my favorite Food Network star, Alton Brown.  His show “Good Eats” was my FAVORITE!  (I recorded so many episodes that I ran out of space on the DVR).   Anyway, one night, I watched the episode of Good Eats titled, “Tender is the Loin“… and I was amazed at how easy it looked to trim and cut your own filet mignon!  So the next day, I sent my husband to Costco, and asked him to pick up a “pismo” for me.

What is a pismo?  First of all, it is actually “PSMO” (not “pismo”), which stands for “peeled, side muscle on”.  So, it’s a whole beef tenderloin with the side muscles still attached, and mostly peeled.  Once you remove the side muscles, fat, and connective tissue… you are left with the tenderloin.  The tenderloin is a muscle (Psoas major) that runs down the length of the backbone and sits below the ribs of a cow.  This muscle does very little work, and as a result – it is one of the most tender (and expensive) cuts of beef (like filet mignon or chateaubriand).  (You can usually buy a pismo for $60 – $90, depending on the size… and I normally get anywhere from 10-14 filet mignon steaks… plus extra meat that can be used for other purposes.)

Most big warehouse stores (like Costco) sell whole beef tenderloins

Thanks to Alton Brown, I’ve been cutting and trimming my own filet mignon for years now…. which works out to be MUCH less expensive overall than buying the steaks by themselves!  I also have Alton Brown to thank for my favorite method to cook filet mignon – his “steak au poivre” recipe (I’ll post my version of that recipe very soon – it’s a hit at every dinner party!)

Needed:

  • 1 whole PSMO (beef tenderloin, “peeled, side muscle on”)
  • large cutting board
  • small paring knife
  • large chef knife
  • plastic ruler

1.  Buy a “pismo” from a large warehouse store, such as Costco.  I got this pismo at Costco a few days ago for $10.99/lb, about $76.05 total for a roughly 7 lb. tenderloin.  As long as you keep the vacuum sealed package in a cold refrigerator, your Pismo should be good for a week or so – so don’t butcher it until the day before you need your steaks – it will stay much fresher sealed up like this.

2.  Open the plastic package over the sink, letting the pink juices drain out.  (This is not blood – it’s protein tinted water.)  Pat the pismo dry with paper towels, and place on a large cutting board.  To keep your cutting board stable, place it on top of a kitchen towel.

If you take a look at the picture below, you might be able to visualize the three different muscles (although they are greatly obscured by fat and connective tissue): the large tenderloin that you will end up cutting into filet mignon along the top of the Pismo in the photo (the Psoas major), the “chain” or thin side muscle running along the bottom of the Pismo in the photo (the Psoas minor), and the “wing” obscured under the upper left part of the Pismo (the Iliacus muscle).  You can also look at the photo in #4 to see how the muscles look when separated.

3.  Using your fingers remove any large pieces of fat or connective tissue obscuring the muscle below.  Once you have located the different muscle insertions, use a sharp paring knife to carefully separate (or dissect) the “chain” (Psoas Minor) away from the tenderloin (Psoas Major).

4.  Once you have separated most of the “chain” from the tenderloin, find the “wing” (Iliacus muscle).  Use the knife to carefully separate the “wing” from the main portion of the tenderloin.

5.  Cut the chain and wing off of the tenderloin and set those parts aside.  Now you will be working on the main part of the tenderloin.

6.  If you look closely, you will see that some of the tenderloin is covered with a “silver skin”.  This is a tough connective tissue that you definitely don’t want on your steaks!  To remove it, slide the tip of your knife under the silver skin – perpendicular to the direction the fibers are running.  Pulling the knife upwards, slowly slice down the tenderloin (angling the knife away from the meat), pulling a small strip of silver skin up and off the tenderloin.  Continue all the way around the tenderloin to remove all the excess fat and silver skin.

7.  Once you have removed the silver skin and extra fat, your tenderloin should look like this.

8.  Now you will slice your tenderloin into steaks.  I suggest cutting your filet mignon steaks 1 1/2 inches thick.  To start, cut a small part of the pointy end (or “tip”) off.  Set the tip aside.

9.  Now, if you start cutting your filet mignon at this point, your first steak will be REALLY small.  If you want a really small steak… then go ahead and cut your first 1 1/2 inch thick piece.  If you are like me, and prefer to have most of your steaks even in size (which is important if you are serving guests – you probably want everyone to have similar sized pieces)… then hold a ruler up to your tenderloin, and make a cut 3 inches from the end.

10.  Now, you are going to butterfly this piece.  Position your knife in the middle, and cut 90% through the meat.  Make sure you leave the bottom intact – don’t cut all the way through!

11.  Now flip the piece open like a book.  You have now made a large “butterflied” steak with the narrow part of the tenderloin.

12.  Now your tenderloin should be large enough to cut 1 1/2 inch steaks.  Use your large chef’s knife to work down the tenderloin, cutting as many 1 1/2 inch thick filet mignon steaks as possible.  When you get close to the end, you may want to finish with another butterflied steak.  You can see in the photo below, I was able to get about 8 nice sized filet mignon steaks from the tenderloin.  You may be able to get more (or less) depending on the size of your tenderloin.

13.  But wait!  You can still cut more steaks!  Take the “wing” (Iliacus) that you have set aside, peel the silver skin and fat off of it, and cut that into more steaks.  With this one (on the bottom of the photo), I was able to get two more butterflied steaks.

14.  So from my ~7 lb. Pismo, I was able to get 10 filet mignon steaks!  If you don’t count any of the other meat left over… then it works out to about $7.60 per steak.  Not that bad when you remember that most people end up paying $30-$40 per plate for filet mignon at a restaurant!

15.  As you can see in the photo above, you still have the end pieces from the tenderloin, and the end pieces from the wing.  You also still have the chain (Psoas minor).  It’s a bit of work, since the chain is covered in quite a bit more connective tissue and fat… but if once you remove it, this is what the chain looks like completely peeled (see below photo).

16.  The leftover tenderloin is very good quality beef – and makes wonderful meat for stir fried dishes, philly cheesesteak sandwiches… whatever you want to use it for.  So I cut the meat into a few large pieces (in an amount I know I would use in the future to make dinner), and wrap tightly in plastic wrap.  Then I put those wrapped pieces into a gallon sized ziplock bag, squeeze out the air, and freeze until needed.  Just to see how much usable meat I had leftover, I weighed it:  about 1.7 lb. worth of beef tenderloin!

So there you have it!  It’s so easy to butcher a whole beef tenderloin into filet mignon steaks!  If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section below.  And as promised, here is the link to my favorite way to prepare filet mignon steaks!  Hope you like it as much as I do!  :)

Comments

  1. Dan says:

    Excellent photography, annotation, and recap of what Alton does on his show. Thanks for a great article! Now I’m off to try my butchering skills…

  2. Murray A. says:

    Just finished doing a 6.25 lb. tenderloin and it was much easier than I originally thought thanks to this website. Between the pictures and the descriptions, it worked out so well, that I think I will revisit my local supermarket while they still have whole tenderloins on sale and do another one. One good piece of advise to make the job easier, ” have your knives very sharp and use small to medium sized ones for ease of cutting and trimming.

    • Mika Mika says:

      Glad it worked out for you! It is easy once you get the hang of it – and you’ll save a ton of money by butchering your own meat. :)

  3. JackC says:

    This is extremely well done. Thank you. I have a question about CostCo beef. How do you find it compares to what you would find at a high-end grocery’s choice beef? Same? Any differences of note? You certainly can’t beat the price. Thank you for your beautifully put together DIY!

    • Mika Mika says:

      Costco beef tenderloin seems to be pretty good quality – much better than the meat you would get at the typical grocery store. I haven’t noticed much difference between Costco beef and high end/specialty meat grocer’s beef. As far as their other beef – around Christmas we buy their standing rib roast – both their PRIME and CHOICE grade are really good also.

  4. Mike Z says:

    Thanks for the great tips! Your suggestions were straightforward and extremely easy to follow. The pictures were also terrific. Thanks again!

  5. shawn c. says:

    Very well done myself i am a butcher we only sell the main portion of the tenderloin aka peeled filet mingon
    And you cut it exactly like i would wonderful job i feel like i might start using a small knife along side my 14 inch blade thanks for the suggestions they should help as i try to work my way up thank you again

  6. John David says:

    I do the same thing with Pork Tenderloin and end up with what I call Great Pork Chops

    Thanks

  7. Thomas O'Brien says:

    Perfect step by step lesson &/pictures.
    THANK YOU

  8. Conga Jim says:

    I learn something from each Good Eats episode. Another good filet recipe is butter-gin flambé from Arthur Hawkins’ The Steak Book – out of print and hard to find, but worth it. Pan broil the filets to almost done, remove from pan, turn off heat and add to hot pan 1/4 cup gin (or whatever booze you like) and 2 – 3 T butter. When butter has melted, put meat back into the pan, carefully ignite the mixture and turn the meat with long tongs until the blue flame has died. Serve immediately with the sauce. For a change of taste I use tequila, rum, bourbon or whatever is at hand. Some overpower the meat a bit, but all are interesting. Take care to not overcook the meat and you’ll have a quick, easy and impressive dish to serve and enjoy.

  9. Jill Brown says:

    Great article! We bought two of them, have you tried freezing one still in the sealed plastic yet?

    • Mika Mika says:

      No, I’ve never frozen a vacuum sealed pismo… but I don’t see why you can’t? You would probably have to thaw it for 1-2 days (refrigerated) before opening up and butchering.

  10. Bp says:

    Is this ruler from grade school & plastic? Sorry , stupid me but a ruler that cuts meat at 1/12″ @easy to sanitize.

    • Mika Mika says:

      I got this plastic ruler at Target from the “back to school” section many years ago. This particular ruler is used only in the kitchen, and is easily sanitized after using for cooking purposes. Is that what you are asking?

  11. Ray says:

    Thank you for this information. I also watched the Good Eats episode and saved many of them to a DVD but could not find the Tenderloin episode in my “collection”. It is on You Tube but they charge $2 to watch it.

    Your step by step instructions were a good reminder of how to trim a beef tenderloin. We bought one at Sam’s and it has been trimmed. We plan to cook the PSOAS MAJOR as a roast for Christmas using one of the many tenderloin roast recipes found on the internet.

  12. Michael says:

    This is literally just Altons “tender is the loin” episode written down your taking credit from Alton Brown and acting as if this is your own smh.

    • Mika Mika says:

      Lol… this is the funniest and most ridiculous comment I’ve received so far!!!! I’m thinking you have a reading comprehension problem… Please try reading my introduction and you can see that I explained that I learned all of this from Alton Brown’s Good Eats episode “Tender is the Loin”, and give him complete credit (and gratitude) for my ability to butcher a tenderloin and make filet mignon! (Alton Brown is one of my personal heros, and I have learned a lot from reading his books and watching his shows over the years.)

      But I’m sure, as you know, the Cable TV program “Good Eats” is no longer in production and is only aired as re-runs on the Food Network. (I’m very sad about this, by the way!) So if someone missed the original episode (or doesn’t have cable TV access to hopefully catch a re-run), how would they know how to butcher a whole beef tenderloin? I took what I learned from Alton Brown, and took step-by-step photos so that someone at home googling filet mignon preparation techniques could have an easily accessible how-to-guide.

      The reason why I put up (and pay for out of my own pocket) this website and provide pictures (that I took myself) and content (that I spent time writing)… all for FREE to my readers, by the way… was to help further the body of knowledge that the inexperienced/untrained/self-taught home cook has access to. It is an important personal goal to me to show people that successful home cooking is not this mysterious and difficult skill that we should only leave to trained chefs. So few people know how to cook these days, and I want to be part of the solution to show all interested individuals that it really isn’t that hard… and inspire people to try things and experiment in their own kitchen at home. I’m sure Alton Brown has no problem with that (and I’ll bet he has a similar life goal)… so I don’t think you need to get your knickers in a knot that I’m trying to teach others what he has taught me! :)

  13. MarkOcala says:

    I agree that some people have no reading comprehension. I actually have to put up with this on a daily basis with my husband when it comes to reading. He simply can’t get through a four or five sentence text without getting its content completely. What’s worse is trying to watch him read through a multi-page article can take him days. So pity on those who can’t read very well. I enjoyed your article I recalled the episode very well and you reiterated it extremely reliably for those of us seeking out information about whole fillets like the one I just bought the other day for our anniversary. Thanks for the write up.

    On another note I was actually given the privilege of meeting Alton Brown a few years back at a book signing and I brought the time I three editions of Good Eats encyclopedia which she signed for me along with a 9 by 12 picture of him. Unfortunately a couple years ago Financial need dictated that I sell them to help my fur baby with a broken leg. So in a way Alton helped save him lol. I miss those books though.

    • Mika Mika says:

      I’m jealous you got to meet him! I never had the chance to actually talk to him… but I did get really close to him when his last show “Eat your science” came down here. He came down off the stage, walked up the aisle… and stood right next to me while engaging the audience!!! Sorry you had to sell your books… but I hope your furbaby is better now at least!

  14. mousee says:

    thank you SO SO much for this lesson! I just cleaned my own prime tenderloin from Costco. The only thing is this–I didn’t expect to take an hour. Maybe I am a slow learner.

    Also the chain seems to be silverskin tendons throughout. I scraped off as much meat as I could with a knife. Next time I think I will buy one that is peeled, but those are choice. Its only my second time making this cut, the last time I left it as it came only added seasoning and it was incredible. So I have high hopes for this nice clean even piece. I’m using for thanksgiving as there are only 5 of us. YUM

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