How to Buy and Cook a Filet Mignon

Updated on December 23, 2018
Natalie Frank profile image

Natalie, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, is a freelance writer who can write on anything she can research. Her interests span the globe.

Filet mignon is a steak cut of beef taken from the smaller end of the tenderloin. This may be called filet de boeuf in French, which, simply translated, means beef filet. The tenderloin is the most tender cut of beef, and the filet mignon cut is considered the best of the best. Many people reserve their consumption of this steak for high-end restaurants and special occasions only, but it is easily prepared at home and can be served as the centerpiece of a truly luxurious meal.

How to Buy a Filet Mignon

While filet mignons are considered the choicest cut of meat, not all are created equal. Quality does count, so don’t waste the experience on a lesser cut. Prime is the top 2 percent of the meat. This is extremely hard to find as it usually is sold to world-class restaurants and is very pricey. Generally, this can only be found online, sold by some of the top meat providers. I have ordered prime filet mignons from Porter and York in the past—and while not inexpensive, the quality was well worth the splurge. They also sell 10 ounce steaks which most others with mail order service don't. More expensive, but in my opinion, totally worth it if you are making a meal for a special occasion or just want to treat yourself to a truly amazing steak is New York Prime Meat which sells Japanese Wagyu Kobe beef. These steaks you can quite literally cut with a fork.

The next best quality meat is Choice, and this accounts for about half of the meat sold in the U.S. This is what you should buy. It’s priced at about $12 -$16 a pound. Next down is Select, but you should stick with Choice. The price differential isn’t that much, but you’ll taste the difference in quality.

I usually recommend getting your meat from a local butcher if possible, rather than a large grocery store. Butchers usually have the freshest meat and will have no problem cutting a steak for you to your specifications when you ask.

If there is no local butcher where you live, ask the butcher at the supermarket if there is any meat that he can cut for you special so you get the absolute freshest and best cut. Sometimes you can call ahead and speak with the butcher, especially if you’ve already established a relationship with him.

If choosing a steak that is already packaged, remember that filet mignon has very little fat to it which lessens the flavor. Some people prefer this milder taste but others prefer the stronger beef taste. If you prefer a stronger flavor, select the lighter colored over the dark red tenderloin or filet mignon slices. This indicates more marbling, which gives it more flavor and makes it more tender.

How Thick Should a Filet Mignon Be?

You can get a filet mignon at almost any thickness, but typically they will range from ½ inch to 3 inches thick. In restaurants they often serve a regular cut, which is 3 inches thick, and a petite filet mignon, which is around 1.5 to 2 inches thick. Some cooking methods require thicker cuts, especially those that cook the meat very quickly such as searing.

Most chefs will say not to buy a filet mignon less than 1.5-inch-thick. This is because a thicker steak allows for the center to remain better insulated, letting you be more exact when it comes to doneness. The best thickness for this cut is from 2 to 3 inches thick. That may seem like a very thick cut, but the steak will shrink a bit as it cooks. Most supermarkets tend to sell thinner steaks in order to sell more cuts. If you don’t find a thick enough filet out in the display, ask if the butcher can cut you a thicker steak.

Preparing your Filet Mignon for Cooking

Marinades and rubs are really not necessary for a great-tasting steak. In fact, they often take flavor away from the steak, and filet mignons are already mildly flavored, anyway. A little oil, salt and pepper is all you need for a delicious filet.

Make sure to salt the filet at least an hour before cooking. After the first half hour after salting meat, the juices come to the surface and puddle under the steak. Cooking during this time will dry out the meat and make it tough and flavorless. After about a half hour, the meat will begin to soak back up the salty juices, making it more tender and flavorful. Right before cooking, brush the steak with a bit of oil. Olive oil or groundnut oils are good choices.

Let your filet mignon come to room while salting it. This makes it cook faster and more evenly.

After Cooking Your Filet Mignon

Pepper generously after cooking to prevent the pepper from burning. (If you enjoy the burnt-pepper taste, which some liken to a blackened taste, pepper liberally before and use a method that sears the outside.) Cover your steak with tin foil and let it rest for 5 to 10 minutes before cutting into it. This lets the juices distribute throughout the meat, making the steak more moist.

Grilling a Filet Mignon With a Gas or Charcoal Grill

Preheat the grill on high. Place the meat directly on the grill rack right over the heat. For a charcoal grill, grill uncovered. For a gas grill, cover the grill. Cook filet based on the times below. (Times are in minutes.)

 
Thickness
1"
1 1/2"
2"
3"
Rare 120°- 130°F
First Side, Second Side
5, 3
6, 4
8, 6
10, 8
Medium Rare 130°- 140°F
First Side, Second Side
5, 4
7, 5
9, 8
11, 10
Medium 140°- 150°F
First Side, Second Side
6, 4
7, 6
10, 8
12, 10
Done 150°- 160°F
First Side, Second Side
8, 6
10, 8
13, 11
15, 13

How to Broil a Filet Mignon

Cover a drip pan with foil and put it on the lowest rack. Preheat oven broiler with door open. The heat is coming of the heating elements not hot air. Place pan 2-3 inches away from the broiler heat source. Leave oven door cracked open. Place the filet mignon on the grilling rack and put it in the oven as close to the heating element as possible. Broil each side based on the times listed below.

 
Thickness
1"
1 1/2"
2"
3"
Rare 120°- 130°F
First Side, Second Side
4, 3
7,6
10, 8
13, 10
Medium Rare 130°-140°F
First Side, Second Side
5, 4
8,7
11, 9
14, 12
Medium 140°-150°F
First Side, Second Side
5, 4
9, 7
12, 10
15, 13
Well Done 160°-170°F
First Side, Second Side
9, 7
13, 11
15, 13
19, 16

Pan Searing a Filet Mignon

This type of cooking gives the steak a rich flavor which results from the caramelization and browning of the foods. Adding aromatics such as rosemary, basil and thyme adds to the taste of the meat. For this method, you'll need an oven proof skillet or pan. I recommend using cast iron as they require less oil, are durable under high heat conditions, cook meat evenly and prevent meat from burning. I use a Lodge grill pan, since it keeps the meat elevated over the grease that accumulates in the bottom and the grill ridges add to the evenness of cooking.

Preheat the oven to 400 °F, then insert pan and preheat it for 15 minutes. Place your preheated pan over the range top at high heat. Add a few tablespoons of canola oil or another oil that has a high smoke point. Add sprigs of rosemary, basil, thyme, two sliced shallots and one teaspoon of chopped garlic. Saute for 3-5 minutes.

Carefully lay the filet mignon in the pan and sear on each site for the amount of time listed in the chart. The outsides should be crusted when done. After you let the meat rest spoon the remnants from the pan over the top of the steak.

 
Thickness
1"
1 1/2"
2"
3"
Rare 120°- 130°F
First Side, Second Side
6, 5
7, 6
10, 8
13, 10
Medium Rare 130°-140°F
First Side, Second Side
7, 6
8, 7
11, 9
14, 11
Medium 140°-150°F
First Side, Second Side
8,6
9, 7
12, 10
15, 13
Well Done 160°-170°F
First Side, Second Side
11, 9
13, 11
15, 13
18, 16

How to Sear Roast a Filet Mignon

Sear roasting first seals in the juices to keep the steak moist then cooks it more slowly to make it more tender and flavorful. For proper flavor it’s best not to sear roast a filet mignon that is less than an inch thick as it is difficult to achieve a seared effect without overcooking the meat. With this method the thicker the filet mignon the better taste. Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in an ovenproof pan over high heat. Sear for 2-3 minutes on the first side or until browned. Turn the filet onto the other side and place pan in preheated oven. Cook according to chart below.

 
Thickness
1"
1 1/2"
2"
3"
Rare 120°- 130°F
First Side, Second Side (Oven)
2-3, 3-4
2-3, 8-10
2-3, 15-16
2-3, 25-27
Medium Rare 130°-140°F
First Side, Second Side (Oven)
2-3,5-6
2-3, 12-15
2-3, 18-20
2-3, 35-40
Medium 140°-150°F
First Side, Second Side (Oven)
2-3,8-10
2-3, 16-19
2-3, 24-26
2-3, 42-48
Well Done 160°-170°F
First Side, Second Side (Oven)
2-3, 12-15
2-3, 20-24
2-3, 32-36
2-3, 50-60

If you enjoyed reading this, you might also like this article on side dishes that go well with filet mignons.

Questions & Answers

  • What are some simple sauces that go with filet mignon and how do you make them?

    Filet mignon are often considered the creme de la crop in regards to steaks. They are tender, with very little fat and have a delicate flavor. I often recommend that the filet be served without sauce, especially if you marinate it before hand. There are times when I am in the mood for a bit extra flavor however, and I quickly whip up a sauce for my steak. Below are some of my favorite steak sauces, which I think work well so as not to overpower the flavor of the filet. I have left out heavy cream or cheese based sauces including Bearnaise sauce, as I just find them too heavy for my taste. The ones I have included are very simple. As filets are exceptionally lean, the sauces I use include a source of fat but are not acidic or tangy which would be overpowering on a filet. Those types of sauces are best for fattier cuts such ribeye.

    One of the most traditional sauces for filets is peppercorn sauce. This is a staple of French cooking but I leave out the cream to make it less heavy. To make this sauce, I start with very coarsely crushed fresh black peppercorns. I heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat in a sauce pan then add one chopped shallot, 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped garlic and 1 - 2 teaspoons of crushed peppercorns. After sauteing that for a 2-3 minutes or until the shallot is just beginning to become tender I add a quart cup of cognac and a pinch of salt (to taste), and mix continuously until it comes to a boil. I then turn down the heat and let simmer until the liquid has been reduced by half.

    Another favorite sauce of mine for filet is a red wine garlic sauce. To make this one, simply start with a good red wine, usually what I'm serving with the meal. As I make the sauce right before serving the main course after the appetizers, the wine I serve with this portion of the meal, most often a cabernet, merlot or bordeaux, is already open and breathing. For this sauce, I first saute a couple of chopped shallots and about a teaspoon of minced garlic in a tablespoon of vegetable oil for about 2-3 minutes. I then add about 2 cups of red wine, 1 cup of beef stock and a half teaspoon of salt (to taste), mix to combine, then reduce it by half. At the end, I stir in a half teaspoon of butter extract and a sprinkle of corn starch or flour stirring continuously until it thickens slightly.

    My mothers favorite sauce for a filet is Marsala Wine Sauce. I make this with Baby Bella mushrooms, (about 5 or 6 of them ) cut in half then sliced. I also use a medium sized, white onion, sliced into strips about a quarter inch wide and a couple inches long, about a teaspoon of fresh rosemary (dried also works fine), two tablespoons of margarine (you can substitute butter if you prefer and are fine adding dairy), a teaspoon of freshly minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Marsala wine is the obvious choice for this and I use a dry, amber Marsala. I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to Marsala and strongly feel if it's not from Sicily it shouldn't be trusted. Make sure to use a dry Marsala, either gold or amber, which is best for savory dishes, adding a caramel nut flavor. Madeira or Sherry can be substituted, or you can take a half a cup of dry white wine and simmer it with a tablespoon of brandy and a pinch of salt.

    Start by sauteing the onions, mushrooms and garlic in the margarine over medium heat. When the onions start to become translucent add 1/2 cup of Marsala wine (or substitution of your choice). Bring the sauce to a simmer and reduce heat to medium low. Reduce for 4-5 minutes of until the mushrooms are tender. Add rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.

    There are countless other sauces out there that can be used with a filet mignon, but these three are by far, my favorites. They add just enough flavor without totally masking the taste of the beef. When having guests, I serve the sauce warm in a gravy boat so each person can decide how much they want.

© 2018 Natalie Frank

Comments

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    • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Natalie Frank 

      11 months ago from Chicago, IL

      I know what you mean, Liz. I've been craving a filet ever since I wrote the article!

    • Natalie Frank profile imageAUTHOR

      Natalie Frank 

      11 months ago from Chicago, IL

      They're always been my favorite steak and one of my top favorite meals of all time. Some like other steaks better because the fat content gives them more flavor but I prefer leaner cuts and fillets are the leanest!

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      11 months ago from UK

      I'm hungry now, after reading these useful tips on how to cook a filet mignon.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      11 months ago from USA

      Although I haven’t eaten beef since 1995, your description and the photo made me remember way back. This used to be my favorite.

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