Filet Mignon. The king of steaks. It’s fun just saying it. Eating it is even better; a delight to the senses. Not tough or chewy like some other kinds of steak, it has a velvety, smooth texture that melts in your mouth. The premium cut of beef at any steakhouse, filet mignon literally means “tender fillet” in French.
Do you want to learn how to cook a filet mignon perfectly, every single time, without needing to even look at instructions?
We’d like to teach you a simple, easy-to-learn way to cook this steak. We don’t even call this a “recipe”, per se. There aren’t any ingredients, other than a piece of tenderloin filet and some kosher salt and ground black pepper.
That’s what makes this so great: you simply learn to cook it. Then, you’ll always know. Follow our guidelines below and once you’ve got the hang of it, you don’t ever need to refer back to this page. It becomes a skill.
First, a clarification: We often use the terms “Filet Mignon” and “Tenderloin Filet” interchangeably. Technically, the Filet Mignon is a filet cut only from the front portion of the tenderloin.
But in practice, butchers label a steak cut from any part of the tenderloin as filet mignon. The difference is not significant enough for us to be picky: any part of the tenderloin is extremely tender because it’s a little-used muscle on the steer. Ok, onward and upward…
So here it is. The definitive guide to cooking the perfect filet mignon:
Perfect Filet Mignon Starts With the Best Beef
You’re here because you want a decent filet mignon, right?
Oh, that’s right.
You’re here because you want a perfect filet mignon. Ok just checking. Because perfect means it’s unable to be improved upon. As good as it is possible to be. In other words, the Filet Mignon we’re going to teach you to make here is beyond steakhouse-quality. It’s meat perfection.
In case you didn’t know, Filet Mignon comes from cows. Cows. They may all look the same to you as you drive by a farm on your way to the grocery store or grandma’s house, and well, actually, most of them are pretty much the same: good but not perfect. And if you want perfect, you want the highest level of marbling.
It’s been said many times – and you’ll find it plastered all over food blogs around the internet – that it doesn’t matter what USDA grade your filet is because it’s so naturally tender.
Look, we’ve cooked a lot of tenderloin filets, which means we’ve purchase a ton of tenderloin filets. You want to see what’s objectively NOT a perfect filet mignon?
We bought these filets from the local food warehouse. They were USDA Choice grade and they were on sale in a pack of five. I believe it was $11.99/pound which is pretty much as cheap as you’ll find tenderloin filet in our part of the world. You know the old saying, “You get what you pay for”?
To start, the steaks were poorly trimmed. They weren’t whole segments, but instead the meaty goodness was interrupted by waves of inedible fat. Not the delicious kind that renders down, but the gristly, gnarly stuff that you cut around when eating a cheap ribeye. And there was the totally inedible silver skin running down the side of a couple of them.
Now let’s be clear: it was still Filet Mignon. Which is delicious, even when it’s lousy.
But why then, spend so much time talking about this sub-par filet mignon experience?
Because we know how much better it can be. We’ve made – and tasted – the perfect filet mignon.
And because frankly, you asked how to make the perfect Filet Mignon, not the okay-est Filet Mignon. Perfect is a pretty high bar. And in order to get there, I need to dispel the myth that says buying a high grade filet (USDA Prime or American Wagyu Beef) isn’t worth the money. But don’t take my word for it. Compare the picture above to this beautiful Gold American Wagyu Tenderloin Filet we ordered from our friends at Snake River Farms:
Look at how delicately the filet is marbled, with little tiny wisps of fat permeating throughout the entire piece of meat. If you want a perfect filet mignon, you need to start by choosing a superior steak. And because tiny wisps of fat that permeate a steak are what create juiciness and flavor when they’re rendered down, a superior steak means a high degree of marbling.
American Wagyu is pretty much the most heavily-marbled grade of steak you can buy in the US. There’s a scale to measure that, actually. It’s called the Beef Marbling Standard, or BMS. Prime steaks are the equivalent of a 4 or a 5 BMS. Wagyu beef is anywhere from 6 to 12.
(Learn more about American Wagyu from the American Wagyu Association)
Wagyu (which simply means “Japanese Cow” in, you know, Japanese), is a term used for any number of breeds which trace back to Japan and are genetically pre-disposed to have this highly marbled fat. It’s got nothing to do with feeding them beer or giving them massages.
(People often ask the difference between Wagyu and Kobe. Kobe is one specific type of Wagyu. It’s extremely rare and very expensive and you basically can’t buy it even if you want it. There are only a handful of restaurants (I mean, like fewer than 20) in the entire US that sell actual Kobe steaks. If your grocery store has something labeled Kobe, it’s a lie. If you think you’ve had one, you almost certainly didn’t.)
Now American Wagyu is not a USDA grade, so it’s something that’s, well, unregulated. Great. Let the free market will do its thing, but beware of imposters and stick with reputable. We love the American Wagyu we get from Snake River Farms.
So here’s our bottom line: If you want the perfect Filet Mignon, start with USDA Prime or Wagyu beef. You’ll probably need to order them from an online butcher because you local store simply doesn’t have enough requests for that to keep it in stock. But if you do find a local butcher that stocks USDA Prime or Wagyu beef, please post it in the comments below to help other readers out!
Season it Right: Salt and Pepper!
There was a show produced by the Food Network for a number of years called Restaurant Impossible. It featured chef Robert Irvine unapologetically confronting helpless restauranteurs with their poor execution at pretty much every facet of their business.
This Robert Irvine guy likes to yell. It makes for good reality TV, and it probably helps him get through to people, too. In pretty much every single episode, without fail, Robert would at one point or another yell at the cooks in the kitchen three magic words that we jokingly yell to each other to this day in our own kitchen: “SALT AND PEPPER!”
It’s funny, but it’s true.
Salt and pepper is all you need to bring the flavor out of any piece of beef. It’s all you need to make a perfect Filet Mignon.
Don’t be tempted to go out and find someone’s “famous” steak seasoning. That’s what cheap steakhouses do to try to make their cheap cuts taste better. If you want a cheap steakhouse steak, well, what are you doing still reading this? Get in the car and drive down to Texas Roadhouse.
The perfect steak seasoning turns out to be something you have right there in your kitchen already.
We use Kosher salt and cracked black pepper at a 1:1 ratio. Don’t drown the thing in salt. You aren’t trying to preserve the meat for a trip on the Mayflower; you’re trying to flavor it. It should look something like this when you’re done seasoning it (This is a New York Strip, but we’re pointing out the seasoning here, not the cut. We just happened to have a great close-up of this NY Strip right after seasoning):
Cook the Perfect Filet Mignon: Reverse Sear
We’ve tried lots of methods of cooking steaks. The Filet Mignon is usually cut thick, between 1.25 and 1.75 inches (32-44 mm). In our experience, cooking a thick steak simply can’t be done property using only direct heat.
When you attempt to use only direct heat on a thick steak, such as searing the steak in a cast iron skillet or grilling directly over hot coals, you must choose between the lesser (if such a distinction can even be made) of two evils. You either undercook the center, or overcook the edge.
Enter the reverse sear.
The beauty of the reverse sear is that you don’t need to compromise. You can have that perfect delicious crust (courtesy of the Maillard Reaction) and a perfect, consistent doneness edge-to-edge inside. Best of both worlds.
This is possible because with the reverse sear, you cook the steaks completely using indirect heat, and only after the steak is cooked through do you then sear the edges to create a beautiful crust.
We love using our immersion cooker, but if you don’t have one you can accomplish the same thing using your oven. So here’s the reverse sear method to get a perfect medium rare steak (we’ll show you the temps for other doneness, but if you want perfect, give medium-rare a try):
- Take steaks out of the refrigerator and set out for about 15 minutes
- Pre-heat oven to 255 degrees Fahrenheit
- While oven is preheating, season steaks
- Place steaks on a baking rack inside a cookie sheet (see below)
- Insert a meat thermometer probe (if you have one) into the thickest steak (ideally, there isn’t much variance between steaks)
- Now place them in the oven and let them cook. It will depend on the thickness of the steak and the temperature it starts at, but plan for it to take roughly 30 to 40 minutes. You’re looking for 125 degrees.
When it’s 125 degrees, pull them out, quickly place the steaks on a cutting board and tent them in aluminum foil. If you leave the temperature probe in, you’ll notice the temp will continue to rise a little. That’s because while the steaks are resting, they continue to cook.
At this point, the steaks will be quite sad looking. Don’t worry. You’re just a few minutes from putting a gorgeous crust on these steaks.
Let’s be honest: resting your steak is the least exciting part of the cook. It’s also the most important part of the cook. Don’t rush it! Give it at least 5 minutes.
When you set the steaks up to rest, that’s your cue to fire up the crust-making machine: your cast iron skillet. Because at this point, a nice hot, well-seasoned cast iron skillet is the only thing standing between you and the perfect filet mignon. Turn the heat on medium-high and just leave a very light coat of oil (we use grape seed oil for this) will do. Anything more than that will just splatter.
After about 5 minutes, the steaks are done resting and the skillet is hot.
Now the magic begins.
Toss in a small pad of butter (about a tablespoon). Using thongs, place the filets in the skillet two-at-a-time. They will sizzle. Slide them around in the butter for a couple of seconds and then let them sit for about 45 seconds. Flip them. Another 45 seconds.
Remove from pan.
Grab your best set of steak knives, cut into that thing and experience the perfect medium rare filet mignon. Now that you can make something this amazing in your own kitchen, bring over some friends or family and share the love with them.
Tell Us How it Went
Thanks for trying our reverse sear method. We’ve made so many steaks this way that we’re sure you’ll do well with it. We would love to hear back from you about how your first try at the perfect filet mignon went. Where did you get your beef? Did you have people over? What did they say?
If it worked out for you, please give it some stars and comment below! We really appreciate your feedback.