If we took a nationwide poll asking people what the most expensive, tender and desirable steak is, the most common answer would probably be filet mignon. Maybe it’s the fancy name, or the general association with quality and sophistication. Or maybe it’s because filet mignon, when shipped from a reputable source and prepared by a reputable chef, actually is incredibly tender!

Granted, there are other cuts of steak that are arguably even more succulent and delicious. But for now, let’s focus on the ever-popular filet mignon. Why is it so desirable? More importantly, why is it so tender?

Let’s start with the question of tenderness; and the answer is quite simple. Filet mignon is actually the forward tip of the tenderloin, which is located just below the sirloin. This matters because that particular bit of muscle does not bear any weight, and does very little work. As a result, filet mignon is naturally soft and tender. By comparison, the cuts of beef that come from more active muscle areas will naturally be harder and fibrous, with more connective tissue.

It’s worth pointing out that filet mignon is the most exclusive cut of beef, meaning that the average heifer or steer produces less filet mignon (an average of 500 grams total) than other cuts of beef. This fact, along with the special tenderness of filet mignon, have arguably made it the single most desirable cut of beef in the steakhouse world. Prime rib and other cuts of beef, however, are more flavorful than filet mignon, according to many different steak lovers.

A lot of people don’t know that bacon is often used in the preparation of filet mignon – so if you don’t like pork, take heed. Filet mignon doesn’t contain as much fat or “marbling” as some other cuts of beef, so bacon is often used to compensate this weakness. By wrapping the filet mignon in bacon and pinning it with a wooden toothpick before preparation, flavor and fat is added to the equation. This method also prevents the filet mignon from becoming too dry while it’s being cooked.

All in all, there’s no doubt that a good filet mignon is a special experience. But it’s good to know exactly what goes into the process, and to be aware of some of the ways in which filet mignon might actually fall short of other cuts of beef, in terms of flavor.

Where’s the beef?

Your local steakhouse (provided it’s a reputable establishment) should have some very attractive options in the filet mignon category. Often times there will only be once choice when it comes to filet mignon; but it’s important to know where it comes from, and why it’s good. Your waiter should be able to give you reliable information upon request, and if not, they should have your questions answered directly by the chef. A steak dinner is not the cheapest meal you’ll have all week (most likely), so it’s worth acquiring the knowledge and experience to make the most out of each steakhouse experience!