Regardless of their skill level, grillers and smokers are almost universally intimidated by the cut of meat that, by its appearance on your menu, screams, “Celebration!” I’m speaking, of course, of beef tenderloin. It proclaims to everyone at your table that they are special, and that you want them to have the penultimate holiday meal.
Scared? Don’t be. I assure you beef tenderloin—yes, it’s a splurge…but it’s the holiday season!—allows me to actually relax and enjoy the festivities while it cooks to perfection. (Yes, I cook my holiday meals on my grills and smokers.) I will walk you through my process, step by step.
For years I watched my father prepare prime rib and other premium cuts of beef for Christmas. So, when it came time for me to cook on Christmas, I wanted to make something just as memorable for everyone.
I realize beef tenderloin is mild-tasting, so I selected a cooking method that would boost the flavor. I decided to smoke-roast this a practice beef tenderloin in the Pit Barrel Cooker (PBC). It has become my favorite way to cook a whole beef tenderloin. The PBC typically runs about 300 degrees, so it roasts the tenderloin, and I get the benefits of a charcoal fire and the aroma of wood smoke.
The PBC is an upright drum cooker. The genius of the PBC is the even cooking created by the circular airflow inside the barrel. I utilize its “hook and hang” method with the beef tenderloin, but it also works great with ribs and chicken. The meat juices drip down onto the hot coals and create smoke that comes back up to the meat to add more flavor. I purchased my PBC after my first trip to Barbecue University. If you don’t own a PBC, set up your charcoal or gas grill for indirect grilling.
Here, I will share how I bring it all together. You can go to barbecuebible.com to check out Steven’s beef tenderloin recipe.
How to Grill Beef Tenderloin
I started by setting up the PBC per their recommendations. I used a chimney starter to ignite the charcoal and then poured the lit coals over the unlit coals in the barrel. This method creates a top-down burn that keeps the barrel hot for hours. I added two chunks of oak to create additional smoke, but the chunks are not needed thanks to the design of the PBC.
Next, I trimmed the beef tenderloin and then tied it up with butcher’s string to keep its compact cylindrical shape. I brushed the tenderloin with olive oil and generously seasoned it with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. I think Steven’s Malabar Steak Rub or his Santa Fe Coffee Rub would be a great alternative to salt and pepper.
Before placing the meat on the the PBC, I inserted a remote wireless thermometer in the middle of the tenderloin. The wireless thermometer allows me to track the temperature of the tenderloin and the PBC from inside the house on my iPhone. I then hooked the head end of the tenderloin and hung it vertically from one of the crossbars in the PBC. On this day, I used the double hook technique due to the weight of the beef tenderloin. The total cooking time was 45-60 minutes. My total cooking time will generally run closer to an hour if it is a frigid day in Massachusetts.
After the tenderloin smoke-roasted for about 20 minutes, I sprayed it with red wine. I feel the wine adds another level of flavor and keeps the tenderloin from getting dry.
One challenge I sometimes encounter when cooking tenderloin or steaks for family and friends is that everyone likes their beef cooked to different temperatures. I do not flip the tenderloin halfway through the cooking process; this allows me to have a medium-rare end all the way to medium at the other end. I keep the thicker portion of the tenderloin at the top over the PBC since I get more requests for medium-rare. If you want it cooked the same all the way through, flip the tenderloin halfway through the cooking session..
I stopped spraying the tenderloin with the wine once it started to develop a crusty exterior. I cooked the tenderloin until it reached 125-130 degrees at the mid-point of the roast. (The temperature will usually rise 5-10 degrees while it rests.) Since I did not flip the tenderloin halfway through, I was able to accommodate requests for medium-rare to medium-well with one tenderloin.
I like to serve beef tenderloin with Steven’s Horseradish cream or melt a piece of herbed or seasoned butter (called a compound butter) on top of each slice of tenderloin.
Talk about a sizzlin’ success! The tenderloin developed a deep mahogany color from the wood smoke and the wine. The high heat from the PBC and the seasoning create a subtle crust on the exterior of the tenderloin. It does not matter which end you pick your slice of tenderloin from; it is super tender and juicy inside. Smoke-roasting adds a smoky aroma that takes the typically mild beef tenderloin to a level worthy of a holiday feast!