Bourbon Soaked Tenderloin

I know, I know. I had ya at tenderloin. This is one of our favorite meals. Slightly sweet, tangy and wonderful. A real crowd pleaser. I say crowd pleaser, because it will feed one, and I usually cook it for one, lest my hubby eat 4 pounds of meat himself. He’d do that just so I didn’t feel bad about having leftovers. He’s good like that.

Now, I’m not sure where this recipe originated, but my family has been making it for at least 15 years. The tenderloin is one of the most smooth and tender cuts of the cow. It’s where filet mignon comes from. In fact, think of it as a 5 pound filet mignon.  The printable is available on my Tasty Kitchen Profile.

So, here’s what we start with:

a 4-5 pound whole, beef tenderloin, fresh lemon juice, soy sauce, a big bunch of cilantro, a few sprigs of thyme, a bit of brown sugar, and of course, bourbon.  Now I am about as far from a bourbon fan as you could possibly be, so I just grabbed one with a name that I recognized. OK, I really chose this particular bourbon because it was in a plastic bottle that said “lightweight for easy travel.” That just tickled me. Practical, really…you wouldn’t want the weight of your bourbon slowing your travels.  And I’m nothing if not practical.

Start by putting about 5 sprigs of fresh thyme into a gallon sized zipper bag. Then take the entire bunch of cilantro and give it a rough chop. I know. It’s a lot of cilantro, (about 2 1/2 cups), but trust me on this one. This gives the tenderloin a nice earthy undertone.

Then add a firmly packed cup of brown sugar, 1/2 cup of fresh lemon juice, and 2/3 cup of soy sauce. That happens to be exactly the amount of soy sauce that I had left in my bottle, in case you were wondering. I love it when life works out that way. The brown sugar and soy sauce add sweetness, and the lemon juice a bit of acid to balance it all out.

Add 2 cups of water to the bag. And since this is a recipe for bourbon soaked tenderloin, we should add the bourbon. A whole cup of it. Don’t worry, the alcohol cooks off during grilling. The bourbon will infuse more flavor into the meat, and the sugar in it will combine with the other sugars to caramelize the outside. Make mint juleps with the rest of the bourbon, if you are into that sort of thing. Or be like me, and save it for next time.

Seal the bag, and give it a squeeze or two to mix the marinade. Then set it aside so that we can tend to the tenderloin. (No pun intended.) Now, a whole tenderloin is a long cut of meat, which kind of tapers on each end. Those tapers tend to cook too fast, or fall through the grill slats, or burn, so I like to tie them with butcher’s twine to the bulkier part of the meat, for even cooking.

My butcher was kind enough to tie the tapered ends a bit for me, but since there are still a couple of “flappies” sticking out, and because I like to feel useful, I tied it again. Yes, “flappies” is the technical term.

Just put the twine under the meat, and tie it in a bow. I usually end up with 4 ties–2 on each end, like so:

Curl up the tenderloin, and seal it in the marinade bag.

Pop it in the fridge, and try  forget about it for about 4 hours. Most versions of this recipe tell you to marinate the tenderloin overnight in the fridge. I think overnight marinating is great for a tough cut of meat, but since the tenderloin is well, tender, I think that marinating for 2-4 hours is sufficient. 24 hours on a tenderloin is a bit overzealous.

Heat your grill to high heat. We are going to cook the tenderloin on high heat, with the lid closed for about 30 minutes, for rare (internal temp of 115 degrees.) Add 2 minutes for medium rare, 4 for medium.  Frequently turn the meat 1/4 turn and brush on a bit of the marinade, while cooking. For the love of all that is good and right in the world, please, please, please, do not cut into the tenderloin to see if it is done! Use a meat thermometer. Please. About 115 degrees for rare, 120 for medium rare, 125 for medium.

Don’t let the blackened crust fool you–this is perfectly cooked. The blackened areas are caramelized pockets of yumminess. Tent with foil, and rest for 10 minutes.

Then slice against the grain to serve. Invite your friends over for dinner. You’re friendship will be cemented for life after they eat this. We invited my BFF Julie’s family over. She is in Haiti right now, and I promised her that I wouldn’t let her family starve while she was away.

That’s my hubby and Julie’s hot husband at the end of the table. They visit the same Barber. I’m the flash in the mirror, as I am clearly an excellent photographer. And don’t let the table full of kids fool you–those whippersnappers ate more beef between them than the men did. I’m pretty sure the cute little blond pixie with her back to the camera ate 3 pounds herself.  Who can blame her?

Bourbon Soaked Tenderloin

Serves 8



1 C. bourbon

1C. firmly packed brown sugar

2/3 C. soy sauce

1/2 C. lemon juice

2 C. water

1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped (about 2 ½ cups)

5 sprigs of fresh thyme


4-5 pounds whole beef tenderloin, silver removed

Butcher’s twine (ask the butcher for some)

  1. Combine all marinade ingredients in a large plastic, zippered storage bag. Seal the bag, then give it a few squeezes to mix the marinade; set aside.
  2. Tie skinny ends of the tenderloin to the thicker parts of the meat with butcher’s twine. Put in the bag of marinade, and soak for about 4 hours in the refrigerator.
  3. When ready to cook the tenderloin, heat the grill to high heat. Grill the tenderloin with the cover closed. Frequently turn the meat ¼ turn and baste with the marinade (about every 6-7 minutes or so.) Cook time is approximately 30 minutes for rare, or an internal temperature of 115 degrees.  Add about 2 minutes of cook time for medium rare (120 degrees internal temperature,) and about  4 minutes (125 degrees internal) for medium.
  4. Remove tenderloin from grill and allow to rest for 10 minutes, while tented with aluminum foil.
  5. After resting, slice tenderloin against the grain to serve.


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