Top Of The Food Chain: Shoulder Tender


Illustration by Laura Williams

Welcome to Top Of The Food Chain, a column from Eat Me Daily's meatiest columnist, Ryan Adams. Every week we'll attempt to demystify the options available in your supermarket, breaking animals down piece by piece so that the next time you find yourself staring at endless Styrofoam containers, you'll be able to make an informed purchase. This week: Shoulder Tender.

Let's explore something new today, shall we? I mean, finding juicy tidbits about the history of familiar cuts is great and all, and a big part of why I write this column, but covering cuts like short ribs and flank steak all the time is a little bit like preaching to the choir. Whether researching an unfamiliar technique, or dealing with a fruit that I've never worked with before, almost nothing brings a smile to my face like discovery.

Today's post holds another one of those serotonin-boosting moments: I've recently discovered a cut of meat that looks just like Filet Mignon but offers a big, beefy flavor in the place of that cut's haute-y attitude. Oh, and it's cheaper too. I'm talking about the shoulder tender.

Cut: Shoulder Tender

Petit Filet by Henry Figueroa

Picture by Henry Figueroa

The shoulder tender is a small, oblong muscle that rests on the cow's shoulder and is part of the chuck primal. The tender is made by separating the teres major muscle from the shoulder along the natural seam. Most of the fat and connective tissue should be removed by the butcher, leaving a lean piece of muscle. Now, I just mentioned that this cut of beef is cheaper, better tasting, and looks just like the tenderloin.

All of that goodness must come with a downside, which turns out to be that this "tender" isn't as delicate as the name might suggest. The shoulder tender needs some special attention, as overcooking will render the meat anything but tender. Cooking methods that are more forgiving, like braising, will deliver the best results. Marinades make grilling a viable option, oven roasting can produce a juicy dish, and advanced techniques like sous vide will guarantee a temperature-perfect product.



Photograph: NAMP Meat Buyer's Guide

The shoulder tender is another one of those cuts that has no variation. What you see is what you get: a lean, fillet of beef, roughly ten inches long, three inches wide. A medium-coarse grain runs the length of the cut.

What to look for when buying

Buy shoulder tender whole or pre-cut into medallion style steaks, about 3/4 inch thick. If you want to roast the shoulder tender whole, pick the largest one you can find. The meat itself should have a bright, cherry-red color with speckles of fat running through the meat. Check that the muscle is firm to the touch, and that the container doesn't contain excess liquid. A whole shoulder tender is large enough to serve one to two people, and will shrink less than if cooked as medallion steaks. Allow 6 to 12 ounces per person. Expect names like "petite fillet", "petite tender", and similar variations; "shoulder tender" is actually a newer marketing term for the cut, and not all meat departments will have caught up with the times.


Whole shoulder tender can stay in your fridge for three days. If cut into steaks, they need to be cooked by the second day. Beef can be frozen in its original packaging for up to two weeks. If you're going for longer storage, you'll want to prevent freezer burn by re-wrapping the flank steak in freezer paper, plastic freezer bags or heavy-duty aluminum foil. Try to remove as much air from the packaging as possible before sealing.

Basic Preparation

Oven roasting is a great way to quickly prepare a whole shoulder tender, with minimal amount of fuss and mess.

  • 1 whole shoulder tender per person
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt
  • Olive Oil

Preheat the over to 425°F.

Lightly cover the tender with olive oil, and then season with salt and pepper. Place the meat on a shallow roasting pan in the center of the oven. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the meat reaches an internal temperature of 145°F for medium rare doneness. Remove the tender from the oven and let it rest for 5 minutes before cutting to allow the juices to redistribute themselves throughout the muscle tissue.

Additional Recipes

Ryan Adams

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