What is a Fillet?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A fillet is a boneless cut of meat; you may also see this term spelled “filet,” especially in British English. Many people associate this cut specifically with fish, which are often filleted for the market, but fillets can technically be cut from any food animal, from a chicken to a cow. The flavor, texture, and tenderness of fillets varies widely, depending on what part of the animal the cut is taken from, and how it is prepared. Most markets and butchers carry an assortment of fillets for their customers, and it is also possible to fillet meat at home, with the assistance of a well sharpened fillet knife.

Fish fillets on the grill.
Fish fillets on the grill.

In the case of fish, the fillet is often the preferred cut for consumers because fish bones are difficult to deal with. These small bones can be very hard to remove, and they pose a risk to diners because they can catch in the mouth or throat, causing choking. By cooking with fillets, cooks can be assured that the risk of fish bones in the dish is greatly reduced, although diners should still be careful, because bones can slip through during the filleting process.

Consuming the fillet form of fish reduces the risk of choking due to small bones.
Consuming the fillet form of fish reduces the risk of choking due to small bones.

Fillets cut from animals like chickens and cattle come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they are often chosen from very tender parts of the body, as is the case with fillet mignon, a popular cut of beef. Fillets from these animals also tend to be very thin, maximizing the amount of meat which can be removed from the animal, and as a result they cook very quickly.

A filet mignon is a fillet cut taken from a cow.
A filet mignon is a fillet cut taken from a cow.

Because fillets lack bones, they tend to be less flavorful than cuts which include bones, and they are also prone to drying out if they are cooked to long. The flip side of the fillet cut is that it is easy to prepare, and it cooks more quickly than bone-in cuts, because it lacks the density of bone-in cuts. A fillet can also be rolled up to make dishes like chicken Kiev, or wrapped around other cuts of meat and vegetables before being roasted, grilled, or fried.

There are all sorts of ways to use a fillet of meat. When cooking with fillets, it is important to remember that the cooking time is usually quite brief, and that fillets benefit greatly from being marinated, basted, or glazed to keep the meat moist and seal in some of the natural flavors of the meat.

A fillet can be rolled up to make dishes like chicken kiev.
A fillet can be rolled up to make dishes like chicken kiev.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I once got a horrible case of food poisoning from an undercooked piece of chicken, and now all that I seem to be able to stomach is meat that is filleted.

I know this sounds odd, but somewhere in the back of my mind I feel like a piece of meat without the bone stands a better chance of getting completely done. I am pretty sure, though, that this did not come from nowhere.

Isn’t it true that meat without the bone cooks faster than meat with the bone still intact?


I personally love a good filet mignon. Just take that bad boy and pop it in the oven. Let it cook slowly at about three hundred fifty degrees, and we are talking about some really good eating.

I like to season it with just a little salt and pepper, and occasionally a little basil. Then I make creamy homemade mashed potatoes from new red potatoes and a sautéed summer vegetable mix. It has zucchini, squash and different kinds of mild peppers in it.

It all serves up beautifully together! And while I myself am not a fan of alcohol, I will say that a nice, cold glass of sweet iced tea makes the whole thing scrumptious.

Oh, and don’t forget the spiced apples topped with vanilla ice cream for dessert.


@cloudel - Try dipping the raw chicken fillets in a mixture of egg and milk and rolling it in some seasoned flour to help lock in that moisture. The egg and milk will help the breading stick to it, and the breading will provide a barrier to help prevent the juices from leaking out.

If you would rather just have plain chicken cooked in olive oil, then you should cook it at a lower setting. It might take a bit longer for it to cook, but slow cooking helps the juices stay inside. Cooking too quickly will make it tough and dry.

Whatever way you cook your chicken, it's best to set the stove to just below medium. The last time I cooked chicken on medium, it got too brown too quickly.


I would love to be able to cook chicken fillets instead of big pieces with the bone inside. Whenever I try, they always end up dry and tough.

I don't really cook them for that long. I just add a bit of olive oil to the pan and cook them about 20 minutes on medium heat.

Does anyone know what I'm doing wrong? How can I keep the juices inside of chicken fillets?


Fillets may not be as flavorful as meat with bones, but the fun in that is that you get to choose your own flavors to add to it. If you place seasoning and chopped vegetables inside of an aluminum foil packet with the meat, then it will soak up the flavors.

I like to make tilapia fillets inside of these flavor packets. I chop up garlic, onion, and tomatoes, and I sprinkle the fillet with cumin and chili powder. I add just a touch of margarine and wrap everything up tightly in foil.

After cooking for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees, the fish has absorbed the flavors and is ready to be eaten. I like to wrap it in a tortilla with a little Mexican rice, and it's great with corn chips on the side. If you like avocado, slip some into the tortilla. It goes great with all the other flavors.


I love cooking salmon fillets. The recipe I use only requires a few ingredients, and it delivers maximum flavor.

I like to buy my salmon frozen, because I live pretty far from the store, and I don't want to have to go there on the night I decide to make salmon to buy it fresh. When it's frozen, I can wait until the mood strikes me to cook it.

I put a tablespoon of margarine in a glass cooking dish, and I sprinkle the bottom of it with dill weed and lemon juice. Then I place the thawed salmon fillet on top of the seasonings. I add a little more margarine to the top of the salmon, along with some more dill and lemon.

I cook the fillet for 15 to 20 minutes at 375 degrees. I know it's done when it flakes off easily with a fork.


I always buy my meats cuts fillet. Having to pick bones out of your food is never fun and I am always worried I am going to choke on something if I don't make sure my meat is cut perfectly.

I have found that that while having a butcher fillet your meat is ideal, it does also come with a price markup. Just look at the price difference between a whole chicken breast and the ones that they sell that are boneless and skinless. The chicken breasts that are free of bones are 25% to 50% more expensive usually. I guess if you hate handling meat it is still the best choice.


If you are shopping for a good fillet it is best to have the butcher take care of the job for you. I once tried to buy a whole salmon and fillet it my self and I ended up mutilating the poor thing when I tried to get the cut right.

A butcher will do the job for free when you are purchasing your meat, so you may as well let him or her do it since they are experts at it. I was just lucky that I didn't leave any bones in my fish or it would have been a total disaster. I guess just having my fillet look terrible was luck.

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