A molecular beam epitaxy growth monitoring method is developed for distributed Bragg reflectors and vertical-cavity surface-emitting laser (VCSEL) resonators. The wavelength of the substrate thermal emission that corresponds to the optical cavity resonant wavelength is selected by a monochromator and monitored during growth. This method allows VCSEL cavities of arbitrary design wavelength to be grown with a single control program. This letter also presents a theoretical model for the technique which is based on transmission matrices and simple thermal emission properties. Demonstrated reproducibility of the method is well within 0.1%.