Picanha Steak Cooking & Grilling Guide

If you have ever been to a Brazilian ‘churrasco’ restaurant, then you have probably come across servers who come to you with sword-size skewers, full of hot sizzling cuts of grilled meats, carved fresh at your table.

One of the main cuts of a ‘churrasco’ type dinner is the picanha steak. Once you try this type of steak, you will definitely want more.

Picanha, which is the Brazilian name of this beef, it is a steak-like cut, suitable for cooking over hot charcoals or grill. If you know how to cook it properly, this steak will be definitely one of your favorite meat cuts to eat.

The picanha is gaining a lot of popularity recently, thanks to social media and its delicious flavor. So, I decided to put together a full guide on how to cook picanha steak, with everything you need to know, starting from where to buy it, how to prepare it and a few things to have in mind when cooking this cut.

What is Picanha Steak?

Picanha is the traditional name in Brazil and other Latin American countries for the steak cut which is known to American butchers as the sirloin cap, rump cap, rump cover or culotte steak.

The term ‘picanha’ derives from the word ‘picana’ which was a pole used by ranchers for herding cattle in the southern parts of Portugal, which was later taken to Brazil by Portuguese emigrants. Eventually, the term ‘picanha’ was used to refer to the part where the cow was poked by ranchers. (Source)

Where is Picanha Steak Located?

Picanha-Location

Picanha or as known as sirloin cap, is located just under the beef tenderloin section of the cow. It is an incredible cut of meat from the back end of the beef, sitting on top of the round near the back legs.

This cut is often neglected by a lot of butchers, especially in the US, but if cooked and prepared properly, this muscle develops great flavor.

What Does Picanha Steak Taste Like?

Thanks to its location over the very top of the cow’s rump, this deeply beefy cut is full of flavor and tender enough to not overcook it on the grill.

The secret why picanha tastes so good is the fat cap of the cut which is left intact, much different from several over cuts where the fat layer is removed. The thick fat layer creates a self-basting layer which protects the meat from the flames but still gives it a very delicious flavor.

In Brazil, where this originally came from, the picanha steak is folded over on itself, with the fat cap facing out and is cooked over a ‘churrasqueira’, which is a charcoal cooker that doesn’t have a grill, using large skewers.

How to Cook Picanha Steak?

When cooking picanha steak, I recommend you to use charcoal. The smoke flavor of charcoal adds even more taste to this already decadent piece of meat.

If you are using a bare bed of coals, just like they do in Brazil, you should be careful to monitor the distance from the heat source. If using a barrel cooker, then we recommend you to keep a cooking temperature of 300°F in the barrel.

Before starting the cooking process, make sure that your meat cuts are 2-3 inches thick.

Down below, you can find a step by step recipe and then, a few cooking tips you can have in mind.

Picanha Steak Recipe

Ingredients


  • 2 Sirloin Picanha Roasts with Fat Cap (Around 2 ½ lb)
  • 2 Tbsp Kosher Salt
  • (Optional) 2 Tbsp of BBQ Dry Rub
  • (Optional) Chimichurri for Serving

Directions


  • Step 1 - If the meat has been refrigerated, bring it out 1 hour before starting the cooking process. Meanwhile, preheat your grill at 300°F or High setting.
Picanha-Slicing
  • Step 2 - Start preparing the meat by putting it on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife, cut the fat layer without cutting the meat, at around ¼ inch of thickness. (If you are going to use skewers, then cut each roast into 2-inch wide strips, always slicing against the grain.)
Picanha-Seasoning
  • Step 3 - For seasoning the picanha steak, it is recommended to use only salt. If you want a little bit more taste, you can add some of your favorite bbq dry rub and pepper to taste, but I personally use only kosher salt.
  • Step 4 - To prepare the meat for cooking, begin by taking the 2” steaks and piercing through with a skewer, by bending each cut into a crescent with the fat cap on the exterior side. Depending on your skewer sizes, put 2-3 pieces per skewer.
Grilling-Picanha-Steak

Image Credits: NapoleonBlog

  • Step 5 - Grilling the Picanha Steak
  • If using a gas grill, turn off all the burners except for the furthest burner from the steak. It is recommended to cook the meat with the lid closed, for around 20-25 minutes, turning them every 5-7 minutes. Doing so will ensure even cooking for the meat.
  • If using a barrel cooker, make sure the cooking temperature is at 300°F before putting the meat inside. You can use some Bluetooth smoker thermometer to monitor the temperature inside the barrel and the meat at the same time. This way, you will be sure when it is ready.
  • Step 6 - Using a meat thermometer, you should remove the steaks from the heat when it reaches an internal temperature of 130-135°F for medium-rare doneness. If you prefer medium doneness, leave it until it reaches 135-140°F internal temperature.
  • If you are a fan of grilling marks, move the steak to the hot side of the grill before removing it and give them a nice sear. Just make sure to continuously move and not overcook it.
  • Step 7 - After the meat reaches the internal target temperature, you should remove them from the heat and let it rest for around 10-15 minutes before slicing.
  • Note: Keep in mind to NOT skip the resting step. Resting gives the meat time to cool slightly, and the muscle fibers to relax. The juices will redistribute better through the meat, making it more tender, flavorful, and juicy.
Picanha-Recipe

Image Credits: ThermoBlog

  • Step 8 - (Serving) - This cut, as well as several other meat cuts, are recommended to be served with chimichurri sauce. The freshness of the herbs and the vinegar acidity do wonders to this beefy cut.

How to Cook Picanha Steak in Skewers

If you are planning to cook it using a skewer, I recommend you to always cut it against the grain.

Since picanha is a large cut of meat, you have to cut into smaller steaks when getting home.

Picanha-Seasoning

Image Credits: NapoleonBlog

For the full piece of meat, I usually cut it in around 3 pieces, on an angle perpendicular to the fibers going through the steak. Then, I bend the pieces in semi-circles, with the fat facing out and place them on a large oiled skewer.

If you do so, it will be easier to slice off delicately tender pieces without having to remove the meat completely from the skewers.

Also, if you want to put it on the grill again, you can easily do since the meat is still on the skewer. To get that outer, salty, crusty surface when grilled, use some rock salt to rub the exposed surface each time you cut a piece from the skewer.

How to Grill a Picanha Steak

If you don’t have a large skewer as they do in Brazilian Restaurants, you can still grill a picanha home-style and get superior results.

When dividing the meat into steaks, you can try to cut the meat in the same direction as the fibers. This way, after you finish grilling it, you will slice the steak against the grain, creating deliciously juicy morsels each with own fatty edge.

As for seasoning, I recommend using only salt and nothing else if you want the truly traditional taste. I have previously used a dry rub for some extra flavor, but it is totally based on preferences.

After you have prepared the meat, put it on the grill in indirect heat until the meat reaches 130°F for medium-rare doneness. If you want, you can leave it up to 135-140°F for medium and medium-well doneness, but I think that medium-rare is the ideal point for this steak.

After removing from the grill, let it rest for 5-10 minutes. This will allow the juices to settle and ensure the meat stays juicy and flavorful. 

Picanha Cooking Tips

  • The ideal picanha weight is between 2 lb 13 oz. – 3 lb. 4 oz. If your cut is larger than that, then it may contain some part of the tougher outer-thigh region below the rump. The wide end of picanha is the thickest part while the tip is the best.
  • Make criss-cross cuts to the fatty blanket covering the picanha. This is due to fat losing a lot of liquid during grilling and shrinking more. By making criss-cross cuts, you prevent the fat from curling and deforming and also allowing its liquids to run into the meat fibers for extended flavor.
  • Use an aged picanha if you can. Dry aging meat is not very common in Brazil, but wet-aged cuts in vacuum seals are very common. If you are going to buy an exported steak, then look for wet-aged vacuum-sealed packs.
  • For enhanced flavor, use organic charcoal. If you want to get the full Brazilian taste, I recommend using organic charcoal. In Brazil, they use reforested, eucalyptus charcoal lit with some newspaper. They don’t use any briquettes or lighter fluid.
  • If you are going to use organic charcoal, put some sausages on the grill. The pork fat from sausages will help the fire going, so you won’t have to use lighter fluid.
  • If you are planning to cook it using a skewer, cut it against the grain. If you have the full piece of meat, cut it in around 3 pieces, on an angle perpendicular to the fibers going through the steak. Then, bend the pieces in semi-circles, with the fat facing out and place them on a large oiled skewer.
  • When grilling, keep changing sides, so the steak doesn’t get burnt. The fat will drip and cause flare-ups, which will burn the meat if you are not careful.
  • If using rock salt, knock off the meat with a knife after it has finished cooking, so any extra rock salts will come off.
  • The tip of the steak will cook a little bit quicker than the larger pieces. You can either remove it early or just grill it last. Remember that the tip is the best part of a picanha steak.

FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions

What Part of Cow Does Picanha Come From?

Picanha is located in the backside of the animal, right above the butt, where it sits on a fat cap. The location is also widely known as under the tenderloin cut.

How is Picanha Called in the US?

Picanha is also known in the United States as Sirloin Cap, Rump Cap, Rump Cover or Culotte Steak. Most US butchers leave the picanha into other cuts like rump, round or loin by sacrificing the fat cap which gives the Picanha its unique flavor.

Can you buy Picanha in the US?

Due to butchers leaving this cut into other more popular cuts such as rump, round or loin, it can be difficult to find and buy Picanha in the US.

What I suggest you is to ask the butcher for a Top Sirloin Roast instead. You can have more chances with that name.

But, if you search, there are several places where you can buy online.

Best Places Where you can Buy Picanha Steak Online

The first place I can recommend is the Coulette Steaks from Snake River Farms. Their beef comes from the American Wagyu cattle, which is the equivalent cattle to Japanese Kobe. These steaks have incredible marbling and taste amazing. (Visit Here)

The second place where you can buy picanha steak online is Porter Road’s. They sell beef from small farms in Tennessee and Kentucky, where cattles are raised with care and pastured outdoors.

They are a small operation that cuts their steaks by hand and only selling the highest marbled steaks possible. (Visit Here)

Is Picanha the Same as Tri-Tip?

While a lot of people mistake these cuts with each other, they are a lot different.

They have a few things in common, but choosing which one is better will come down to your personal preference, availability, and cost.

You can also read our Tri-Tip guide to learn more about this cut.

About Kendrick

Just a passionate man about cooking, living in Kansas who loves to share his knowledge about cooking and grilling with everyone.

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