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.
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Picanha Steak?
- 2 Where is Picanha Steak Located?
- 3 What Does Picanha Steak Taste Like?
- 4 How to Cook Picanha Steak?
- 5 Picanha Steak Recipe
- 6 How to Cook Picanha Steak in Skewers
- 7 How to Grill a Picanha Steak
- 8 Picanha Cooking Tips
- 9 FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions
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 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
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.
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
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.