Picanha Steak Guide

Raw Picanha on butcher paper
Photo Courtesy: Snake River Farms

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Looking for a new cut of meat to wow your friends and family at your next barbecue? Or have you ever wanted to cook a Brazilian style barbecue at home? Well, picanha is the answer.  

This cut of beef is relatively inexpensive, tender, juicy, and packed full of flavor. Picanha steak is always one of the favorites at a churrasco, a Brazilian barbecue. 

Hugely popular in Brazil, picanha is sort of a hidden gem in the US.

It can be a little difficult to find and also a little tricky to grill. So, continue reading this guide and we’ll tell you how you can make picanha the star of your next barbecue. 

What is picanha?

As we mentioned, picanha is a popular cut of beef that can be found in almost every Brazilian steakhouse. In the US, it is often called rump cap, top sirloin cap or coulotte and is often broken down into other cuts of meat.

Picanha is triangular in shape and sits on top of the rump of the cow. It has a fairly thick fat cap that protects it during grilling and adds a juicy beef flavor.

The texture is similar to sirloin and is described as a mix between filet mignon in tenderness and ribeye in taste. 

How to grill picanha

Picanha can be grilled in a few different ways, let’s take a look at three of the most common. 

Charcoal is recommended, no matter what kind of grill or smoker you are using and temperature is critical.

Also, pay close attention to the direction of the cuts in each method, as cutting in the wrong direction will lead to a tough and chewy texture. 

Prepare the beef 

Whichever method you use, make sure you do the following:

  • It’s important to leave the fat cap as is (this is where all the flavor comes from). 
  • On the opposite side of the fat cap, remove any silver skin or tough membrane.

Skewer method 

  1. Cut the picanha against the grain in even sections about 3“ thick.
  2. Place each section onto the skewer folding it making a semi-circle, with the fat pad along the outside.
  3. Season with salt. If you want, you can add some pepper, garlic, or even your favorite BBQ rub. However, traditional picanha is only seasoned with salt.
  4. Preheat the grill to high. Then clean and oil the grates.
  5. Place the skewered picanha on the grill but not directly over the charcoal. 
  6. When the internal temperature reaches 120 °F (medium rare) move skewered picanha directly over the charcoals and sear evenly (1-2 minutes per side).
  7. Remove from grill and rest. 
  8. Cut meat into thin slices against the grain and serve.

Steak method (Slow ‘N Sear)

  1. Cut the picanha with the grain (don’t worry, we will cut against the grain later) in even sections about 1” to 1 ¼“ thick.
  2. Season with salt (traditional) or with some pepper, garlic, or favorite rub.
  3. (Optional) Dry brine on a rack in the refrigerator overnight.
  4. Preheat the grill to 225 °F. Then clean and oil the grates.
  5. Place the steaks on the grill but not directly over the charcoal. 
  6. Cook each side evenly until the internal temperature reaches 115 °F (medium rare).
  7. Remove from grill, pat dry and add olive oil to both sides of the steaks.
  8. Place the steaks back on a hot grill, directly over the charcoals and sear evenly (1-2 minutes per side). 
  9. Remove from grill and rest. 
  10. Cut meat into slices against the grain and serve.

Sous Vide method

  1. Cut the picanha with the grain (don’t worry, we will cut against the grain later) in sections about 1” to 1 ¼“ thick.
  2. Season with salt (traditional) or with some pepper, garlic, or favorite rub.
  3. Vacuum seal the steaks. 
  4. Place steaks in sous vide cooker set to 135 °F for 2 hours.
  5. Remove steaks from the cooker and vacuum seal.
  6. Pat dry and add olive oil to both sides of the steaks.
  7. Place the steaks a preheated hot grill, directly over the charcoals and sear evenly (1-2 minutes per side)
  8. Remove from grill and rest. 
  9. Cut meat into slices against the grain and serve.

Where to buy picanha

Now that you know the different ways to cook picanha, let’s find out where to buy it.

Start with your local butcher shop. Be specific when ordering and if they don’t know what picanha is, ask for the top sirloin cap with the fat pad intact only up to the 3rd vein. 

Another option is to order it online. It might be a little more expensive but you know you’re getting a true picanha cut.

Porter Road is a popular choice for ordering Picanha online. They dry age the beef for at least two weeks for better flavor.

Porter Road Picanha Buy Now Porter Road Picanha

Be careful though, because they tend to sell out quickly.  

Snake River Farms also sell American Wagyu Picanha which is graded higher than USDA Prime.

Picanha vs tri-tip

It’s important when ordering picanha not to confuse it with a very similar type of cut, the tri-tip.

Tri-Tip Steak Strips

Tri-tip is also triangular in shape and comes from the top of the sirloin. 

However, the tri-tip is located on the opposite side of the capping muscle. It is larger in size than the picanha, with a thinner fat cap. This often leads to a slightly tougher texture when grilled.

Wrapping it up

Picanha is an amazing cut of meat. It’s so tender and juicy and packed full of beef flavor. It may be a little tough to find here in the US, but we think it’s worth it. 

So, now that you know where to find and how to cook it, go ahead and give this Brazilian cut of meat a try at your next barbecue, you and your guests won’t be disappointed.

Have another grilling method for cooking picanha? Or any questions on the subject? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below and please share if you liked this article.

Joe Clements

Joe Clements

As the son of a vegeterian, I grew up dreaming about meat. Now as the founder and editor in chief of Smoked Barbecue Source I get to grill, barbecue and write about meat for a living! I'm sharing everything I learn along the way on my journey from amateur to pitmaster.

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