Picanha Steak Guide & Best Cooking Method

This beef picanha steak is inexpensive, tender, juicy, and packed with flavor.
Phen Pavelka
Phen Pavelka

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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 perfect medium rare Picanha using the reverse sear method

Picanha can be grilled in a few different ways, but our favorite has to the the reverse sear method.

Traditional Brazilian style picanha recipes call for the whole roast to be skewered and cooked over high heat, but our version adds an indirect smoke portion that allows the fat cap to slowly baste the meat and keep it juicy. 

We also have a recipe for grilled picanha cooked on a rotisserie you can check out.

This recipe will give you a succulent, medium-rare picanha that is reminiscent of roast beef. The smoke portion of the cook adds yet another level of flavor to the already robust cut of beef.

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

Prepare the Picanha for smoking

Pull the picanha out of the fridge and pat dry. Trim off any surface silver skin that’s visible and trim the fat cap down to half an inch in thickness. 

We got our picanha from Porter Road online butchery. Porter Road is based in Nashville, TN, and offers high quality, humane, and pasture-raised meat from local farms.

They were kind enough to send us their quality picanha for free to try out. It did not disappoint!

The picanha came hand-trimmed, with very little visible silver skin, and the fat cap already trimmed down to near half an inch.

It was firm to the touch, with a rich deep red color that is reminiscent of grass-fed beef. It’s a testament to the pride and quality Porter Road takes in processing meat.

Note: Since the cooking time for picanha is relatively short in comparison to other low and slow recipes, the fat cap will not fully render.

You can remove the fat cap wholly to allow for more surface area for your rub, but in this recipe, we leave a half an inch fat cap that bastes the meat as it smokes and sears.

You can always remove it before serving if you prefer

If your picanha isn’t trimmed as neatly as our piece, be sure to take your time and remove all the little bits of excess silver skin. 

Once the picanha is trimmed, apply a dry rub generously all over the meat, massaging and patting it into the meat with an open palm. 

Smoking the picanha

Prepare the smoker to a steady 250°F. It’s ok for some variance here between 225°F and 250°F, but you want the temperature to stay as steady as possible to allow the meat to cook at an even rate. 

When the temperature has leveled out, add the wood chunks to the firebox. A combination of hardwood and fruit wood gives a complex, layered smoked flavor to the meat. 

Since this is a shorter than usual smoking time, I went heavy on the hardwood using four pieces of local hickory and two pieces of peach wood on my Backwoods Chubby 3400.

Leave the picanha on the smoker until the internal temperature reaches 115°F.

If you’re dry smoking with no water pan, you can spritz the picanha every half hour with apple juice. Spritz only 4-5 times total as you want the bark to dry and crust up after that. 

Once the picanha reaches 115°F, remove from the smoker and tent with foil.

Searing the picanha

While the meat rests under the foil tent, prepare a grill for direct heat to 500°F. This can be any direct heating method you have at your disposal, such as another charcoal or gas grill.

Setting your oven to broil on high would work in a pinch if you don’t have access to a grill. 

Some smokers convert into direct-heat cookers, as does the Chubby 3400, but I opted to go with a Chargrill Akorn Jr. kamado-style grill.

Using lump charcoal, the Akorn Jr. can get upwards of 700°F, but we leveled out at 500°F.

Once your grill reaches 500°F, sear the picanha on both sides, achieving nice grill marks. Keep an eye on the fat cap side so it doesn’t start to burn or cause a flare-up. 

Remove the meat when the internal temperature reaches 125ºF. Rest for 10 minutes.

While resting, the picanha’s internal temperature will continue to rise. It should reach a perfect medium rare of 130°F – 135°F within a half hour. 

Slice thin, against the grain for sandwich style slice, or slice into thicker sized portions for steak or roast style servings. 

Serving the picanha

Picanha is versatile when it comes to serving. It can be cut into individual steaks, searing those as well, sliced thin for sandwiches, or shaved to top salads. 

Whatever you choose, picanha is a delicious, easy to cook option for any backyard pitmaster.

Reverse Seared Medium Rare Picanha

Succulent, medium-rare picanha that is reminiscent of roast beef. The smoke portion of the cook adds yet another level of flavor to the already robust cut of beef
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Author: Phen Pavelka

Ingredients

  • 1 3lb Picanha roast
  • Beef BBQ rub You can also use steakhouse seasoning or kosher salt and black pepper

Instructions

  • Check the picanha for any surface silver skin. Trim off any that you find. Trim the fat cap down to half an inch
  • Preheat smoker to steady 250°F and add hardwood
  • Dust surface with dry rub. Press rub into meat with open hand and let it sit at room temperature for 10 – 30 minutes.
  • Place the picanha on the smoker grate and smoke until internal temperature reaches 115°F. Note: you are smoking the meat to an internal temperature, not for a length of time. Different sizes of meat will cook for different periods of time. Use an instant read thermometer for accurate results.
  • Remove meat from smoker and tent with foil
  • Prepare a grill for direct cooking at 475°F – 500°F.
  • Sear the picanha on both sides to achieve grill marks and color.
  • Remove the roast from searing when the internal temperature reaches 125ºF
  • Let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Slice thinly across the grain and serve warm.

Other cooking methods to try

1. Traditional Picanha 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.

2. 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.

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.

Phen Pavelka

Phen Pavelka

Growing up in a multicultural home allowed me to experience a wide range of cuisines. Smoke and fire tied everything together, and barbecue became the common denominator. Now, I get to experience great food every day writing and experimenting with the varying techniques and cooking styles out there.

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