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 and can be a little difficult to find.
Whole smoked picanha
Picanha can be cooked in a few different ways, but our favorite has to be the reverse sear method.
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.
Traditional Brazilian-style picanha recipes call for the whole rump cap 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.
Just to give you another option, you can slice the Picanha into individual steaks and grill them that way.
For this recipe we’ll keep the rump cap whole until it’s ready to serve.
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.
Where to buy Picanha
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!
You should be able to find Picanha at most good butchers.
How to prepare smoked picanha using the reverse sear method
1. Trim the Picanha
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.
The picanha I used for this recipe came hand-trimmed, with very little visible silver skin, and the fat cap already trimmed down to nearly half an inch.
I decided to score the fat cap to help it render.
You can remove the fat cap wholly to allow for more surface area for your rub, but I recommend leaving half as it bastes the meat as it smokes and sears.
You can always remove it before serving if you prefer
2. Season the picanha
Once the picanha is trimmed, it’s time to season.
I used a SPG rub (salt, pepper, and garlic) but you can use any beef or steak rub, or go with simple salt and black pepper.
Apply the seasoning generously all over the meat, massaging and patting it into the meat with an open palm.
3. Smoke the picanha
For this cook, I used I used my Weber Kettle with Fogo charcoal setup with two zones. This recipe works on any smoker, or you could even use an oven and then finish on a grill.
Prepare your smoker to 250-275°F. It’s ok for some variance, but you want the temperature to stay as steady as possible to allow the meat to cook at an even rate.
Add a few chunks of smoke wood, I used hickory.
Leave the picanha on the smoker until the internal temperature reaches 110°F. I used my Thermopro to monitor the temperature throughout the cook.
Once the picanha reaches 110°F, remove from the smoker and tent with foil.
4. Searing the picanha
While the meat rests under the foil tent, ramp up the temperature on your grill. 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.
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 130ºF and Rest for 10-15 minutes.
Slice thin, against the grain for sandwich style slice, or slice into thicker sized portions for steak or roast style servings. I like to finish with some kosher salt.
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.
The Best Method for Smoked Picanha
- 3 lb Picanha roast
- 3 tbsp Beef rub I used a SPG rub (1 tbsp of each) but you can use any beef seasoning or just kosher salt and black pepper
- Check the picanha for any surface silver skin. Trim off any that you find. Trim the fat cap down to half an inch
- Apply a nice even coating of seasoning and [ress rub into meat with open hand. Sit at room temperature while you setup sthe moker.
- Preheat smoker to steady 275°F and add hardwood
- Place the picanha on the smoker grate away from the heat and smoke until internal temperature reaches 110°F (see notes).
- Remove meat from smoker and tent with foil while you prepare the grill for high heat searing.
- Sear the picanha until the internal temperature reaches 130°F. Flip so both sides to achieve grill marks and color.
- Let rest for 10 minutes then slice across the grain and serve warm.
Other cooking methods to try
1. Traditional Picanha Skewer method
- Cut the picanha against the grain in even sections about 3“ thick.
- Place each section onto the skewer folding it making a semi-circle, with the fat pad along the outside.
- 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.
- Preheat the grill to high. Then clean and oil the grates.
- Place the skewered picanha on the grill but not directly over the charcoal.
- When the internal temperature reaches 120 °F (medium rare) move skewered picanha directly over the charcoals and sear evenly (1-2 minutes per side).
- Remove from grill and rest.
- Cut meat into thin slices against the grain and serve.
2. Sous Vide method
- Cut the picanha with the grain (don’t worry, we will cut against the grain later) in sections about 1” to 1 ¼“ thick.
- Season with salt (traditional) or with some pepper, garlic, or favorite rub.
- Vacuum seal the steaks.
- Place steaks in sous vide cooker set to 135 °F for 2 hours.
- Remove steaks from the cooker and vacuum seal.
- Pat dry and add olive oil to both sides of the steaks.
- Place the steaks a preheated hot grill, directly over the charcoals and sear evenly (1-2 minutes per side)
- Remove from grill and rest.
- 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.
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 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.
Check out our smoked tri tip recipe.
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.