Picanha is an incredibly flavorful and tender cut of beef that will likely become your new favorite steak with this method of preparing it. The pic (aka sirloin cap) is the most popular steak cut in Brazil, and for very good reason.
The method is simple - season ahead of time, cook at a low temp and then sear at a high temp for a flavorful crust. Served with a bright chimichurri sauce, this cut needs little adornment to shine. Picanha's extreme tenderness, easy preparation, and mouthwatering grilled flavor make it a wow-worthy choice for your next barbecue.
What is Picanha?
Picanha (pronounced pee-KAHN-yah) is a popular cut of beef that comes from the rump cap or top of the round in the hindquarters. It is sometimes referred to as rump cover, rump cap, or coulotte steak.
Native to Brazil, picanha has become a beloved staple in Brazilian cuisine and Brazilian steakhouse restaurants, where it is grilled over an open flame or roasted on a spit. This method of preparation allows the fat in the well-marbled picanha to slowly render, basting the meat and keeping it tender and juicy.
The exterior of picanha is coated with a thick fat cap that crisps up when grilled or roasted. Once sliced, picanha reveals a deep red interior with characteristic fat marbling that provides robust, beefy flavor in every tender bite. The cut has very little connective tissue, so picanha steaks can be portioned and cooked quickly over high heat without risk of toughness.
Other names for picanha include: rump cap, rump cover, coulotte steak, sirloin cap, top sirloin cap, royal steak, top sirloin butt, and culotte.
The different names mainly refer to the specific location of the picanha cut on the cow. It comes from the top portion of the sirloin closest to the rump. But "picanha" is the Brazilian Portuguese name that is most widely used and recognized when referring to this cut of meat.
Where to Buy It
Picanha is not as common as other steak cuts at your average grocery store. It might be labeled or known by its other names such as rump cap, rump cover, coulotte steak, sirloin cap, top sirloin cap, royal steak, top sirloin butt, and culotte. Just make sure it has a thick fat layer on top. It's not the same without it.
For the best chance at finding picanha, visit your local butcher or Latin/Brazilian markets. It is also available from premium online meat delivery services such as Snake River Farms and Crowd Cow. It can also be found at some Costco locations (just ask the butcher).
Should you Cut the Picanha Into Steaks or Leave it Whole?
There are two common methods for preparing picanha for grilling, roasting and pan-searing:
Cutting into Individual Steaks
- Allows for quicker, more even cooking of the steaks
- Creates more surface area for browning and developing a flavorful crust
- Gives you flexibility on steak thickness and portion sizes
- Best for cooking churrasco (on skewers) and pan searing.
- Easier to prep and handle on the grill
- Can cook over lower heat for longer periods if desired to give lots of great smoky flavor
- Gives you one large, shareable roast when sliced
Both methods work great. Cutting picanha into individual steaks is more common for quick, high-heat grilling or pan searing. Leaving it whole requires less prep work and lets you cook it slowly smoked or roasted.
There's really no right or wrong way to do it. In this recipe, we're leaving it whole. And if you love picanha, be sure to check out the sous vide picanha recipe where I cut it into steaks rather than leaving it whole.
What You'll Need
Tradition is just to use the steak, salt and a charcoal fire to cook it on. Feel free to add additional spices if you want.
- Picanha (Sirloin Cap) - Whole with fat cap still on.
- Salt - In Brazil, they use coarse rock salt, but my preference is to use Diamond kosher salt because of how easily it dissolves and is absorbed into the meat.
- Optional Spices - You can apply a dry rub, pepper or any spices you like with beef.
- Thermometer - I like to use a remote probe thermometer to know exactly when the steak is done, and a handheld meat thermometer to spot check for doneness. Learn more about the best meat thermometers.
How to Cook a Picanha
This reverse-sear method is best for cooking a whole picanha steak for even doneness and a delicious crust. You will first cook the steak at a lower temperature with indirect heat and then sear it hot and fast at the end.
- Trim silver skin, score fat cap in a crosshatch pattern
- Oil and generously salt/season all over
- Let sit 1+ hour up to overnight in the refrigerator.
- Set up cooking:
- For grill/smoker - use an indirect zone at 250°-275°F. Add wood chips if smoking.
- For oven - preheat to 250°-275°F.
- Place the picanha fat-side down (closer to the heat) and insert probe thermometer.
- Cook over indirect heat until it reaches 115°F internal temperature.
- Remove from the grill and increase heat to high for direct searing. Sear 2 min per side until 130°-135°F for medium-rare.
- Rest for 10 minutes then slice against the grain to serve.
Tip: Scoring a crosshatch pattern in the fat cap (and not into the flesh of the steak) will help the salt get deeper in the meat, along with helping the fat render as it cooks and making for a beautiful presentation.
- Don't overcook this it - Picanha is best cooked medium-rare so it is tender and juicy. Read the steak temp guide.
- Leave the fat cap on - This is what makes a picanha a picanha steak. If it's super thick, you can trim it down to whatever thickness you are comfortable with.
- Season ahead of time - Dry brine the steak 24 hours before cooking will allow the salt to penetrate all the way through the meat, making it even more flavorful.
- Temperature control is important - Precise temperature control is crucial when cooking picanha low and slow to render fat properly without overcooking the meat before searing at the end.
- Use a thermometer and cook to temp rather than by time
Serve sliced picanha with chimichurri sauce, either drizzled over the top, on the side or even in a compound chimichurri butter, to complement the bold beef flavors. Grilled vegetables like grilled broccolini and eggplant make great accompaniments, along with sides like crusty bread, grilled potatoes
More Delicious Steak Recipes
Picanha Steak (Sirloin Cap) Recipe
- 1 whole picanha steak with fat cap on
- kosher salt or coarse rock salt
- Prep the picanha by trimming any silver skin from the bottom side. Use a sharp knife to score the fat cap in a 1⁄2 inch cross-hatch pattern. This will help render the fat. Drizzle lightly with oil and generously season all over with kosher salt. Allow to sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, or ideally refrigerate overnight.
- Preheat your grill, smoker, or oven to 250°-275°F (120°-135° C), setting up for indirect low and slow cooking. If using smoker, add preferred wood chunks/chips such as oak or hickory.
- Place picanha on the cool side of the grill or smoker fat-side up. Insert probe thermometer into the thickest part of the meat. Close tje lid and cook until the internal temperature reaches 115°F (46 ° C), about 60-90 minutes.
- Once at 115°F internal, remove picanha and increase grill temperature to high heat. Alternatively, heat a heavy skillet over high heat on the stove.
- Sear the picanha for about 2 minutes per side, until a nice crust forms on the exterior and the internal temperature reaches 130°-135°F (54°-57° C) for medium-rare doneness.
- Dry brine the night before with kosher salt for more flavor. Season on a wire rack and refrigerate uncovered overnight. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour prior to cooking.
- Study the grain before cooking so you know which direction to slice it.
- Avoid overcooking this cut. Medium-rare is best. See the steak temp doneness chart and guide.