This post is sponsored by Omaha Steaks. Rest assured all opinions are my own.
Picanha. I have been trying to get my hands on this fabulous cut of beef locally for ages. I have only had it previously in Brazillian churrasco restaurants where waiters parade around with about 10 different cuts of meat on spit rods and slice it for you right in front of your eyes. When cooked rare or medium-rare, this prized Brazillian cut has a smooth mouthfeel and a beefy, robust taste. The extra flavor the fat cap provides is heavenly. It was love at first bite.
I have to admit, I’ve been jealous of my friends who have been able to easily locally source it in other states. One day I called my local butcher who said yes, indeed they had it. You can imagine my dismay when he sold me tri-tip instead. Now, I love tri-tip but they are not the same thing. I’ll discuss that in a minute.
I was so excited to find out that Omaha Steaks was selling Sirloin Cap Grilling Roast which is their name for picanha. Their roast is approximately 2.25lb, carved with a ½ inch fat cap, and aged at least 21 days. Generally speaking, most picanha falls in the 2-3lb range. When I found out, I immediately went on their website and bought five of them. Yeah, that’s how you know how excited I was!
What exactly is picanha?
Picanha comes from the rump cap muscle. Now, I will be the first to say, I was confused when I first heard of picanha as different people would describe where exactly it came from anatomically quite differently. It is a triangular cut located from the top of the rump region of the cow. It’s easy to see how one could be confused when a cut of beef can go by a multitude of names. Picanha is also known as culotte/coulotte, rump cap, top sirloin cap, rump cover, top butt cap and of course the proper name of the M. biceps femoris muscle. Butchers in the United States often process it into other cuts such as the round, the rump or loin and also remove the fat cap when doing so. If you have a good whole animal butcher in your area, they are your best bet for finding some locally.
Excuse me Sir, this is not picahna..
Although tri-tip is another triangular shaped cut much like picanha which is located in a similar region of the cow, they are not the same thing. Like picanha, tri-tip is sometimes also sold with a fat cap thus leading to additional confusion. Picanha is also different from Top Sirloin. Picanha actually lies above the top sirloin and rump areas. If you picture the large capping muscle over the sirloin/rump area having two sides, one side or the larger side is actually the tri-tip and the smaller side is picanha.
I called my local butcher one day asking if they had any picanha. They guy came back on the phone and said they did. When I got to the shop, they tried telling me that the fat cap on tri-tip was the same thing. Of course I knew better but I wasn’t about to get into an anatomy discussion at the butcher shop with a number of other people standing there waiting to be helped. I’m sure I couldn’t hide the perplexed look on my face after I questioned it however. I took my imposter fat capped tri-tip home with me knowing I’d still enjoy it. I waited until I went outside to roll my eyes and text one of my friends about my meat saga. If they bring it up next time I visit however, then we can have a friendly discussion about it.
Choose your method of cooking
There are a few methods on how you can cook your picanha.
Cut it into individual steaks, season with kosher salt and grill over direct heat
Cut in into steaks, season, then put them in a “C” or horseshoe shape on a rotisserie set to high heat
Cook the picanha whole (by reverse sear method) after seasoning then sear on a grill or skillet to finish and slice to serve. I prefer to cook at 250-275F until 115F internal temperature then sear for approximately 90 seconds a side to achieve a nice medium rare at the end.
Cook the picanha fat side down on a grill to sear the fat first after seasoning, cut it into individual steaks, then put the steaks back on the grill to finish up. This method allows you to get better rendering of the fat as opposed to method number 1.
If you don’t have a grill, season and place picanha in a 250F-275F preheated oven on an elevated rack on a baking sheet and cook until the internal temperature registers 115F. Remove from the oven. Heat up a cast iron or stainless skillet until nice and hot then carefully sear both sides of the picanha until internal temperature reaches 130F or your desired temperature.
Prepping the picanha
Keeping it more traditional and with my personal preference, I decided to just use kosher salt on my picanha. I had some time on my hands so I wanted to do an experiment. I decided to dry-brine the picanha in the refrigerator for about 24 hours prior to cooking it. Is this a necessary step, absolutely not. Does it give you extra flavorful meat, yes. If leaving the picanha whole to cook it, dry-brining even overnight would yield great results.
Without going into all of the technical aspects of dry-brining, here are the basics on why we bother dry-brining. When we salt the meat ahead of time, you will at first notice liquid being pulled out of the meat and the surface will be wet. Over time, that solution will be reabsorbed back into the meat taking salt with it. That’s the beauty of diffusion right there! That salt will work on the muscle fibers of the meat and the interior will be seasoned along with an increase in moisture as well.
In addition to the boost in flavor, this process also allows for accelerated browning of the meat when grilling because the surface of the meat is dryer after dry-brining. This is the same reason I will pat a steak dry prior to grilling it if it is still wet from the packaging. A drier surface=better browning. That’s the beauty of the Maillard reaction.
If you are pressed for time there is no need to spend a day waiting for your meat to dry-brine. Some kosher salt is all you need to cook this delicious cut.
However, if you do dry-brine the picanha, place the meat on a rack elevated over a rimmed baking sheet. Salt the meat as if you are going to cook it with that amount of salt on it. I think the biggest problem with dry-brining is that people excessively salt the meat then wonder why the final product is also excessively salty.
For my grilled picanha recipe I was more liberal with the salt on the fat cap of the picanha far less generous with the salt on the exposed meat side. After salted, place the baking sheet in the refrigerator uncovered overnight or for up to 24 hours. I did dry-brine a whole piece for 2 days, and honestly, I saw no benefit to it. After 1 day the meat was dry enough to make me throw a piece of plastic wrap over it in the refrigerator for fear that the meat exterior would be excessively dried out.
Let’s get grilling!
A note about slicing the picanha to put on the rotisserie. Cut the pieces into wider slices than I did in the above pic. If the pieces are larger, the inside wont cook as fast and it will give the fat more time to render. The first time I cooked it on the rotisserie I overshot my temperature by about 8 degrees and ended up bordering on medium rather than medium rare because I misjudged how long it would take to cook. I also cooked with my grill lid down thus accelerating the process. The next time I will cook it on the rotisserie with the lid up until I get the color I desire on the fat, then close the lid if need be until my meat comes up to temperature. My preference is to pull the meat at about 125F since I prefer my meat in the rare/medium rare range. There will be some carry over in temperature after cooking directly so I rather pull it sooner as opposed to letting it cook too much and risk being tough.
Picanha is an easy to cook cut of meat that is loved by many and if you’ve never had it, you have to give it a try. I personally love eating some of the fat cap with the meat, but if you don’t, that’s perfectly fine. It’s your meat and you eat it the way you like. However, if you are someone who likes their steak more well done, you might want to skip this cut as it will be tough and you’ll lose all those qualities I love about picanha.
My favorite way to serve picanha is with some chimichurri on the side with some sweet plantains. Try this chimichurri on other cuts of beef such as flank and skirt steak. It is also great on poultry. Enjoy everyone!
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2/3 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 4 tsp tsp fresh garlic, minced
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 3/4 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
- 1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp kosher salt or to taste
- Add all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until ingredients are finely chopped and blended. If a food processor is not available, chop all of the ingredients by hand and combine.
- Ideally, make the chimichurri an hour ahead of time to allow the flavors to blend.
- Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days but allow it to come back to room temperature prior to serving.