Are you a true steak enthusiast if you don’t know what a picanha steak is? Well, yes, you probably are. And don’t feel bad if you haven’t heard of this cut because you’d be in the same group as many other steak lovers. Interestingly, picanha steak is arguably one of the best steaks ever to grace the butcher shop.
Some steak cuts are simply more well-known and popular than others. Still, that doesn’t discount the fact that more obscure steaks might be some of the best to hit your taste buds. Such is the case with picanha steak, a cut with rich flavor and pleasing texture that’s easier on the wallet than many other options.
This guide includes everything you need to know about this cut of beef, like where it comes from, how to cook it, and how to season it.
What is Picanha Steak?
Picanha steak is one of the lesser-known cuts in the United States. Still, it’s one to keep your eye on because of its affordability despite its decadent flavor and texture.
Picanha steak is a favorite in Brazil and other countries in South America, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Brazilian steakhouse that doesn’t feature it. The word “picanha” comes from the Latin word “picana,” a type of pole that farmers in Latin countries used to herd cattle. Ranchers used cattle prods on the rump area of the cow, right where you’d find the picanha steak cut.
Picanha steak is known for being incredibly tender and flavorful, often being compared to the ribeye but with slightly less marbling. However, you won’t often find picanha steak labeled as such in the supermarket or at the butcher because it tends to get cut into other steaks, like a round roast or top round steaks, rather than sold whole.
What Cut of Beef is Picanha?
Picanha steak comes from the rump area of the animal. This cut of meat is sometimes referred to by common names like the rump cover, rump cap, top sirloin cap, or coulotte steak. Although the rump is an exercised area of a cow, it’s not one that’s overly filled with muscle. Instead, you’ll find a large cap of fat covering the picanha cut, which keeps it tender and juicy while cooking. Many people like to begin cooking the fat side of picanha to render down the fat as the beef cooks.
4 Ways to Cook Picanha Steak
There are a few different ways to potentially cook picanha steak. No one way is the best way; therefore, we’re going to outline a few popular options, including using a gas or charcoal grill and searing the steaks in a cast-iron pan.
Grilling Picanha Steak
- Slice the cut of picanha into individual steaks. Season generously with salt, then rest at room temperature for 45 minutes before grilling.
- Preheat the grill to high or heat up the charcoal grill, and spray the grates with cooking spray.
- Place steaks on grill, searing for 2-3 minutes. Then, flip to the other side to sear.
- Reduce the heat to low or move steaks to a side of the grill with indirect heat. Allow to cook for another 5-10 minutes until they reach your desired internal temperature with a meat thermometer.
- Remove from grill and rest on a cutting board for 5 minutes before serving.
Grilling Picanha Steak on Skewers
Skewered picanha steak is a delicious twist on a traditional grilled steak. People who want to ensure that there’s a piece of the fat cap on each bite of picanha will enjoy this method.
To accomplish it, slice the steak into one-inch strips after allowing it to sit at room temperature and seasoning it. Then, curl the strips onto long metal skewers, pushing the skewer through both ends to form a c-shape. Sear the skewers on a charcoal or gas grill for 1-2 minutes on each side. Then, finish cooking over indirect heat for another 5-8 minutes until they reach the right internal temperature. Rest for five minutes before enjoying.
Grilling Picanha Steak Bites
If you’re cooking picanha steak for bite-sized appetizers, steak bites are the way to go. Start by cutting the steak into one-inch cubed bites after seasoning them and letting them sit at room temperature.
Then, place the bites on a grill pan and add to the grill over high heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes, gently tossing the bites about halfway through. Move the grill pan to indirect or low heat, and cook for another 3-5 minutes until medium-rare. Rest for five minutes off the heat.
Pan-Seared Picanha Steak
- Slice picanha into individual steaks.
- Season generously with salt on all sides. Then, allow to sit at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- Preheat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat with one tablespoon of olive oil.
- Place steaks in the skillet. Add one tablespoon of butter. Allow to sear for 3-4 minutes on this side before using tongs to flip to the other side.
- Once flipped, spoon butter over the top of the steaks. Sear the bottom side for another 3-4 minutes.
- Remove steaks from the pan and place on a cutting board to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Oven Cooked Picanha Steak
- Season a picanha roast on all sides with salt. Leave at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Brush the fat side of the steak with olive oil. Add a sprinkle of salt and black pepper to all sides.
- Place the fat side of the beef cut up in a shallow roasting pan. Add about a ½ cup of water to the bottom of the pan, just enough to cover the bottom of the steak.
- Roast for about one hour in the oven or until your meat thermometer reads 130-135 degrees for a medium-rare cook.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing.
Picanha Steak Sous Vide
- Remove picanha from the fridge, salt, and let sit at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- Heat your sous vide water bath to 135 degrees for medium-rare.
- Season as desired. Place in the vacuum-sealable bag and clip the bag to the pan, ensuring that your steak is fully immersed in the water bath.
- Cook for 5 hours.
- Remove the bag from the water and place it in an ice bath to stop the cooking process. Then, remove steaks from the bag.
- Heat a cast-iron skillet with one tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Sear the picanha steak on the fat side for 2-3 minutes until browned. Then, flip to the other side and sear for another 1-2 minutes.
- Let rest for 5-10 minutes before slicing and enjoying.
Seasoning Picanha Steak
There are many ways to season just about any cut of beef, including picanha. However, to get your steaks browned up on the grill, in a pan, or in the oven, you need to salt them first as they rest at room temperature. Season steaks generously with salt and let them sit for 45 minutes before cooking to create a brine that results in a crispy outside.
As for other seasonings, you can add them right before you’re ready to cook. Sprinkle a little more salt and some ground black pepper for a lightly-seasoned beef cut. Or, go a little heavier on the seasoning with a dry rub or steak seasoning. You can also brush a little Worcestershire sauce over the steak for extra zing.
Marinating Picanha Steak
Although picanha steak is full of flavor and is a juicy cut of beef on its own, no rules state that you can’t marinate it. If you prefer adding a little flavor to your steak with a marinade, consider making a basic marinade with your favorite herbs and spices, like garlic, thyme, and salt. Add your chosen spices to an olive oil base mixed with an acid like balsamic vinegar or lime juice, and you have yourself a tasty marinade.
Marinate the steaks for several hours in the refrigerator (at least four, for best results), or overnight.
Pan-Seared Picanha Steak Recipe
- 2 lbs picanha beef
- kosher salt, to taste
- 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Remove steak from the refrigerator. Cut with the grain to slice the picanha cut into four steaks, leaving a fat cap on each steak. Salt generously on all sides, using your fingers to press the salt into the meat. Then, let rest at room temperature for 45 minutes.
- Preheat oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat.
- Place the steaks in the skillet, fat side down (if you don't have enough room, cook just two at a time). Sear until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.
- Flip to the other side and sear for another 2-3 minutes.
- Check the internal temperature to see if the steaks are at your desired level of doneness (130-135 degrees for medium-rare). If not, reduce heat to low and allow to cook another 1-2 minutes.
- Remove steaks from heat and rest at room temperature for 5-10 minutes before serving.
We’ve covered a lot of ground when it comes to cooking picanha steaks on the grill, in a pan, or whatever cooking method suits you best. Here’s a few additional pointers to help you get the perfect picanha steak every time.
Cooking times can vary depending on your steak’s thickness, the cooking method you choose, and your specific equipment. Here’s a general idea of how long each technique should take to cook your picanha steak to perfection:
- On the grill: A gas grill should cook picanha steak a little faster than a charcoal grill — about 10 minutes compared to 15-20 minutes.
- In the oven: Expect picanha steak to cook for about one hour in the oven.
- In a pan: This speedy method cooks picanha in about 8-10 minutes.
- Sous vide: This method takes the longest, usually between 4-6 hours.
It’s best to measure your steak’s doneness with an instant-read digital meat thermometer. Simply stick the probe into the thickest part of the steak and wait a couple of seconds for the thermometer to display the temperature. For a perfect medium-rare steak, remove the meat from the heat when it reaches 130-135 degrees.
You might see picanha steak referred to as Brazilian picanha, but this is the same as picanha steak. Because it originates in Brazil, some fans of the cut simply refer to it as Brazilian picanha rather than just picanha.
Everything You Need to Know About Cooking Picanha Steak
Picanha steak, a delicious and tender Brazilian beef cut, is one of the best cuts of meat that’s quite under-recognized in North America. It cooks well on the grill, in a pan, or even sous vide, making it a versatile beef cut that’s perfect for a home cook to try.
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What is the best way to cook a picanha?
Grilling picanha is one of the best ways to cook this cut of steak. The grill adds a lot of flavor to picanha, and it’s not difficult to learn how to cook picanha steak on the grill. Plus, when you slice picanha, the steak cooks relatively quickly on the grill. Alternatively, cook picanha in the oven if you’d prefer to keep it as a whole roast.
How do you cut picanha before cooking?
Before cooking picanha on the grill, it’s best to slice it into steaks to help picanha cook faster and more evenly. Do this by cutting the roast along the grain and with the fat cap facing up. Once cut into steaks, each piece of picanha should have a portion of the fat cap on it.
Can you cook a whole picanha?
Yes, cooking picanha steak as a whole roast is possible in the oven or on the grill. Start by scoring the fat cap, which will allow the heat to distribute evenly and break down the fat as you cook the roast. Then, sear the picanha for a few minutes with the fat cap facing down until the fat begins to render off. Roast in the oven preheated to 200 degrees for about 30 minutes or until your desired temperature is reached.
Do you cook picanha fat side up or down?
Cook picanha steak with the fat side down for best results. This allows direct heat to render down the fat, allowing it to move through the steak to add flavor and tenderness.