Very popular in Brazil, picanha (pronounced “pee-kahn-yah”) is one of the most flavorful cuts of beef you will find. The beauty of a picanha is that it is an impressive, but relatively economical cut that can feed plenty and impress your guests at the same time. In the United States, the cut is often named top sirloin cap, rump cover, rump cap, or Coulotte or even Coulotte cap.
However you choose to cook it – traditional barbecue rotisserie, grilled or roasted whole – bring the meat to room temperature and pat it dry with a paper towel first, just like a regular steak. Lightly trim off any visible skin or membrane from the bottom or sides.
When it comes to seasoning, picanha is a prized cut that produces a robust beefy flavour, so simple really works best, with just some coarse salt.
Place seasoned steaks in a heavy-based frying pan on high heat, fat side down first to render, before searing on both sides. Once a rich, golden crust has formed on both sides, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare.
If cooking on an outdoor grill, make sure it is preheated and as clean as possible. (Pro tip: use tongs to wipe it with a wet paper towel so you don’t burn yourself.) To help ensure the steaks don’t stick, take a small piece of fat and rub it on the grill. Place the picanha steaks in a circular motion on the outer edges furthest away from the blazing heat – otherwise, the outside will overcook before the inside is done. Close the hood and cook the steaks at 120°C / 248°F for 6 minutes, then flip them. After 6 more minutes, bring the steaks to the centre of the grill and sear on both sides. Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, aiming for around 54°C 130°F for medium rare.
Roasting the picanha whole then slicing it into steaks afterwards will allow you to enjoy the steak fairly rare. First, preheat the oven to 180°C / 355°F and put a cast iron pan on high heat. Score the fat cap slightly and rub it in with coarse salt. Sear the picanha, fat side down, without any added oil. As it cooks, beef fat will continue to be released into the pan. Drain out some of the fat (but don’t throw it away) and continue to render the fat until the outside is beautifully crisp. Turn over the meat and baste it with the reserved fat.
Transfer the picanha to the oven and cook it for 30 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 50°C / 122°F. Remove the beef from the oven and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Once rested, carve it into steaks, then slice each steak against the grain and serve.
When you’re ready to get started with the cook, set up your smoker to smoke at 180 degrees using indirect heat. Oak or Mesquite wood or pellets work well here.
Generously season the steak on both sides using fresh ground salt and pepper or your favorite bbq rub. Make sure you pick one that isn’t loaded with salt and keep the extra flavors to a minimum.
Place the seasoned steak directly on the grill grates with the fat cap facing up. Us a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature of the picanha as well. You want to smoke the picanha roast until the internal temperature reaches 110. At 110 remove the meat from your smoker and tent it loosely with foil. Adjust the smoker to cook at 450 degrees.
When your smoker is up to temp place the picanha steak back on the grill grates with your temp probe inserted, and cook until the internal temperature reaches 125. This lean cut of beef can be overcooked and tastes best when it’s cooked to medium-rare.
At 125 pull the steak from your smoker, tent it with foil and let it rest for 15-20 minutes. The internal temp will rise about 10 degrees during the rest, leaving you with a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak. Slice thin against the grain.
Traditional Brazilian barbecues, known as churrasco, call for the picanha to be sliced, skewered and grilled over a barbecue. The picanha is cut into 3 or 4 thick pieces, with each piece folded over onto itself in a crescent shape and skewered with a long metal skewer. The seasoned skewers are cooked over a charcoal cooker, known as churrasqueira, for about 15-20 minutes, turning two or three times to ensure even cooking and then carved to order.