How to cook picanha steak

How to Cook Picanha: The Perfect Brazilian Steakhouse Steak

Once you try picanha, it will likely be your favorite cut.

What is Picanha steak: the sirloin cap

Have you ever wondered why Brazilian steakhouses are so delicious? The secret is often in a special cut of meat known as picanha. This cut of beef is also known as a sirloin cap in the United States. Another term synonymous with sirloin cap, emphasizing its popularity in grilling, is the picanha cut, known for its tenderness, flavor, and the thick layer of fat on the outside.

Picanha steak comes from the top part of the cow’s rear, right above the rump. It has a thick layer of fat on one side, giving the steak a delicious flavor as it cooks. This cut is also referred to as the rump cap, highlighting its location on the cow and its flavorful fat cap, making it a prized choice for its tenderness and the rich flavor.

Image of cow and cuts of beef

The first time I tried picanha steak at a friend’s barbecue, I couldn’t get enough. The flavor and texture was something I never tried before. Since then, I have tried to learn how to make and serve this steak. It was a bit daunting at first, but I have learned some tricks I would like to share with you.

Essential tools and ingredients

To cook a perfect picanha steak, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment, but a few basics will make all the difference. Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. Sharp Knife: A good, sharp knife is crucial for scoring the fat cap on the picanha. This helps the fat render and flavor the meat during cooking.

  2. Grill or Cast Iron Skillet: Picanha is traditionally grilled over charcoal, which adds a fantastic smoky flavor. However, if you don’t have a grill, a heavy cast-iron skillet works great, too. If you have the time, using a smoker is another great way to get some extra flavorful meat.

  3. Meat Thermometer: One of the secrets to perfectly cooked picanha is not overcooking it. A meat thermometer can help you cook your steak to your desired doneness. I prefer a medium-rare, which is around 130°F (55°C).

  4. Cutting Board: You’ll need a sturdy cutting board to slice your picanha before and after cooking. Choose one with a groove around the edges to catch any juices that run off.

As for ingredients, simplicity is key. Here’s what you’ll usually need:

  • Coarse Salt: This is your main seasoning for traditional picanha. It brings out the natural flavors of the meat without overpowering it. A good quality steak often doesn’t need more than just salt, and if you have the time, dry brining the steak is a must.

  • Black Pepper: A little pepper adds a nice bite, though this is optional and based on your taste preferences.

  • Garlic (optional): Some people like to add a bit of minced garlic to the fat cap before cooking for an extra layer of flavor. Be cautious, as garlic can burn easily on high heat.

When I cook picanha at home, I love keeping it simple with just salt. It’s amazing how this cut of meat can speak for itself with just a little bit of seasoning. For something extra special, get your hands on some wagyu beef tallow to really take the steak to the next level.

Picanha steak with rosemary leaf and salt

I always make sure to have these tools and ingredients ready before I start, ensuring everything goes smoothly from start to finish. Cooking picanha this way always takes me back to that first amazing taste at my friend’s BBQ, and I am sure it will do the same for you!

Some Prep Work Needed

Before you start cooking, some prep work is essential to ensure your picanha steak cooks evenly and develops a fantastic flavor. Here’s what you need to do:

Picanha whole steak
  1. Trimming the Fat: While the fat cap is crucial for flavor, too much fat can cause flare-ups on the grill and result in uneven cooking. Trim the fat cap so it’s about 1/4 inch thick. This thickness provides the right amount of flavor while preventing excessive flare-ups.

  2. Scoring the Fat: With your sharp knife, make shallow cuts across the fat cap, creating a criss-cross pattern. This not only helps the fat render more effectively but also allows the heat and smoke to penetrate the meat, enhancing the flavor. Make sure not to cut too deep; your goal is to score the fat, not the meat itself.

  3. Room Temperature: To cook evenly, the picanha should not be cold. Let the steak sit out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to an hour before cooking. This brings the meat to room temperature, allowing more even cooking and juicier results.

  4. Seasoning: Once your steak is trimmed, scored, and at room temperature, season it generously with coarse salt. This will help to create a delicious crust on the outside. If you’re using other spices or garlic, apply them lightly so they don’t overpower the natural flavors of the meat.

How to cook Picanha: The Basics

Cooking grilled picanha can be done in various ways, but grilling is the most traditional and beloved method for preparing this specific cut of meat. Here’s how you can grill your picanha to perfection:

  1. Prepare Your Grill: If you’re using a charcoal grill, prepare it for indirect heat. You want a hot zone (directly over the coals) and a cooler zone (away from the coals). If using a gas grill, set it to medium-high heat.

  2. Start With the Fat Cap Down: Place the picanha on the grill with the fat cap facing down towards the direct heat. This will allow the fat to start rendering slowly. Grill it for about 5 to 7 minutes on this side.

  3. Flip and Continue Cooking: After you’ve rendered some of the fat, flip the steak to the meat side and move it to the cooler part of the grill. Continue cooking for about 15-20 minutes or until it reaches your desired level of doneness. Use your meat thermometer to check the internal temperature. I aim for about 130°F (55°C) for medium-rare which is how I love my steaks.

After flipping, to perfectly grill picanha, transition the steak to the cooler part of the grill as a key step in achieving the ideal grilled texture and flavor.

  1. Rest Your Meat: Once your picanha is cooked, it’s crucial to let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, ensuring each bite is juicy and delicious.

  2. Slicing: Picanha should be sliced against the grain to ensure it’s tender. Look for the lines in the meat and cut perpendicular to them. This breaks up the muscle fibers and makes the steak more enjoyable.

Remember, cooking picanha or any steak should not just be about following steps; it’s about experiencing the joy of preparing something enjoyable. Each time I grill steak, I take my time and enjoy the process, and the results rarely disappoint.

How to Cook Picanha Steak Recipe

Recipe by Abel Ruddachew


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This picanha recipe is designed to guide you through the process of cooking this flavorful cut to perfection. By following these instructions, you’ll learn how to prepare skewered picanha or grilled picanha.


  • 1 whole picanha steak (approximately 2 to 2.5 pounds) – cut into smaller steaks about 1-1.5 inches thick

  • Coarse Sea Salt

  • Fresh Cracked Black Pepper

  • Minced Garlic (optional)


  • Prepare the Picanha:
    Trim the fat cap on the picanha to about 1/4 inch thickness. Use a sharp knife to score the fat cap in a criss-cross pattern, being careful not to cut into the meat itself.
    Let the steak sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to ensure even cooking.
  • Season the Steak:
    Season the picanha generously with coarse salt on both sides. Sprinkle the black pepper and minced garlic evenly over the meat, pressing lightly to adhere them to the surfaces.
  • Preheat Your Grill or Skillet:
    If grilling, prepare your grill for medium-high heat and set up for indirect cooking. For a skillet, place it over medium-high heat on the stove.
  • Cook the Picanha:
    Start by placing the picanha on the grill or skillet with the fat cap down. Grill or sear it for about 5 to 7 minutes until the fat starts to render and becomes crispy.

    Flip the steak to the meat side and move it to a cooler part of the grill or lower the heat on your stove. Continue to cook for 15-20 minutes for medium-rare doneness, or longer depending on your preference. Use a meat thermometer to check the internal temperature (130°F for medium-rare).
  • Rest the Meat:
    Remove the picanha from the heat and let it rest on a cutting board for about 10 minutes. This helps the juices redistribute throughout the steak, making it juicier and more flavorful when sliced.
  • Slice and Serve:
    Slice the picanha against the grain into thin slices. This ensures each piece is tender and easy to chew. Serve immediately with your favorite sides, such as grilled vegetables or a fresh salad.

Recipe Video


  • For those interested in exploring other cooking methods, consider preparing a picanha roast as an alternative. This technique involves roasting the picanha in the oven, allowing for a different texture and flavor profile. The reverse sear method is a great way to prepare this steak too. Whether you choose to sear the fat cap before roasting or cook it at a low temperature to reach the desired internal temperature, this method provides a succulent and tender result.


What is the best way to score the fat cap on picanha?

Scoring the fat cap is essential for rendering the fat and allowing it to flavor the meat during cooking. Use a sharp knife to make shallow cuts about 1/4 inch apart across the fat cap, creating a criss-cross pattern. Be careful not to cut too deeply; you only want to score the fat, not the meat underneath. This technique helps the fat melt effectively, preventing the steak from curling up on the grill.

Can I cook picanha in the oven if I don’t have a grill?

Absolutely! If you don’t have access to a grill, you can roast picanha in the oven. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C), and place the picanha fat side up in a roasting pan. Roast for about 25-30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 130°F for medium-rare. Make sure to let it rest before slicing into the grilled picanha.

How do I choose a good piece of picanha?

When selecting picanha, look for a cut with a thick, even layer of fat across the top. The meat itself should have a rich color and good marbling (streaks of fat within the muscle), which are indicators of flavor and tenderness. If possible, buy your beef picanha from a reputable butcher who can ensure it’s properly trimmed and authentic.

Which side dishes pair well with picanha steak?

Picanha pairs wonderfully with a variety of sides. For a traditional Brazilian experience, serve it with farofa (toasted cassava flour mixture), rice, and black beans. For something lighter, a fresh green salad or grilled vegetables can also complement the delicious steak. Additionally, chimichurri sauce or a simple salsa verde adds a fresh, herby contrast to the dish.

How do I store leftover picanha, and how long will it keep?

Leftover picanha should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator and is best consumed within three days. You can freeze the cooked picanha for up to three months for longer storage. When ready to eat, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight and reheat gently to preserve the texture and flavor. Remember, reheating meat can dry it out, so adding a bit of moisture, like broth or using a gentle reheating method can help maintain its juiciness.

Picanha steak on skewers

Let’s wrap it up

Remember, the key to perfect picanha lies in the preparation—from selecting the right cut, scoring the fat cap, to seasoning simply and cooking it just right. Whether grilled over hot coals or roasted gently in the oven, picanha promises a mouthwatering experience with its rich flavors and succulent texture.

Don’t forget to let your picanha rest before slicing it against the grain to ensure each bite is as tender and juicy as possible. Pair it with your favorite sides or keep it traditional with Brazilian staples for a truly authentic meal.

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