If you’ve been to a Brazilian steakhouse, you’ve probably seen Picanha Steak. Learn about this cut and how to cook it at home!
Picanha (pronounced pee-cahn-ya) steak, also known as culotte steak, is a Brazilian steakhouse specialty grilled over an open fire on long skewers. I’ve recreated this classic recipe using regular metal skewers and my gas grill.
What Cut Of Meat Is A Picanha Steak?
This particular cut of beef comes from the top sirloin cap, located right below the tenderloin. Although it’s close to the tenderloin, the picanha cut isn’t as tender due to the abundant marbling of fat. The marbling, however, renders the steak moist with a robust beefy flavor, and when properly seared, cooked, and sliced, you’ll bite into a juicy, tender piece, every time.
Where can you buy picanha? Depending on where you live, it might be hard to find picanha in a regular grocery store, but it is usually available by request at a butcher shop or can be ordered ahead of time at the meat counter in your local grocery store. It’s also readily available online. The cut typically comes as a whole piece or whole roast with a significant fat cap that you’ll score with a knife, season well, and slice into steaks for grilling on skewers.
How Do I Prepare The Fat Cap?
The fat cap on the picanha cut is significant, and needs to be scored with cross-hatch marks using a sharp knife for a couple of reasons. First, the cross hatching helps the fat render while cooking on the grill. It also helps the steaks become bendable so they can be folded in half before being skewered.
To create the cross-hatch marks, make ¼-inch deep, diagonal slices across the thick fat cap, about ¼ to ½ inch apart, then repeat in the opposite direction until a diamond pattern appears across the entire fat cap. Do this one hour before grilling, and then add your seasoning.
How Should I Season The Steaks?
The only seasoning really needed before grilling is salt and pepper. Garlic and herbs will burn and create a bitter flavor, so these are best if added toward the end of cooking or after the steaks come off the grill.
Mixing the salt and pepper in a small bowl first makes it easier to evenly season the fat cap and the steaks once they are cut and skewered. Sprinkle half of the mixture evenly over the fat cap and aggressively rub it in, forcing some of it into the cross-hatch marks. Then, let the steak rest uncovered on the counter for the remainder of the hour before grilling to allow it to come to room temperature. This will help it cook evenly on the grill.
Slice And Skewer Picanha Steaks
Once the steak has rested for an hour, slice it lengthwise into one-and-a-half-inch thick steaks. Anything thicker will be tough and chewy. Anything thinner will overcook.
Once the steaks are sliced, fold them in half, into a “C” shape, with the fat side facing out. Slide a metal skewer through the middle of the “C” so that it stays in place. Add two to three more steaks to the same skewer, leaving about a half inch between each steak. Repeat with the remaining steaks and then season all sides with the remaining salt and pepper mixture.
Wooden skewers aren’t recommended for this recipe because they easily burn on the grill, even if soaked in water for a long period of time. They’re also not strong enough to support the weight of the steaks. Metal skewers, like these, will provide the stability and support needed for the steaks.
To ensure the steaks don’t become overcooked, insert a heat-proof, digital, instant-read thermometer into the thickest part of the largest steak before placing them on the grill. This will help you monitor the temperature throughout the grilling process.
Another way this recipe prevents overcooking the steaks is by searing them first and then cooking them to the desired temperature over indirect heat. Using a reverse sear method doesn’t work well for thinner cuts of beef like this because it’s difficult to control the cooking temperature when searing on a grill.
Don’t have a heat-proof thermometer that can stay in the steak while it’s cooking? Check the internal temperature of the largest piece of steak by inserting a regular, instant-read thermometer into the thickest part after it has been seared and cooking for 10 minutes. Check the temperature again every five minutes after that.
How To Grill Picanha Steaks
For this picanha steak recipe, first preheat the grill to 500°F, then add the skewered steaks. Sear them well on both sides over the high heat, and then turn off two of the burners. Move the steaks over to the side of the grill where the burners are turned off, and then close the grill lid. This creates a low-temperature oven, which will gently cook the steaks to their desired doneness, and help to render some of the marbling throughout the steak. Depending on how you like your steaks, the low and slow cooking can take anywhere from twenty minutes to forty minutes.
I prefer my steaks medium, but if you prefer your steak rare or more well done, follow the cooking chart below. I’ve found, however, that anything less than medium for this particular cut can be chewy because the marbled fat has not had a chance to break down during cooking.
|Desired Cook:||Goal Internal Temperature:||Remove From Grill at:|
|Rare:||125°F (52°C)||120°F (49°C)|
|Medium-rare:||135°F (57°C)||130°F (54°C)|
|Medium (recommended):||145°F (63°C)||140°F (60°C)|
|Medium-well:||150°F (66°C)||145°F (63°C)|
|Well done:||160°F (71°C)||155°F (68°C)|
Carryover cooking, where the heat inside the steak will continue to cook it even after it has been removed from the grill, will bring the steak up to the desired temperature.
Remove the steaks from the grill and let them rest for at least 10 minutes. During this time, the steaks can be brushed with compound butter or olive oil with garlic and herbs. Remove the steaks from the skewers and then slice them thin, against the grain, which will be in the opposite direction that the fibers in the meat are facing.
Serving Picanha Steak
Traditionally, picanha steak is served with cheese bread and sometimes polenta. Many also serve this with chimichurri sauce, as a nod to another favorite in Brazil, churrasco, which is a grilled skirt steak slathered in chimichurri.Print
Listen to me explain briefly about how to make this steak, with some great tips along the way, by clicking the play button below:
- 2 Tbsp. salt
- 2 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 (3 to 4 lb.) picanha beef roast (top sirloin cap)
- In a small bowl stir together salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Using a sharp knife, score the fat cap side of the roast with cross-hatch marks, about ½-inch wide and ¼-inch deep.
- Sprinkle half of the salt and pepper mixture evenly over the fat cap side of the roast. Rub salt mixture into the cross-hatched areas. Let stand one hour at room temperature.
- Cut the roast lengthwise into 1 and ½-inch thick steaks. Fold the steaks in half so they look like the letter “C,” with the fat cap side facing out. Slide two or three folded steaks onto a metal skewer, leaving about ½-inch between each steak.
- Season steaks all over with remaining salt and pepper mixture.
- Prepare gas grill and preheat to 500°F.
- Insert a digital thermometer into the thickest part of one of the steaks. Place steak skewers on grill.
- Sear both sides of steaks. Turn two of the burners off and move steaks to the side of the grill where the burners were turned off for indirect cooking.
- Close the grill lid, cook steaks over indirect heat until steaks reach an internal temperature of 135°F to 140°F, or until desired temperature is reached (see chart below).
- Remove steaks from grill. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
- Rare (not recommended): 125°F or 52°C (Remove from the grill at 120°F or 49°C.)
- Medium-rare (not recommended): 135°F or 57°C (Remove from the grill at 130°F or 54°C.)
- Medium: 145°F or 63°C (Remove from the grill at 140°F or 60°C.)
- Medium-well: 150°F or 66°C (Remove from the grill at 145°F or 63°C.)
- Well done: 160°F or 71°C (Remove from the grill at 155°F or 68°C.)