What is Picanha? The Ultimate Guide
In today's article, "What is Picanha" you will learn literally everything you need to know to buy, cook, and enjoy this absolute gem of a beef cut.
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Clickable Table of Contents
What is Picanha?
Origins of Picanha
What is Picanha in English?
Picanha Near Me: is it easy to find?
What does Picanha Look Like?
What does Picanha Taste Like?
How to Buy Picanha?
Where to Buy Picanha?
How to Cook Picanha?
Easy Chimichurri Sauce
Easy Picanha Steak Recipe
What is Picanha?
Picanha or Coulotte is an extremely flavorful cut of beef from the upper portion of the cattle’s rump area, specifically the biceps femoris muscle. Picanha roast is easily spotted due to its unique triangular shape, lean red muscle meat, and generous buttery fat cap. Picanha is sold as a full roast or cut into individual steaks.
Diagram: Picanha comes from the Rump which is at the back, over the tail area
Traditional Picanha steaks are unique in that they are cut by a butcher from the roast with the grain where all over steaks are cut against the grain.
In Brazil, where the cut originates and is most popular, Picanha is prepared on a skewer known as Churrasco de Picanha. Brazilians refer to this cut as “The Queen of Steaks”.
Origins of Picanha
The name appears to come from the word "Picana", which is a long pole used by cattle farmers in Spain and Portugal.
With the colonization of Brazil by Portugal and South America by Spain in the 1500s, it appears the cut and name stuck and were used by the Gauchos of Brazil to describe the cut we now call “Picanha”.
The cut remains extremely popular in Argentina and Brazil to this day where Picanha is considered an affordable beef cut without sacrificing any taste or quality.
Most prepare the Picanha churrasco-style, a barbecue method native to the region which is simply the roast cut into steaks (with the grain) and skewered, then cooked on charcoal and served with nothing but rock salt.
Today, Picanha is still among the most well-known Brazilian dishes. In our opinion, the best side dishes to serve with picanha come from Brazil also!
With the advent of Social media in particular and the popularity of specialist craft butcher shops in North America and Europe, Picanha has grown in popularity with carnivorous foodies looking to try this delicious cut of beef. However, it is unlikely you will see it in mainstream grocery stores in the US still as the fat cap is trimmed and the rump butchered to make top sirloin steaks.
What is Picanha in English?
Picanha (pronounced as pee-can-yuh) is the Portuguese word for rump steak.
Many English-speaking butchers categorize this wonderful cut as:
Top Sirloin Cap
Rump Cap Steak
Therefore, if you are lucky enough to find it being sold, you will most likely see the cut labeled as these instead of Picanha at your local butchers or meat markets in Australia, New Zealand, UK, US, and Canada so we will use the names interchangeably in this article.
Picanha Near Me: Is it easy to find?
The beef cut is still a niche cut so not as common in the United States grocery stores which are still dominated by Tenderloin, Ribeye Steak, NY Strips, Filet Mignon, and Ground Beef. If you live in the US, your best bets are craft butchers, online butchers, and Brazilian butcher shops or a Brazilian steak house.
However, we have seen a significant increase in sales thanks to the nation’s Brazilian communities.
Several churrascarias (Brazilian steak houses), including several rodizio restaurants with all-you-can-eat options, are found in major cities like Boston, Miami, and New York City.
Because Brazilians love their beef, most high population of Brazilian communities will have their own butcher shop where you can buy Picanha Roast or Picanha Steaks.
France also utilizes upper rump cuts of beef in its national cuisine. The meat is typically called beef culotte, though it is the same cut as Brazilian Picanha.
Australia, New Zealand, and the UK love their Rump Steak which is the very same as Picanha Steak with one small (but important) difference… i.e. Butchers in these countries tend to cut the steaks ‘across the grain’ whereas the traditional Brazilian way is to serve Picanha Steaks cut ‘with the grain’.
No matter where you live if you jump on the internet to start your search for this elusive steak, it is best to use your local name for Picanha so search under Coulotte, Rump Cap, Rump Cap Steak, Sirloin Cap, or Top Sirloin Cap and you should get better results.
What does Picanha look like?
Picanha roasts have a unique low profile, triangular-shaped with an unmistakable fat cap.
The meat of the Rump Cap itself boasts a deep red hue. It is very lean with very little moisture that is balanced by the cut's noteworthy fat cap.
The top cap of Picanha is covered in a thick layer of fat, which results in this cut being one of the most tasty and juicy steaks you can find.
You can trim the fat if desired, although we recommend leaving it on at least when cooking the steaks for additional flavor.
Traditional Picanha steaks have a distinct crescent-moon shape showing lovely contrast between the dark red meat and thick fat cap.
You will also note on the steaks, the grain of the muscle (biceps femoris) runs lengthwise from end to end. This makes Coulotte / Picanha steaks unique amongst all other steaks.
What does Picanha taste like?
You will never look back after taking one bite of a Picanha steak.
The lean meat part of the cut is packed with beefy flavor and umami notes and the fat cap is buttery heaven.
Sometimes too much fat can ruin a steak’s quality; however, that is not the case with Picanha.
The outer fat cap, which has a unique butter-like taste, melts in your mouth when cooked. The rich fat cap flavor pairs exceptionally well with the lean meat’s clean flavors.
Serve your steaks with a side of farofa, a blend of toasted cassava or cornflower, bacon, diced onions, garlic, chimichurri seasoning, and fresh parsley. Dipping your Picanha in this traditional Brazilian side dish makes for an out-of-this-world bite.
We love serving Picanha the simplest and traditional way with a generous sprinkle of course sea salt.
How to buy Picanha?
You can purchase Picanha in a few different ways:
- Picanha Roast – larger beef cut that can be cooked whole on the grill, barbeque, or in a roasting pan in the oven.
- Picanha Steaks – individual, pre-cut steaks that taste delicious when grilled, pan-fried, or churrasco-style on a skewer over the hot charcoal of a barbeque.
Ask your butcher to leave at least half an inch of the fat cap to ensure it has an optimal flavor when cooked and ask for all silverskin to be removed from the underside.
How to buy Picanha Roast
You want a size no bigger than 2 and a half pounds that is free of silverskin on the underside with a uniform thickness of fat (about 1” is ideal).
The larger the roast gets after this 2.5 lbs weight, the roast flavor starts to get lost.
If you are a Picanha Roast connoisseur, you also need to look for roasts with just two major veins running through the cut. These can be clearly seen on the underside.
A roast with three veins is not considered a true Picanha Roast by the purists.
How to buy Picanha Steaks
You want to see steaks cut to an inch or one and a half inches thick 1” to 1.5” (2.5 cm. to 3.8 cm.), with a clearly defined and generous fat cap.
Next, you want to ensure the butcher has cut the Picanha / Coulotte steaks with the grain.
Some United States-based meat markets separate the beef into smaller cuts to produce the rump, round, and loin. The fat cap, which is undoubtedly the best part of Picanha, is often removed in the process. Thus, we suggest looking for butchers that sell authentic Picanha roasts or steaks.
Where to buy Picanha?
Depending on where you live, it may be challenging to find Picanha in the United States. Most craft butcher shops sell it as beef rump cap, coulotte, or sirloin cap.
A good bet is to head to a predominantly Brazilian area and you might find a Brazilian Butcher shop where they will definitely stock Picanha.
You can also score tasty Picanha / Coulotte steaks from online butchers like TruBeef Organic. All our beef products are Certified Organic, Verified as Grass-Fed & Grass-Finished, Pasture-Raised, GAP Animal Welfare Certified and Non-GMO Project Verified. Our Organic Grass-Fed Picanha / Coulotte steaks are outrageously tasty!
How to cook Picanha?
You can utilize many cooking techniques such as Sous Vide, Oven, Barbeque (Grill), Cast Iron Pan, or Smoker to whip up a mean Picanha Roast or Picanha Steak.
Ask any Brazilian and they will tell you: No matter if it's a Roast or Picanha Steaks, you always start and finish with good quality sea salt.
You will want to season your steaks with a nice coating of mineral-rich sea salt to create a charred, crust effect. Salt reigns supreme over other steak seasonings so we also recommend checking out a specialty food store to get your hands on Brazilian sea salt, the ideal and traditional seasoning for cooking Picanha.
If you bought a full Picanha Roast and want to make steaks, make sure you slice “with the grain” of the meat fibers for a traditional cut and appearance.
If you bought a 100% Grass-Fed Picanha, it is important you understand it will cook 30% quicker so we advised learning how to cook grass-fed steaks the right way.
PRO TIP: If cooking a full Picanha Roast, score the fat cap of your Picanha. Cut down about half an inch into the fat cap, creating a diamond or cross-hatch pattern. Scoring the fat cap, while not necessary, allows the fat to infuse the rest of the meat, which results in a juicier and more flavorful steak.
Grilled Picanha on the Barbeque
Few things taste better than grilled Picanha and this is the method of choice in Brazil also.
Curl of the steaks and press on long skewers for a traditional churrasco style then lay flat over a charcoal grill on indirect heat.
Flip every 3 minutes and use a meat thermometer to ensure you hit your ideal target temperature and doneness.
In our opinion, Picanha Roast or Steak is best served Medium Rare so we aim for a target temperature of 132 °F (55 °C) then let rest for 8 mins. before serving.
If you are grilling the whole roast on the grill, start the fat side down to slowly render the beautiful fat cap.
You can cook your Coulotte Steaks on gas barbecues, though it will have less of a smoky flavor.
Wood-fired grills work wonders when making Picanha and produce similar results as traditional Brazilian churrasco.
Pan Frying Picanha
If pan-frying Picanha, we suggest using a cast iron pan and using either butter, ghee, or tallow.
Always start with the fat side so use kitchen tongs to hold the steak's fat cap down on the pan for 2 to 3 minutes to allow the fat to render.
Keep turning the steaks every 2 minutes until you hit a target temperature with a meat thermometer of 132 °F (55 °C) then let the steak rest for 5 mins. before serving.
Add fresh herbs like parsley to the pan at the end to brighten the presentation of the steak. Without a doubt, cast-iron pans work best to make Picanha steaks.
Sous Vide Picanha
Let's assume you want to sous vide an entire roast although you can indeed sous vide Picanha steaks no problem.
- Take out your Picanha at least 2 hours before sous-vide.
- Seal your Picanha / Coulotte into the vacuum bags and seal.
- Fill your sous-vide container with enough water to cover the Picanha then submerge the sealed meat.
- Set your sous vide immersion circulator to 130 °F (54 °C) irrespective of whether you are sous-vide a Picanha Steak or roast.
- Sous-vide the steaks for 2.5 hours. Sous-vide Picanha Roast for 4 hours.
- Remove the steaks or roast when time is up then use kitchen paper to dry the entire surface of the meat and fat - this is vital for the perfect sear / crust afterward.
- Sprinkle it with sea salt and you are ready for the grill or cast iron pan for searing on both sides plus the fat cap.
Picanha in the Oven
You can cook Picanha in the oven perfectly, especially the roast, or use the oven as part of a reverse rear on the steaks.
Cooking Picanha Roast in the Oven.
- Preheat the oven to 400 °F (204 °C)
- While the oven is preheating, score across the fat cap of the roast with a sharp knife and about half an inch deep. Repeat every 1 inch or so then go in the opposite direction for a cross-hatch effect.
- Pat fry the entire Picanha Roast with a paper towel to remove all moisture.
- Season generously with sea salt or kosher salt.
- Place the Picanha Roast in a roasting tray and reduce the heat to 320 °F (160 °C).
- Cover the roast in aluminum foil to protect the fat cap during this stage.
- Roast at this temp until you hit a target internal temperature of 108 °F (43 °C) as measured by a meat thermometer.
- Now whack the heat of the oven up to 450 °F (232 °C) to quickly render the fat and crisp it up.
- Ideally, you want to take the Coulotte roast out when you A.) Hit an internal temperature of 128 °F and B.) The fat is golden brown and rendered nicely.
- Take out of the oven, and cover in aluminum foil for 8 mins. then slice and serve with nothing but salt!
- Slicing Picanha Reminder - always slice the steaks from the roast going with the grain.
Easy Chimichurri Sauce
If you are used to having some kind of sauce with your steak, when your Picanha roast is in the oven whip up a nice homemade Argentine Classic i.e. Chimichurri seasoning, which consists of:
- 1 cup of red wine vinegar
- 1 cup of good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 4 fresh garlic cloves finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon of sea salt or kosher salt
- 1 handful of fresh parsley
- 1 handful of fresh cilantro
- 1 tablespoon of dried oregano
Whizz these ingredients up in a food processor and you have a delightful South American fusion of Argentine Chimichurri and Brazilian Picanha!
Easy To Make Picanha: Simple Steak Recipe
As we mentioned above, there are several different ways to make Picanha. Below is a straightforward step-by-step recipe for grilling the famous Brazilian steak to perfection. We are sure it will be a hit at your next summer barbecue!
- Two Picanha Steaks aka Coulotte Steaks or Rump Cap Steaks.
- Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
- Pat dry the Rump Cap / Coulotte Steaks with a paper towel. Allow the Picanha to rest for thirty minutes at room temperature before grilling.
- If desired, score the fat cap to create a diamond shape by cutting it halfway with a sharp knife.
- Season your steak generously with kosher or sea salt.
- Preheat your gas grill on the highest setting. If using a charcoal grill, keep the hot coals on one side.
- Sear both sides of the steak for 1 to 2 minutes. Place your Picanha Steaks on the hottest part of the charcoal grill for best results.
- Reduce heat and cook the steaks for 9 to 13 minutes, flipping at the halfway mark. Double-check that your steak is medium-rare with the help of a meat thermometer. You should aim to reach an internal temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Let the steaks rest for at least five minutes before serving. We suggest covering the meat with aluminum foil during this process.
Nutrition Facts for Picanha
Picanha is not only tasty but healthy too!
Here are the key nutrition facts for Picanha per 100g
- 250 calories per 100g
- 16.7 g of Fat
- 6.3 g Saturated Fat
- 104mg Sodium
- 0g Carbohydrates
- 27.1g Protein
- 400 mg Potassium (15% RDA)
- Iron (24% RDA)
Picanha / Coulotte is ideal for those on a Keto, Paleo, or Carnivore Diet due to its significant fat which will provide much-needed fuel throughout the day.
Q: Is Picanha meat tough?
A: Picanha / Coulotte will only become tough when overcooked.
Q: What is the ideal doneness for Picanha?
A: Medium Rare to Medium is by far the best doneness to enjoy Picanha.
Q: Can I cook Picanha steaks from frozen?
A: Yes you can cook from frozen. We recommend you start in the oven at 150 °F then take out when internal temperature hits 110 °F then sear on the pan to finish.
Q: Is Picanha steak tender?
A: Picanha / Coulotte steak is tender once not overcooked. Always aim for medium-rare to medium doneness.
Q: How do I cut Picanha steaks from the roast?
A: Always cut the Picanha steaks “with the grain” so the grain runs the length of the steak.
Q: What is the best salt for Picanha?
A: Sea Salt is the traditional seasoning of choice in Brazil and we agree! Our favorite sea salt is Maldon Sea Salt.
Q: Is Picanha Expensive to buy?
A: Picanha is always cheaper than the popular cuts like Filet Mignon, Ribeye, or NY Strip.
Q: Is Picanha good?
A: You better believe it! Picanha / Coulotte is an incredibly tasty steak. Brazilians call it Picanha “The Queen of Steak” for a reason.Given a choice of Picanha vs. Ribeye, we wouod pick the Picanha steak everytime!
Q: Is Picanha Healthy?
A: Picanha / Coulotte is a very healthy cut. If you are on a keto/paleo/carnivore diet, the fat cap is a tremendous source of animal-based saturated fat for fuel. On the other hand, if you are on a low-fat diet, simply trim the fat off the side with a knife and you have an extremely lean sirloin steak.
- Revered in Brazil, Picanha is a superb beef cut known as “The Queen of Steak”
- Traditionally served from a skewer i.e. churrasco-style.
- Picanha is the entire biceps femoris muscle with its fat cap still intact.
- Picanha is also known as Rump Cap, Sirloin Cap, Coulotte, and Top Sirloin Cap.
- Coulotte Roast is easy to spot due to its unique triangular shape.
- Rump Steak is a popular steak in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.
- The best size roast to buy is about 2.5 lbs.
- Check the underside of the roast when buying. Ideally, you want to only see 2 veins and not three.
- Sea Salt is the traditional seasoning for Picanha in Brazil and at Brazilian Barbeque restaurants.
- Picanha / Coulotte can be sous-vide, cooked in an oven, pan-fried, or on the grill with charcoal.
At TruBeef, we have just launched our very own Organic Grass-Fed Picanha Steaks which are 12 oz. of incredible robust flavor. Order online and we will deliver using 2-Day Ground with UPS in our eco-friendly insulated box with dry ice.