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What Is Picanha? Brazil’s “Queen of Steaks”

Picanha steak

Brazil is so obsessed with this cut of beef that it’s nicknamed it the “queen of steaks”. Let’s find out why.

What is picanha?

Picanha is cut from the back end of the cow, around the border of the sirloin and round primals. Specifically, it is the top most part of the sirloin and is cherished for its contrast: picanhas have a thick fat cap on one end and tender red meat on the other.

Because this muscle isn’t used as frequently during the cow’s life, it has less connective tissue. This creates a tender steak that takes nicely to high heat cooking.

While it is less common to see the word picanha in the United States, cows are cows, so you have just as much access to this incredible cut. In the States, most butchers cut the picanha roast down into smaller round and sirloin steaks, but when the roast is kept intact you’ll see it labeled as the sirloin cap, sirloin ball cap, or rump cap.

You may also see coulotte steak, which is similar but has some of the traditional fat cap trimmed.

What is so special about picanha?

In short, it is the perfect blend of what we all look for in a steak: tender, flavorful, and affordable. It has the tenderness of a ribeye and the flavor of a sirloin — all at a cheaper cost. Picanhas are getting more popular among steak enthusiasts, but it will likely be years before the demand gets out of control.

It’s also a versatile cut. You can roast it whole and slice it like a true rump roast, but you can also cook it traditional churrasco style by cutting into beautiful steaks with thick fat caps and grilling them on a skewer.

How to cook Picanha

Another benefit of picanha is how easy it is to cook. You have lots of options, and below are a few inspired by Pitmaster X.

Regardless of what method you choose, begin by removing any silver skin and any other tough bits. Brazilians traditionally skip brines in lieu of a heavy layer of pyramid or rock salt, but you could dry brine these overnight if you wanted to deepen the color.

1. Grill reverse sear

  • Get a grill ripping with a hot and indirect zone.
  • Score the fat cap to help with surface area and salt liberally with pyramid salt.
  • Place meat side down on the indirect zone until 120-125º.
  • Let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Finish on the high heat zone until a nice crust forms and the temperature gets 5-10º shy of your desired temp.

2. Traditional churrasco

  • Cut your whole picanha roast with the grain at first to create 4 “c-shaped” steaks (you can usually get 3-4 steaks per picanha – here’s a breakdown of how to cut them).
  • Put the thickest steaks in the middle of a skewer.
  • Salt the fat caps liberally using thick pyramid salt.
  • Get your grill ripping to 600+ degrees.
  • Place the skewers over the heat.
  • Keep rotating. If you notice a flare-up, move it.
  • If you aren’t getting a crust, up the heat.
  • Thinly slice off the meat that’s done to your hungry guests, and then put the remaining back on the skewer.
  • Repeat until the skewer is gone and you are happy.

3. Oven whole roast

  • Dry brine the roast in advance by salting liberally and placing it in the fridge overnight.
  • Get a cast iron ripping hop.
  • Sear the meat fat side down for 3-4 minutes.
  • Place in oven at 350º until 120-125º.
  • Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  • Carve into steaks against the grain and serve.

4. Stovetop skillet

  • Dry brine the roast in advance by salting liberally and placing it in the fridge overnight.
  • Put brined steaks on a cast iron on high heat fat side down.
  • Render the fat a bit and wait until a nice crust forms on the fat.
  • Place the steak meat-side down and get a good crust on both sides of the steak (1-2 minutes each side).
  • Turn temp down to medium.
  • Cook until five degrees below your desired temp. We like 130º for medium rare (around 3 minutes per side).

The best picanha recipes

There are so many ways to cook picanha, and here are a few of our favorite chefs showing you how to do it right!

1. Picanha from a Brazilian chef

When it comes to recipes, it’s usually best to go to the source. Here is a fantastic Brazilian chef on Delish’s channel showing you how to make picanha. Start here for a fantastic way to make picanha at home without a grill.

2. Picanha three ways from a PitMaster

Sometimes it’s easier to watch than read with recipes. This video from PitmasterX is a fantastic breakdown of a few popular methods to cook picanha and get a traditional churrasco experience at home.

3. Brazilian picanha steak

For skewered picanha just like the Brazilians do it, use this churrasco recipe from The Spruce Eats. Spruce Eats always do their research, and this is a wonderful breakdown of the traditional Brazilian BBQ experience.

4. Picanha steak sandwich

This recipe from Grill Nation BBQ shows you how to take advantage of pichana’s tenderness by cutting it thin and using it in a sandwich. If you’ve done a regular churrasco before and want to switch things up, try this one.

5. Brazilian churrasco

Why stop at picanha? Traditional churrascos serve up a flurry of seared meats on big skewers, delivered hot straight to tables. Here’s another Pitmaster X video showing you how to go beyond picanha and create a wonderful Brazilian BBQ at home.

Where can you buy picanha in the US?

While picanha is getting more popular, you still aren’t likely to find it on supermarket shelves. What you can do is ask your butcher for the sirloin cap with the thick fat cap intact. If they don’t know what that means, go to a different butcher!

Alternatively, you can go through a specialty meat producer that raises grass-fed and grass-finished beef. Companies like these prioritize taste and nutrition over profits and take pride in raising cattle the way nature intended. The taste and quality difference is huge.

See how good grass-fed sirloin top cap (picanha) really is.

Picanha FAQ

Is picanha a good cut of steak?

Absolutely. It’s Brazil’s favorite steak to BBQ, after all. Think of it like a sirloin with an extra fun fat layer.

What is a picanha steak equivalent to?

You can think of picanha like a coulotte steak or sirloin cap with a thicker fat cap. It’s tender and rich in flavor.

How do you ask a butcher for picanha?

Ask your butcher for a sirloin cap steak with the fat cap intact! If they know what they’re doing, that ask should be just fine. If they don’t, go somewhere else.

Is picanha more tender than ribeye?

That depends partly on execution, but ribeyes tend to be more forgiving and tender when bringing them up to medium, but picanha when the fat is seared and cooked correctly can hang out toe to toe.

What is picanha called in the USA?

You’ll see picanha labeled as sirloin ball cap, sirloin rump cap, sirloin cap, or coulotte (this will have the fat trimmed).

Is picanha steak chewy?

Only if it is cooked incorrectly! Picanha is wonderfully tender and flavorful, albeit a little less forgiving than ribeye.

Is picanha steak fatty?

Yes and no. The picanha does have a thick fat cap, but the meat itself is fairly lean. That fat tends to render and slip down over the rest of the cut.

Are you supposed to eat the fat on picanha?

Heck yeah! It’s soft, butter, and deliciously salted if you do it right. A little bit of that fat with the lean red meat on the other side is a dream.

Brazilians are right about picanha

Picanha is appropriately named the queen of steaks. It is tender, as flavorful as a sirloin, and has a wonderful, crackling contrast between its thick fat cap and tender red meat. You can cook this cut slow or fast, grill it on skewers or roast it whole. There’s a reason why enthusiasts have taken so strongly to this cut.

Get a picanha from cattle raised on the best grass in the world for your next BBQ.


Nathan PhelpsNathan Phelps

Nathan Phelps owns and writes for Crafted Copy, a boutique copywriting shop that finds the perfect words for interesting products. He is also an ethical foodie, outdoors-aficionado, and hails from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.