This undisputed hidden gem from your local butcher is a lean, yet incredibly well-marbled steak, with a distinct flavor-packed fat layer.
Picanha (pronounced, pee-KAHN-ya) – you may have seen it roasted over live fire and served in grand fashion, on swords, by the gaucho chefs of South American Churrascarias or in exclusive Brazilian steakhouses, such as Fogo de Chão.
After having intimately familiarized myself with this gorgeous slice of red meat Heaven, I’ll share with you my recommendations for both purchasing and preparing it so as to:
- Save you an arm and a leg as compared to those fancy-pants steakhouses.
- Equip you with the tools to grill like a (gaucho) boss.
Okay. On to the steak.
- The most critical aspect of preparing Picanha is buying the correct cut of beef. Often, tri-tip or sirloin steaks are confused with top sirloin cap steak. In Brazil, the most prized cut of meat is the rump cap. In the United States this best translates to the top sirloin cap, a cut located at the rear of a cow above the sirloin and adjacent to the tri-tip. You may need to find a local butcher because most grocery markets do not carry this cut.
- Prepared Picanha at your favorite Brazilian steakhouse costs in the range of $40 per person – without tax, tip, title, license, etc., etc. On the other hand, for three massive, 2-inch thick choice cuts of sirloin cap at my local butcher – $25 out the door! Dollar-for-dollar and bite-for-mouth-watering-bite, this cut offers the absolute best bang for your buck at the butcher! Estimated savings = 1 arm + 1 leg + vital organ.
- Unless you boast an arsenal of samurai swords and you’re well-practiced in skewering and barbequing large chunks of meat, I’d recommend preparing and serving this dish in individual portions. That said, the presentation is phenomenal when plated with skewers, a dash of Argentinian chimichurri and a large carving knife for your guests to hack away at their very own cut of Picanha.
4. My old man says it’s important to start with the end in mind. Mentally plot your way backwards through the recipe so your preparation and timing is perfect. Example: This recipe requires 70 minutes from beginning to end, but only 20-25 minutes is active. So, use the inactive time wisely – prepare the chimichurri, serve appetizers and drink Coronas. During the time allocated to resting the grilled Picanha, prepare serving plates and drink Negra Modelo. After serving the Picanha, drink Dos Equis.
5. Keep your hands on a brewksi and off the meat. Before: Rest the meat, covered, at room temperature at least 20 minutes prior to grilling – improving your ability to create a great exterior crust while cooking the beef to the desired internal temperature. During: Set it and forget it. Allow your TRU-Infrared grill to do what it does best, cook incredibly juicy meat! After: As you remove your steak from the grill give it another rest. A minor degree of patience before plating is a difference maker! As a rough guideline, for every inch of thickness rest your steak 3-5 minutes prior to slicing and serving.
Now, fire up your grill and ensure plenty of Picanha gets skewered – this fiesta is going to be muy impresionante! ¡Salud!
- 3 pounds top sirloin cap, sliced into 3-4 1 1/2-2" thick steaks, trimmed leaving 1/4" layer of top fat
- 1 small head of garlic, minced
- 2 cups sea salt
- Freshly ground peppercorn, to taste
- 1 teaspoon olive oil per pound of sirloin, plus additional for basting
- 2 skewers per steak (if wooden, soaked in water 30 minutes prior to grilling)
- Kitchen string, if necessary
- Remove the sirloin from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to grilling.
- Toss salt and minced garlic in a large bowl. Brush the steaks with oil, then dredge them with the seasoning, massaging into muscle fibers and fatty cap.
- Shape the steak by hand into a "c," with the fatty cap out. Wrap and tie the steak with kitchen string to maintain the "c." Then, skewer steaks (see photo below) and season with pepper to taste. Repeat for all steaks.
- Meanwhile, preheat the grill following 2-zone preparation directions in “notes section” below.
- Lay the skewered sirloin over direct heat of hottest grill grates, fatty cap-side down first, searing 3-5 minutes. Then turn the steaks and sear each side 2-3 minutes with the lid closed.
- Move the steaks to the cooler, indirectly heated grill grates or to the top shelf of grill.
- Roast with the lid closed until the desired internal temperature is achieved, rotating the steaks and turning them every 5-10 minutes using tongs, basting intermittently with oil.
- Grill to medium-rare internal temperature at 130°F. Grill to medium at 140°F.
- Remove the meat from the grill and let it rest 5-10 minutes on a cutting board loosely tented with foil. Slice the steak across the grain to plate.
- Season additionally to taste, top with 1-2 tablespoons chimichurri and serve.
2-Zone TRU-Infrared Grilling: Heat one side of the grill to high, leaving the other burner off. This method effectively creates one hot, direct heat zone and one cooler, indirect heat zone.
If using a 2-burner grill, heat the right side to hot and leave the left side off. If using a 3-burner grill, heat the far right side to hot, the middle to low-medium and the left side off. If using a 4-burner grill, heat the two right zones to high and leave the two left zones off. If using a 1-burner grill, use the warming shelf to remove the meat from direct contact with the grill grates.
Cook to temperature, not time. A high-quality digital-read internal temperature thermometer is a fool-proof tool to ensure your steaks are cooked appropriately.
Know the value of varied heating zones on your grill. This recipe uses both direct and indirect heat, a hot zone and a cool zone.
- 1 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
- 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh oregano, chopped
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, very finely sliced
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- 1/4 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- Sea salt and freshly ground peppercorn, to taste
- Combine the parsley, cilantro, oregano, garlic and shallot in a bowl.
- Add the oil, vinegar, lime juice, red pepper, and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly.
- Serve immediately at room temperature.