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How to Cook Picanha

How to Cook Picanha?

By David Burke

Picanha is a prime cut of beef that’s popular in Brazil and known for its succulent flavor, tenderness, and succulent fat cap. It is often the star of Brazilian barbecues, known as ‘churrascos.’ This cut of beef, also called the rump cap or sirloin cap, is characterized by its distinctive layer of fat that runs across the top, which renders down during cooking to baste the steak and imparts a delectable, rich flavor. Cooking picanha properly can elevate your dining experience, transporting you to the vibrant, culinary heart of Brazil.

How to Cook Picanha

With some practice, you can easily make this Brazilian specialty right in your kitchen and wow your guests with its delectable flavor! In this blog post we will share tips on selecting the best cut of picanha, plus step-by-step instructions for how to cook picanha. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about cooking picanha at home!

Mastering the correct cooking techniques is paramount when preparing picanha. Each cut of meat has its unique characteristics and responds differently to various cooking methods. Picanha, with its rich fat cap, requires specific techniques to unlock its full flavor potential.

Proper cooking techniques ensure an even heat distribution, promoting the rendering of the fat cap and enhancing the overall flavor. Moreover, they also guarantee the meat’s tenderness, making each bite a delightful experience. It’s not merely about cooking the picanha – it’s about honoring the cut by giving it the treatment it deserves. A well-cooked picanha is more than a meal; it’s an embodiment of Brazilian culinary tradition, a testament to the craft of cooking, and a true gastronomic pleasure.

Understanding Picanha

Origins and Popularity

Originating from Brazil, Picanha holds an esteemed place in the culinary selections of the country. It gained popularity due to the churrascarias (steakhouses) that are a significant part of Brazilian culture. Picanha is famously known for its magical transformation under the influence of open flame, which highlights its flavors and tenderness to the point of perfection.

Its popularity extends beyond the borders of Brazil, reaching global recognition. Today, many world-renowned chefs and food enthusiasts appreciate Picanha for its unique combination of taste, tenderness, and juiciness. Despite being lesser-known in some parts of the world, the cut has gained a cult-like following among steak aficionados. Its rise in popularity signifies a broader acceptance and appreciation of global food traditions. Whether cooked over an open grill or in a state-of-the-art kitchen, Picanha continues to win over palates worldwide.

Picanha’s Unique Flavor Profile

Picanha is renowned for its unique flavor profile, which sets it apart from other cuts of beef. This distinctiveness derives primarily from the robust fat cap that adorns the cut. This layer of fat not only ensures juiciness but also imparts a rich, buttery flavor to the meat when it renders down during cooking. Unlike other cuts, Picanha holds a delicate balance of lean meat and fat, delivering an exquisite melding of textures and flavors in every bite.

Understanding Picanha

The meat itself is subtly flavored, with mild beefy undertones that provide a perfect canvas for the richness of the fat. Its flavor is further enhanced when seasoned simply with coarse salt, allowing the meat’s natural flavors to take center stage. The result is a beautiful symphony of flavors – a combination of succulent, tender meat, and the rich, savory fat cap.

In essence, Picanha’s unique flavor profile is a testament to the beauty of simplicity in culinary art. It showcases how, with the right cut and cooking technique, simplicity can yield a gastronomic delight that is deeply satisfying and universally appreciated.

Read more: how to cook braising steak?

Tools Needed for Cooking Picanha

Cookware and Utensils

To cook Picanha to perfection, certain cookware and utensils are necessary. Here’s a rundown of what you’ll need:

  1. Sharp Knife: A good-quality sharp knife is crucial for trimming any excess fat and shaping the meat if needed. It’s also essential for slicing the cooked Picanha against the grain to ensure it’s tender and easy to chew.
  2. Meat Thermometer: A reliable meat thermometer is a must-have to ensure your Picanha is cooked to your desired level of doneness. Inserting the probe into the thickest part of the meat will give you an accurate reading.
  3. Tongs: A pair of tongs come in handy for flipping the steak during cooking and for serving it once it’s done.
  4. Cutting Board: A good, sturdy cutting board is necessary for cutting and serving the Picanha. Opt for a large one that can comfortably accommodate the size of the cut.
  5. Coarse Salt for Seasoning: Coarse salt is the traditional seasoning for Picanha. It enhances the meat’s natural flavors without overpowering them.

Understanding the necessary tools and preparing them in advance will make the cooking process smoother and ensure you get the best possible results from your Picanha.

Choosing the Right Grill/Oven/Pan

I will reveal in advance that this article will show you three ways to cook picanha, including grilling, searing in a pan and roasting in the oven. So in this part I will guide you to prepare one of those three things (grill/pan/oven). Here’s what you need to consider for each option:


A charcoal grill is the traditional method of cooking picanha and delivers an unmatched, smoky flavor that enhances the beef’s natural taste. Choose a grill that allows you to control temperature and airflow, as both are critical for proper cooking. A grill with a lid is preferable, as it helps to retain heat and cook the meat evenly.


If you’re cooking picanha in an oven, choose a convection oven for best results. Convection ovens provide even heat distribution, which is vital in ensuring the picanha cooks evenly and the fat cap renders down properly. It’s also essential to preheat your oven to the right temperature before cooking, as a consistent temperature is key to achieving a succulent, tender picanha.


When choosing a pan, a cast-iron skillet is the best choice for cooking picanha. Thanks to its excellent heat retention and even heating, cast iron delivers a perfect sear and helps to render the fat cap effectively. Make sure the skillet is large enough to comfortably hold the picanha without crowding, as this ensures proper heat circulation and optimal cooking.

Choosing the right tool for the job can make a difference between an average meal and a culinary masterpiece. Whether you opt for the smoky flavor of the grill or the controlled environment of the oven or the hard sear from a pan, the secret to a delicious picanha lies in mastering heat control and paying attention to detail.

Preparing Picanha

Selecting High-Quality Picanha

Your culinary journey with Picanha begins at the butchery or meat section of your local market. Selecting a high-quality cut is paramount to achieving that perfect balance of flavor and tenderness. Here are some tips to help you choose the best Picanha:

Preparing Picanha

  1. Look for a Thick Fat Cap: The fat cap gives Picanha its distinct flavor. Ensure it is thick and evenly distributed across the entire cut. An ideal Picanha has a fat cap of about 1.5 cm.
  2. Check the Meat Color: The meat should have a vibrant, rich red color. Pale or dark-colored meat may indicate it’s not fresh.
  3. Weigh It: Picanha is a small and triangular cut, usually weighing between 2 to 3 pounds. If it’s significantly larger, it may include parts of other cuts.
  4. Marbling: Check for good marbling – streaks of fat interspersed with the muscle. This ensures that the meat remains juicy and flavorful when cooked.
  5. Ask for the Whole Cut: If possible, ask for the whole Picanha. Cutting it into steaks at home allows you to control the thickness and size of each piece.

Remember, the quality of your Picanha significantly influences its flavor, so it’s worth the time and effort to select the best possible cut.

Seasoning Techniques for Picanha

Picanha is a premium cut of beef that is highly prized for its rich flavor and tenderness. To truly bring out the best in this delicious cut, it is important to apply the right seasoning techniques. There are a variety of different approaches to seasoning picanha, but here are some tips and facts to help you achieve the perfect flavor.

1. Traditional Brazilian Seasoning (Recommend for ease and availability)

Picanha is a staple in Brazilian cuisine, and one of the most popular ways to prepare it is with a simple seasoning of sea salt and black pepper. This allows the natural flavor of the beef to shine through, while still imparting a savory depth. To achieve the best result, it’s important to generously season the entire surface of the meat with salt and pepper, including the fat cap.

2. Garlic Butter Seasoning

Another popular seasoning option is to create a garlic butter mixture to coat the meat. This adds a rich, buttery flavor to the picanha, while also helping to keep it juicy and tender during cooking. To make garlic butter seasoning, simply mix melted butter with minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Brush the mixture over the entire surface of the meat, and let it sit for at least 30 minutes before grilling.

3. Chimichurri Seasoning

Chimichurri is a classic South American sauce that is perfect for adding a fresh, herbaceous flavor to picanha. To make chimichurri seasoning, blend together parsley, cilantro, oregano, garlic, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper until you have a smooth sauce. Coat the picanha with the seasoning mixture, and let it marinate for at least an hour before grilling.

4. Wine and Herb Seasoning

For a more complex flavor profile, try marinating the picanha in a mixture of red wine, herbs, and spices. This combination adds a deep, rich flavor to the meat, and also helps to tenderize it. To make wine and herb seasoning, mix together red wine, chopped fresh herbs (such as rosemary, thyme, and sage), garlic, salt, and black pepper. Let the picanha marinate in the mixture for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

No matter which seasoning technique you choose, taking the time to prepare your picanha properly will elevate your grilled meat to a truly gourmet level. With these tips and facts, you can impress your guests with the perfect, flavorful picanha every time.

How to Cook Picanha?

Find Your Desired Degree of Doneness

To know when a piece of meat has reached the desired level of doneness, you need to know what the internal temperature of that piece of meat is (and you can’t ignore a meat thermometer, which helps us determine that . The following are the doneness levels and their temperatures:

  • Rare: 125°F
  • Medium-rare: 135°F
  • Medium: 145°F
  • Medium-well: 150°F
  • Well-done: 160°F

Grilling Picanha

Grilling is one of the most popular methods of cooking picanha, and it’s relatively straightforward. Here’s how you can do it:

1. Preheat the Grill: Start by preheating your grill to high heat, typically around 450-500 degrees Fahrenheit. A high temperature is essential to sear the outside of the meat, creating a flavorful crust.

2. Score the Fat Cap: Before starting, it is important to have a sharp knife and a cutting board. Begin by placing the picanha fat side up on the cutting board. Using a sharp knife, score the fat in a crosshatch pattern, being careful not to cut too deeply into the meat. This will allow the fat to render and the meat to cook evenly.

3. Season the Fat Cap: Season the fat cap with salt, pepper, and any other desired seasonings.

4. Cut the Meat: Cut the picanha into steaks of desired thickness, typically around 1 inches. Then season both sides.

Grilling Picanha

5. Sear the Fat Side: Once your grill is hot, place the picanha on the grates, fat side down. This will allow the fat to render and create a crispy, flavorful crust. Sear the fat side for about 5-7 minutes, or until it’s nicely browned.

6. Flip and Cook: Flip the picanha and continue grilling for another 3-5 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches your desired level of doneness. For medium-rare, aim for an internal temperature of 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit.

7. Rest and Slice: After grilling, let the picanha rest for about 10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, resulting in a moister, more flavorful steak. When it’s time to slice, always cut against the grain for the most tender bites.

Remember, grilling picanha is more art than science, so don’t be afraid to adjust cooking times based on your specific grill and the size of your picanha. With a little practice, you’ll be grilling perfect picanha in no time.

Oven Roasting Picanha

Oven roasting is an excellent method to cook Picanha, especially when you want to achieve a consistent interior temperature with a well-browned crust. Here’s a step-by-step guide for oven roasting your Picanha:

1. Preheat the Oven: Start by preheating your oven to a high temperature, around 400-425 degrees Fahrenheit. A high temperature is essential for creating a flavorful, browned crust on the outside of the meat.

2. Prep the Meat: Season the picanha as desired, following any of the seasoning techniques mentioned above. If you prefer, you can also sear the meat in a hot pan with a bit of oil for a few minutes on each side before putting it in the oven. This will help the meat develop a beautiful, flavorful crust.

3. Roast in the Oven: Place the Picanha on a rack in a roasting pan, fat side up. This will allow the fat to render down into the meat while it cooks, keeping it juicy and adding more flavor. Roast the meat in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches your preferred doneness.

4. Rest and Slice: Like with grilling, let the meat rest for a good 10-15 minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute throughout the meat, and it will keep your slices juicy and flavorful. Always remember to slice against the grain for the most tender bites.

Oven roasting Picanha might take a bit longer than grilling, but the result is a perfectly cooked, juicy and flavorful piece of meat that you and your guests will love.

Pan-Seared Picanha

Pan-searing is a fantastic method for cooking picanha, achieving a crispy exterior while maintaining a juicy, tender interior. Here’s a step-by-step guide for pan-searing your picanha:

1. Preheat the Pan: Start by preheating a heavy-based pan over medium-high heat. You’ll want the pan to be hot but not smoking.

2. Season the Meat: If you haven’t already, season the picanha using one of the seasoning methods described above. Remember, whether you’re using a simple salt and pepper rub or an intricate wine and herb marinade, ensuring the meat is well-seasoned is key to a flavorful picanha.

3. Sear the Picanha: Add a small amount of oil to the pan, then place the picanha in the pan, fat side down. Searing the fat side first allows it to render, infusing the meat with its flavor. Cook on this side for around 5-7 minutes, until the fat is nicely browned and crispy.

4. Flip and Continue Cooking: Flip the picanha and continue cooking for another 3-5 minutes per side, checking the internal temperature to reach your preferred level of doneness. For a medium-rare picanha, aim for an internal temperature of around 130-135 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Rest and Slice: Once seared to perfection, remove the picanha from the pan and let it rest for about 10 minutes before slicing. This rest period lets the juices redistribute, resulting in a moister and more flavorful steak. Remember to always slice against the grain for the most tender bites.

Mastering pan-seared picanha might require a few tries, but once you do, you’ll be rewarded with a beautifully cooked steak that’s sure to impress.

Read more: how to cook steak in the oven without searing?

Serving Suggestions

Picanha pairs beautifully with a variety of sides, enhancing its rich, meaty flavor. Below are some suggestions that will complement your well-cooked picanha:

1. Grilled Vegetables: Grilled vegetables such as asparagus, bell peppers, and zucchini add a delightful charred flavor that matches the picanha’s grilled crust. They also bring a splash of color to your plate, making the dish visually appealing.

2. Roasted Potatoes: For a hearty, comforting option, serve your picanha with roast potatoes. Their crispy exterior and fluffy interior are a perfect contrast to the juicy picanha.

3. Salad: For a lighter accompaniment, a fresh salad with a tangy vinaigrette can balance out the richness of the picanha. A simple green salad, or something more elaborate like a tomato and mozzarella Caprese salad would work well.

4. Beans and Rice: For a traditional Brazilian meal, serve your picanha with beans and rice. The beans bring a creamy texture, while the rice adds a neutral base to highlight the flavors of the meat.

6. Bread: A piece of crusty bread is perfect for mopping up the delicious juices from your picanha. Try a warm baguette or some Brazilian cheese bread for a cultural twist.

Remember, the best side dishes should complement the main dish, not overpower it. Choose sides that will enhance the flavors of the picanha, and your meal will be a hit every time.


What is Picanha?

Picanha is a cut of beef, particularly popular in Brazil, that is known for its rich flavor and tender texture. It’s taken from the rump cap muscle of the cow and is often served in Brazilian steakhouses, known as churrascarias.

How do I choose a good piece of Picanha?

When choosing Picanha, look for a piece with a thick layer of fat on one side. This fat contributes to the meat’s flavor and will help keep it juicy while cooking.

How should I season Picanha?

Picanha is traditionally seasoned with just coarse salt. The simplicity of the seasoning allows the flavor of the beef to shine through.

What is the recommended cooking method for Picanha?

Grilling is the most traditional method for cooking Picanha. This allows the fat to render and gives the meat a nice, smoky flavor.

How long should I cook Picanha?

Cook times vary depending on the method and desired doneness, but as a guideline, you should grill Picanha for around 10-15 minutes on each side for medium-rare.

What should I serve with Picanha?

Picanha pairs well with traditional Brazilian sides like rice, beans, farofa (toasted cassava flour), and vinaigrette salsa.

Can I cook Picanha in the oven?

Yes, Picanha can be roasted in the oven as well. However, this method may not provide the same smoky flavor as grilling.

How can I ensure my Picanha is tender?

To ensure that your Picanha is tender, it’s important not to overcook it. A meat thermometer can help gauge when the meat is cooked to your desired level of doneness.

Can I reheat leftover Picanha?

Yes, you can reheat Picanha, but keep in mind that reheating can make the meat drier. It’s best to reheat it slowly at a low temperature to maintain as much moisture as possible.

How do I cut Picanha?

When cutting Picanha, it’s crucial to slice it against the grain. This means cutting perpendicular to the direction of the muscle fibers, resulting in a more tender piece of meat. Usually, Picanha is cut into thick steaks for grilling.

Can Picanha be marinated?

While Picanha is traditionally seasoned with just coarse salt, marinating is also an option. A simple marinade of garlic, olive oil, salt, and pepper can add depth to the flavor.

What wine pairs well with Picanha?

A full-bodied red wine, such as a Malbec or Cabernet Sauvignon, pairs well with Picanha. These wines have the depth of flavor to complement the richly flavored beef.

Can I use Picanha for a roast?

Yes, Picanha can be used for a roast. Cooking it whole with the fat cap on top allows the fat to render down and baste the meat as it cooks, keeping it juicy and flavorful.

Is Picanha the same as rump roast?

While Picanha comes from the rump section of the cow, it is not the same as what is typically referred to as a rump roast in the U.S. Picanha is the rump cap muscle, specifically, and is known for its flavor and tenderness.

Can I freeze Picanha?

Yes, Picanha can be frozen. It’s recommended to freeze it in a vacuum-sealed bag to preserve its quality. When you’re ready to cook it, thaw it in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.

How should I store leftover Picanha?

Leftovers should be stored in an airtight container and refrigerated within two hours of cooking. They’ll keep for 3-4 days in the fridge.

Can I cook Picanha in a pan?

Yes, Picanha can be pan-seared for a quick and easy cooking method. Just be sure to use a heavy-duty pan that can retain heat well, such as a cast-iron skillet.

What’s the best way to serve Picanha?

Picanha is best served sliced thin and against the grain. This makes the meat even more tender. Serve it with traditional Brazilian sides for an authentic experience.

Is Picanha a lean meat?

Picanha is a flavorful cut that is moderately lean. However, it’s also topped with a thick fat cap, which enhances the flavor and juiciness when cooked.

How do I know when my Picanha is done?

Using a meat thermometer is the best way to determine the doneness of your Picanha. For medium-rare, aim for an internal temperature of around 130-135°F.

What are some alternatives to Picanha?

If you can’t find Picanha, some good alternatives include tri-tip or sirloin cap roasts. These cuts, while not identical, can offer a similar texture and flavor profile.

Can I grill Picanha on a charcoal grill?

Definitely! Grilling Picanha over charcoal can add a wonderful smoky flavor to the meat. Just be aware that cooking over charcoal can be a bit trickier to control in terms of temperature, so keep a close eye on it.

Can Picanha be used in a stew?

While Picanha is traditionally grilled, it can also be used in a stew. The cut’s natural tenderness and flavor make it a good choice for slow-cooked dishes.

What’s the Portuguese pronunciation of Picanha?

In Portuguese, Picanha is pronounced as ‘pee-KAHN-ya’.

Can I make Picanha without a grill?

Absolutely! While grilling is the traditional method, Picanha can be cooked using various techniques such as roasting in the oven, pan-searing, or even slow cooking for stews. Regardless of the method, the key is to avoid overcooking and to ensure the fat cap is well-rendered to impart flavor and juiciness.

Does Picanha need to be tenderized?

Picanha is known for its natural tenderness, so it does not require any additional tenderizing. The best way to retain its tenderness is to cook it properly and to slice against the grain once cooked.

What makes Picanha unique?

Picanha is unique for its characteristic layer of fat cap on one side, which, when rendered during cooking, contributes to the cut’s juicy and flavorful profile. Additionally, its relative rarity outside of Brazilian cuisine gives it an exotic appeal.

Is Picanha expensive?

The price of Picanha can vary depending on the region and the quality of the beef. While it’s generally more affordable than cuts like filet mignon or ribeye, Picanha is highly valued for its flavor and tenderness, which can influence its cost.


Congratulations! You have learned the secret of cooking delicious picanha, and all it takes is a few simple ingredients and techniques. With this newfound knowledge, you can dazzle your family, friends, and guests with this mouthwatering steak. All the while, it does not take much time or complex recipes to prepare. Moreover, the finished product will undoubtedly be appease every palate.

So why not delve into some South American cuisine at home? Don’t forget to add a few typical sides to accompany such as fried bananas or mashed potatoes. Enjoy every bite of your picanha! Come come everyone – let’s give a hearty round of appreciation for all our readers for joining us on this culinary journey!

We hope you enjoyed learning about how to cook picanha like a pro and eventually reach the status of a master chef. Until we meet again in our next blog post cheers and bon appétit! For more useful information about cookware and kitchens, visit my website!

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