Picanha: Brazil's most-prized cut of beef June 27, 2014

Picanha (pronounced pee-KAHN-ya) is the cut of meat most synonymous with Brazil.  Popularized by the gaucho grilling culture prevalent in the southern Brazil grasslands, picanha has achieved international fame for its taste and texture and is served at Brazilian churrascarias all over the world.  Specifically, picanha is a cut of meat from the rump cap of a top sirloin and contains a sizeable layer of fat on top.  Many butchers outside of South America are not familiar with this cut; so your best bet is to obtain it from a Brazilian or Argentine meat shop (in Spanish, it is sometimes referred to as culote.)  If you ask for it from your local butcher, specifically ask for the top part of the top sirloin with the fat cap intact.  The fat cap is the key to grilling this cut as it add flavor and moisture throughout the grilling process.  Traditionally, Brazilians carve the picanha into 3-inch wide pieces, skewer it, and cook it via spit roasting method.  However, it can also be sliced a bit thinner and grilled via direct method on a parrilla.

 

Grilled Picanha Recipe

1.5 lbs of picanha (top of top sirloin rump roast with thick fat cap)

Coarse sea salt

Papaya molho a campanha, optional as condiment

 

SPIT ROASTING

Cut picanha against the grain into 3-inch wide pieces.  Skewer the cuts of meat lengthwise, with the fat cap up, so that the fat cap runs parallel to the skewer (as picture above).  Season the meat with a large portion of sea salt on all sides.  Once you've got your spit roasting rotisserie attachment prepared per the manufacturer's instructions, accumulate a large portion of hot coals to create a high heat.  Spit roast the picanha until a dark brown crust forms on all sides of the meat, about 10-15 minutes, but so that the center stays medium to medium-rare.  The fat cap, in particular, so melt a bit but also produce a golden brown crust.  After removing from the coals, let rest approximately 10 minutes.  Traditionally, Brazilians serve the meat carved directly from the skewer, but you can also remove the pieces and carve on a cutting board.  When carving, cut crosswise against the grain and leave a portion of the fat cap on each piece served.  Serve with papaya molho a campanha, if desired.

 

DIRECT GRILLING

Cut picanha against the grain into 1.5-2-inch wide pieces.  Season meat on all sides with a generous portion of sea salt.  Load your parrilla with enough coals to produce a high heat.  Put the pieces of picanha, with the fat cap side down, on the grill and lower the grill grate to just above the coals to begin cooking over high heat.  Turn the pieces of meat every 2-4 minutes until each side achieves a golden brown crust.  If the fat starts to burn before the meat is fully cooked, raise your parrilla a few inches to lessen the heat levels and continue cooking until desired results have been achieved on all sides of the meat.  Remove the pieces to a cutting board and let rest approximately 10 minutes.    When carving, cut crosswise against the grain and leave a portion of the fat cap on each piece served.  Serve with papaya molho a campanha, if desired.