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Home BBQ Tips What Is Picanha?

Try the mouthwatering rich flavor of picanha, a flavorful South American beef cut known for its tenderness and juiciness.

Whole picanha.

Picanha (pronounced pee-kawn-yuh) is a delicious cut of meat from the upper rear of the cow, and is commonly found on the menu at a Brazilian steak house. It’s the muscle that lies just above the tail at the top of the rump area or loin primal and is a triangular shape.

Cow butcher chart pointing to rump of cow.

My beef cut of choice is honestly a ribeye steak. I love the marbling you get in that cut, as well as it being a very flavorful steak. I honestly rarely go for the sirloin, because I find it less tender. That’s probably why it’s taken me so long to make a Brazilian picanha steak.

But I’ve discovered that not all sirloin should be treated the same. The top sirloin cap is a buttery, tender cut that delivers a delicious, beefy steak. It’s no wonder that Brazilians prize this cut so much.

PRO TIP: Within the loin primal you’ll find the sirloin subprimal, which includes the top sirloin where the sirloin cap is found. In the U.S., picanha is sold by many names, including sirloin cap and coulotte steak.

bottles of BBQ rubs on black background

What does picanha mean?

To really understand picanha, I want to take you back 1,000 years. According to National Geographic, raising large herds of livestock on extensive grazing lands started in Spain and Portugal. When the Spanish explorers ventured west, they brought their cattle-raising techniques with them.

One of those techniques included using a cattle prod, which was called a picana (without the h). The picana was used to herd the cattle. Ranchers touched the cattle with the prod right above the tail to get them to move in the direction they wanted – toward better grazing areas, away from hazards or to areas where the handlers could provide care.

Legend has it that the picanha cut was named after this prod, because the cut comes from the area of the cow the ranchers touched with their prod.

Fast forward 1,000 years and Americans have become familiar with picanha because of the many Brazilian steakhouses scattered about the country that serve freshly grilled picanha tableside.

Where can I buy picanha?

Assuming you don’t live in Brazil, finding picanha can be a little tricky. I’ve known people who are lucky enough to get it at their Costco, so it’s worth checking there.

If you have a great local butcher shop, by all means, ask them if they can score one for you. Tell them you’re looking for cut identification number 184D.

Most of the time it’s sold as a whole picanha roast, but you may also find it already cut into individual steaks.

Otherwise, here are a few online sources to help you out.

Can I butcher my own picanha?

If you can get your hands on a top sirloin butt, you can butcher your own picanha. Occasionally, I pick up larger cuts from my wholesale butcher and break them down, so I found this video from Sous Vide Everything really helpful.

Picanha can run $12-35 a pound, but top sirloin butt can be picked up for $3-5 a pound. While most of the butt isn’t picanha, you’re still getting a great deal, because you can grind the rest up for lean burgers or dice it up for stew.

I was intrigued by the pointers in this video about the three veins. The butcher recommends trimming away the meat beyond the third vein, because it’s not as tender. Again, you can use that for a burger grind.

Correcting the Record

It’s wrong to call a picanha a culotte steak

  • The proper spelling is coulotte.
  • A culotte is a pair of trousers or shorts that look like a skirt.

How do you season picanha?

There are definitely picanha purists out there who will tell you just to use rock salt – and maybe black pepper. “Rock salt” is surprisingly hard to find in the United States. If you google it, you’ll find ice cream salt. Don’t use that. It’s not food safe.

The rock salt we’re referring to here is basically large crystals of sea salt. The flake sea salt from Spiceology will work great. You can also use kosher salt.

While learning how to grill picanha meat, I reached out to a few of my favorite South American grilling divas on Instagram – Joana Angélica and Aline Marinho of @Churrasdelas and Carla Di Lorenzo of @chetanitamiami.

The Churrasdelas prefer to grill their picanha unseasoned for supreme juiciness. They said salting it before it hits the grill can take moisture out.

Carla, on the other hand, sprinkles on Celusal Barbecue Salt, a refined rock salt from Argentina. She just dusts it on like a fresh snowfall.

I recommend trying both of these versions at least once and keep in mind that there are many different cooking methods for picanha beef.

Seasoned picanha.

I happen to be a little biased and like my own Bk Brisket Rub on all things beef, including picanha. Feel free to use your favorite steak seasoning.

And I add Derek Wolf’s Gaucho Steakhouse Rub – properly named after the cowboys of the grasslands (or pampas) of Brazil.

Try my grilled picanha steak recipe that was developed with tips from Pitmasters from South America.

Is picanha better than top sirloin?

Picanha roast comes from the top sirloin subprimal along with several other cuts of beef like top sirloin steaks, petite roasts and butts.

While top sirloin steaks and roasts are lean, picanha has a nice amount of marbling with a thick fat cap (or rump cap). This marbling makes the whole roast and steaks juicy and savory.

If you’re interested in cuts from the bottom sirloin, try my recipe for Santa Maria Style Tri Tip Steak

Frequently Asked Questions

Is picanha a cheap cut?

In terms of steak prices, picanha is a fairly cheap cut of beef. But, don’t let the fact that it’s a cheaper cut scare you off! It’s still extremely flavorful and one you will want to keep buying again and again.

Can picanha be cooked in the oven?

Yes! While you won’t get the same smoky flavor that you would if you used a charcoal grill, picanha can absolutely be cooked in the oven. I would personally recommend that you roast the whole picanha uncovered fat side up at 350F for about an hour for medium-rare doneness.  

How do I know when picanha is done cooking?

Picanha steak should be cooked like any other steak. The ideal temperature for maximum tenderness and juiciness is around 130-135F degrees, which is medium rare. For best results, use a meat thermometer to measure the internal temperature.

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Hey BBQ Family

Hi. I’m Christie, the head cook and award-winning competitive pitmaster for Team Girls Can Grill. I have won multiple grand championships and have dozens of top ten category finishes. People know me as the girl who is forever hovering over a grill, smoker or campfire with tongs in one hand and a glass of wine in the other.

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