Looking for a piece of meat that offers a big, beefy flavor? Picanha is a cut of beef that is becoming more popular in the United States for its flavor and great value. Learn all about picanha and what makes this steak so special.
History and Origins of Picanha Steak
The word picanha (pronounced pee-KAHN-yah) comes from Portuguese and means coulotte, while in the US we call it sirloin cap or rump cap. It’s a cut of meat sourced from the rump of a cow and has a thick layer of fat called the fat cap, which lends to rich flavors.
Picanha is a type of churrasco, a name for beef or grilled meat in Portuguese. It’s commonly known as Brazilian barbecue.
Gaúchos dug large pits in the ground for an open fire. Then they skewered the meat and seasoned it with coarse salt. The uniquely skewered meat slowly roasted over the embers.
Today, Brazilian steakhouses take pride in their picanha and servers come by your table with this beef on a stick. They slice off pieces that go right to your plate.
Today, many people remove the fat cap before grilling, but to truly be considered picanha beef, it must include the fat cap.
Is Picanha considered a good steak?
This triangular piece of meat comes from the top layer of muscle over the rump area, closest to the animal’s skin. Since this muscle isn’t highly active during the cow’s life, it’s tender and has more fat than other cuts of meat.
Picanha Steak Location on Beef Cow
The picanha steak is located at the rear of the beef and is considered part of the rump cap muscle. Illustration below. The growing in popularity Tri Tip roast is located just below in the bottom sirloin area.
The fat layer makes this meat great for grilling, especially when combined with salt. Yet, many American butchers cut it off to reduce the fat content of the meat.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades the quality of beef. There are eight beef grades:
- Prime (the highest grade)
- Canner (the lowest grade)
The key factors that influence grade quality are the intramuscular fat, maturity of the cut, color, and texture. When looking for quality picanha steaks, look for prime or choice. You may find select but typically select steaks lack intramuscular fat, so these cuts of beef are less flavorful and less tender.
Is Picanha considered better than Rib Eye or Sirloin?
They divide beef into four sections – two forequarters and two hindquarters. The location of the cut gives us insight into how to cook the meat and what to expect in flavor and texture.
Rib eye steak comes from the forequarters, the rib of the cow. This area of the cattle offers tender cuts of beef and is typically higher priced. The first major difference between picanha and ribeye is their appearance and texture. Picanha meat is more tender and you’ll notice based on the nutrition facts below it has less fat than ribeye. Ribeye meat has more intramuscular fat, which makes it rich in flavor. The popular Tomahawk steak is actually a ribeye.
The hindquarters are the back end of the cow, which is where both sirloin and picanha steaks are cut. Picanha is very similar to sirloin, with comparable flavor and texture as a New York Strip steak. However, the distinguishing factor is the fat cap surrounding the meat.
The nutrition profile for rib eye, sirloin, and picanha steak varies slightly due to the amount of fat and protein in each cut.
- Picanha steak (161 g) has 390 calories, 24 g of fat, and 42 g of protein.
- Rib eye steak (170 g) has 460 calories, 32 g of fat, and 42 g of protein.
- Sirloin steak (170 g) has 414 calories, 24 g of fat, and 46 g of protein.
Where can you buy Picanha steak?
You likely won’t find picanha steak at traditional American grocery stores. Instead, look for a local butcher. Keep in mind that picanha is also called sirloin cap or rump cap in the USA.
Many butchers also break picanha down into other cuts of meat, like rump or loin. These pieces won’t have the fat cap, so you’ll have to specify that you want picanha steak.
There are also options online. Search for sites that offer dry-aged or American Wagyu Picanha steak. Many online meat vendors offer home-delivery of this hard-to-find steak.
When buying picanha steak, look for smaller cuts weighing 2 – 3 pounds. Larger cuts likely contain other parts of the cow that go below the rump.
Can you buy Wagyu Picanha steak?
Wagyu in Japanese means “Japanese cattle”. Wagyu cows are fed a specific diet of cereal and grains, and wagyu picanha steak is a rump cut from a wagyu cow.
Standard picanha steak has a white band of fat around the edge of the red meat. Wagyu picanha steak has white fatty marbling throughout the entire piece. Because of the diets and how wagyu cows are raised, they’re able to produce more fat marbling than American cattle. Compared to other beef, wagyu contains more monounsaturated fats (heart-healthy fats).
Snake River Farms is one of the largest butcher retailers for American Wagyu. They do offer a Wagyu Picanha.
You may see Wagyu Picanha steak assessed based on the Japanese Meat Grading system, which grades marbling, color, texture, and fat. Grades 1-5 are given to each category, with 1 being worst and 5 is the best.
You can order American Wagyu rump meat online. This cut of meat will have a higher price than other types of meat because it must come from one of the four Japanese cattle breeds.
Online options offer different shipping methods, and you can read reviews prior to buying.
How much does a picanha steak cost?
Price for picanha steaks varies depending on the quality of meat, shipping costs, geography, and the source of meat.
Some examples of costs and where to purchase picanha steak (prices changing daily):
- Snake River Farms online: American Wagyu Black Grade: $89.00/ 2 lbs
- Meat N’ Bone online: USDA Prime Picanha: $35.99/ 1-2 lbs
How do you cook Picanha Steak?
There are a few ways you can cook this piece of meat.
Cook Brazilian Picanha Steak:
The most traditional way is to cut the meat into 3-4″ thick slices. Then, fold into a “C” shape and place on long skewers. Simply season with coarse sea salt or use your favorite steak seasoning. Brazilian picanha steak takes 15-20 minutes on the grill.
How to cook picanha steaks on the stovetop:
Place seasoned steaks, fat side down, in a cast-iron skillet on high heat. Then, flip and sear both sides until a golden crust forms. Next, turn the heat down to medium and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until desired doneness.
Grilling individual steaks:
Clean and preheat your grill. Rub the grill with olive oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Place the steaks on the edge of the grates so they’re not in direct heat. Close the hood and cook the steaks for 5-6 minutes. Then, flip the steak and place it on the center of the grill to sear the meat. Use a meat thermometer to cook to safe cooking temperature.
Picanha Steak Recipe
Brazilian picanha steak requires little preparation and few ingredients. Let the meat sit out at room temperature for 20-30 minutes prior to preparation. Since skewering is the traditional way of grilling picanha, here is a simple steak recipe.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Equipment: Metal skewers
1 3-4 pound picanha cut meat
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon black pepper
1. Preheat the grill to high (around 400 degrees F). Meanwhile, prepare the steak. Using a knife, score the fat cap in a crosshatched pattern, stopping before your knife hits the meat.
2. Season the fat cap with salt and pepper.
3. Cut the steak into 1-inch strips. Then, fold each strip in a C shape and slide on the metal skewers.
4. Place the skewers over indirect heat and grill for 15-20 minutes, turning every couple minutes.
5. Remove the meat from the grill and let it rest for 5 minutes. Serve.
Popular Picanha Steak Restaurants
We also know Brazilian steakhouses as churrascarias and are the most popular restaurants that serve picanha steak. Churrascarias are usually all-you-can-eat and servers cut servings off oversized skewers of rotisserie grilled picanha steak.
There are several Brazilian steakhouses around the United States:
- Texas de Brazil has over 50 locations spread around the world.
- Fogo de Chão offers high-end service for their all-you-can-eat menu and locations around the country.
- Rodizio Grill has several locations around the U.S. and is a more affordable menu option than some of the other restaurants.
To Sum It Up
Picanha may not be the most popular meat, but it’s completely worth the hunt. The fat and protein make this steak flavorful and tender. Look for this steak at your local butchers and remember it may be called sirloin cap or rump cap in the U.S. Season, skew, and grill it up the next time you want to try something new.