As seen roasted over blazing live fire & served in grand fashion, on swords, by the gaucho chefs of South American Churrascarias, or in the most exclusive Brazilian steakhouses worldwide – This. Is. Picanha (pronounced, pee-KAHN-ya) – The little known, hidden gem of your local butcher. A lean, yet incredibly well-marbled cut of cattle, with a thick, distinctive, flavor-packed fat layer capping the steak.
After having intimately familiarized myself with this gorgeous slice of red meat Heaven, in this post I’ll share with you Antonio Banderas’ “Cancion del Mariachi,”(you’re welcome), the 5 best practices in purchasing, prepping & grilling top sirloin cap steak (ie. picanha), all in effort to:
- Save you an arm and a leg as compared to those fancy-pants steakhouses, equip you with simple tools to grill like a (gaucho) boss & assist in preparation for the outdoor cooking fiesta of all fiestas.
Okay. On to the butcher, this steak & your backyard barbeque!!
- Your butcher should be your best friend. If he / she is not your best friend… This is indication numero uno that your grill game may be a bit off par. As the local professional of all things meat, your butcher will be able to provide recommendations based upon needs & a product that is secondary to none.
- The most critical aspect of preparing Picanha is buying the correct cut of beef. In Brazil, the most prized cut of meat is the rump cap, best translating in The United States to top sirloin cap, a cut located at the rear of a cow above the sirloin and adjacent to the tri-tip.
- To test availability of “top sirloin cap steak” I ventured into 6 of the highest traffic grocery stores in local metropolitan area. Exactly ZERO of those stores carried this cut of steak. On the other hand, the first 3 butchers I called advised they supply “top sirloin cap” on demand!
Boom. That math that just makes sense.
- Prepared Picanha at your favorite Brazilian steakhouse costs in the range of $40 per person – without tax, tip, title, license, 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. Bite-for-mouth-watering-bite. This cut offers the absolute best bang for your buck at the butcher! Estimated cost savings = 1 arm + 1 leg + black market value of 1 vital organ.
- Grill the Picanha using the sear & roast method over 2-zone heat. Apply meat over direct heat to sear exterior, then move to cooler, indirect heating zone until steak reaches appropriate temperature. See recommendations below for creating 2 zone heating:
- 1-burner grill – leverage the warming shelf, lined with tin foil, to remove the meat from direct contact with the grill grates.
- 2-burner grill – heat the right side to hot and leave the left side off.
- 3-burner grill – heat the far right side to hot, the middle to low-medium and the left side off.
- 4-burner grill – heat the two right zones to high and leave the two left zones off.
- 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 live fire Picanha.
- 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
- 1/2 lime juice
- 1/4 tablespoon red pepper flakes
- Sea salt and fresh ground peppercorn to taste
- Chop and slice ingredients per recommendations noted above.
- In a large bowl, combine all prepared fresh ingredients with oil, vinegar, lime juice, & seasonings.
- Whisk to thoroughly combine & serve immediately at room temperature.
Grilled Top Sirloin Cap Steak - South American Picanha & Chimichurri
- 3 lbs top sirloin cap sliced into 3-4 1.5-2" thick steaks, trimmed leaving 1/4" layer of top fat
- 1 small head of garlic minced
- 2 cups sea salt
- 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
- Kosher salt and fresh ground peppercorn to taste
- Kitchen string if necessary to wrap steaks
- Dredge steaks in sea salt, covering exterior. Wrap tightly in plastic & place in refrigerator for 1 hour per pound of steak.
- minutes prior to grilling remove steaks from refrigerator & wipe salt from steaks with a damp cloth wipe. Brush meat with oil, then season liberally with dry rub, & massage into both meat fibers and fatty cap.
- By hand shape the steak into a "c-shape," with the fatty cap out. Wrap and tie the steak with kitchen string to maintain the "c-shape." Then, skewer steaks and season with kosher salt & pepper, to taste (see photos).
- Meanwhile, preheat 2-zone grill following 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 and turning the steaks every 5-10 minutes using tongs, basting intermittently with oil.
- Grill to medium-rare internal temperature at 130 degrees. Grill to medium at 140 degrees.
- 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 chimichurri, & serve with an ice cold Corona!
-1-burner grill - leverage the warming shelf, lined with tin foil, to remove the meat from direct contact with the grill grates.
-2-burner grill - heat the right side to hot and leave the left side off.
-3-burner grill - heat the far right side to hot, the middle to low-medium and the left side off.
-4-burner grill - heat the two right zones to high and leave the two left zones off.