How To Cook Picanha (Brazilian Steakhouse)

Many years ago, I wrote about how to cook picanha steak in my first cookbook, Grill Seeker: Basic Training For Everyday Grilling. Since then, what was a relatively unknown cut of beef, has really gained popularity. 

This blog offers a slightly different recipe than what is in my book, and focuses primarily on the rotisserie technique. The rotisserie technique here is unlike other, more traditional techniques, but there’s a method to my madness.

Like many of my other “How To” blogs, the tips and techniques offered here are infinitely more important than the recipe itself. In fact, this isn’t much of a recipe at all.

Here it’s all about technique which is perfect for picanha because kosher salt is really all you need for this amazingly delicious cut of beef. 

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What Is Picanha?

Though it is gaining popularity, picanha is not a well-known piece of beef in the United States. In Brazil, however, it is prized for good reason: it’s simple to cook and so dang delicious.

Picanha is a sirloin cap (also known as a rump cover, rump cap or coulotte). The meat itself is pretty lean (depending on the grade of course) with minimal intramuscular fat. 

Whole uncooked picanha on black tray

Its thick fat cap however, renders and bastes the meat while it spins on the rotisserie, providing plenty of added flavor to this already bold cut.

Do You Eat The Fat From Picanha?

The fat on picanha is packed full of flavor and adds to the overall experience. If fat isn’t your jam, you can of course trim it off but traditionally picanha is eaten along with the fat. Watching and smelling it render while on the rotisserie is a thing of beauty.

picanha on a rotisserie being cooking on a grill

I liken the fat on picanha to that beautiful strip of fat on the side of a beautiful strip steak. It’s melt in your mouth and adds an element of flavor to the meat that shouldn’t be missed.

How Long Does It Take To Cook Picanha on a Rotisserie?

Cooking picanha on a rotisserie, Brazilian steakhouse style is different than cooking picanha steaks. There isn’t a set amount of time for the entire spit of meat to be done.

Instead, the meat is cooked until a beautiful crust has formed on the outside, about 15-20 minutes. Then, it’s removed from the heat and the portion on the outside that is done, is carved off and served.

picanha being roasted on a rotisserie

The remaining beef, which isn’t yet done, is put back on the rotisserie to continue cooking. The process is repeated until the final slices are taken. This allows for eating hot food, with the char we all love from the Maillard reaction with every bite.

How To Slice Picanha

Much like tri-tip, it’s important for the final cut of picanha to be across the grain of the beef. This ensures the most tender bite. What do I mean by “final cut?”

That’s the cut you make to the meat just before biting into it. Because of this, the way to prepare picanha for a rotisserie is different from preparing a picanha steak for the grill.

The way I prepare rotisserie picanha and the way it’s traditionally prepared are slightly different. Traditionally, rotisserie picanha would first be cut across the grain. So after its cooked, the final cut would also be across the grain in the form of shaving thin slices that are eaten whole.

I like to cut and serve thicker slices of roasted picanha. It’s my personal preference over the more traditional shaved slices because I get a little more fat and flavor in each bite by doing it this way.

picanha being sliced off of a rotisserie spit

So I prepare the rotisserie picanha pieces just like picanha steaks. Start by cutting the meat into sections that are about two inches wide, with the grain of the meat. Just like if you were cutting a picanha steak.

Sliced picanha ready for the rotisserie

By starting with pieces cut with the grain of the picanha, I’m able to serve 1/4″ slices of roasted meat that can then be cut across the grain into bite size pieces.

picanha rolled and ready for the rotisserie spit

If you prefer the thinner slices, or you’re serving guests that prefer the shaved texture, just be sure to cut the strips across the grain of the meat before putting it on the spit.

Tips For Cooking Picanha

The End Cap: The end cap is often the tastiest part if this cut — so keep that piece for yourself.
Cooking Temperature: Get your heat source to a medium high heat. Remember, you’re not cooking the meat all the way though, just searing the outside for slicing before putting it back on the cooker.
Slicing: If you glossed over the “how to slice picanha” section I encourage you to read that thoroughly. It’s so important for a tender bite. Positioning on Rotisserie Spit: The fat cap can be a bit tough when raw. If your spit doesn’t have a sharp enough point, you may need to pierce the fat cap with a sharp knife prior to sliding it on the spit.
Heat Source: If you’re using a rotisserie burner, there isn’t much you can do as the burner will likely be on the side of the grill. Just place a drip try under the meat as it roasts to help with cleanup. If you’re using a charcoal grill, I like to position the hot coals directly under the meat.
This allows any rendered fat to drip onto the coals and burn up, adding flavor to the meat as it vaporizes. Most charcoal rotisseries will offer enough distance between the coals and the spit that flare ups aren’t a huge concern.
Serving: Serve picanha by slicing the cooked portion of the meat, right off the spit. Make slicing the meat off the spit an entertaining part of the experience for your guests.

roasted picanha on a cutting board with chimichurri

How To Cook Picanha: Brazilian Steakhouse Style

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients
1 2-3 lb picanha
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp kosher salt, Morton’s
1/2 cup chimichurri

Step 1: Light grill and set up for rotisserie cooking. I’m using an infrared rotisserie burner but charcoal can be used as well. Allow the grill to preheat.

Step 2: While the grill is preheating, trim off any silver skin from the meat side of the picanha. Then, slice the picanha (with the grain of the meat) into three of four individual pieces that are about two inches wide.

Step 3: Shape each piece into a semicircle, with the thick fat layer on the outside of the circle.

slice of picanha shaped for the rotisserie spit
Because this will be cut into 1/4″ thick slices for serving, it’s cut with the grain so the final bite cut will be across the grain

Step 4: Skewer the picanha onto the rotisserie spit. Secure the meat in place with the rotisserie forks and rub the meat with olive oil. Then, season with kosher salt.

Step 5: Place rotisserie on the grill, turn on the rotisserie motor and allow the meat to roast for about 15 minutes, or until a nice char and color has been achieved.

Step 6: Remove the meat from grill, and slice outside layer directly from spit and serve with chimichurri. Return the spit to the grill so the uncooked picanha can roast. Repeat the process until finished.

slicing a piece of picanha from the spit
Sliced picanha on a rotisserie spit

How To Cook Picanha (Brazilian Steakhouse Style)

5 from 4 votes
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Servings: 6

Ingredients

  • 1 2-3 lb picanha
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp kosher salt
  • ½ cup chimichurri

Instructions

  • Light grill and set up for rotisserie cooking. I'm using an infrared rotisserie burner but charcoal can be used as well. Allow the grill to preheat.
  • While the grill is preheating, trim off any silver skin from the meat side of the picanha. Then, slice the picanha (with the grain of the meat) into three of four individual pieces that are about two inches wide.
  • Shape each piece into a semicircle, with the thick fat layer on the outside of the circle.
  • Skewer the picanha onto the rotisserie spit. Secure the meat in place with the rotisserie forks and rub the meat with olive oil. Then, season with kosher salt.
  • Place rotisserie on the grill, turn on the rotisserie motor and allow the meat to roast for about 15 minutes, or until a nice char and color has been achieved.
  • Remove the meat from grill, and slice outside layer directly from spit and serve with chimichurri. Return the spit to the grill so the uncooked picanha can roast. Repeat the process until finished.

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