Cooking With Fire: Picanha

Mar 23, 2018

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I get to basically eat great food and write about it, well, that’s a conversation starter.

They nearly always end up telling me about their favorite dish or meal to cook at home, and this leads to engaging conversations, and sometimes great friendships.

A couple years ago at a whiskey tasting I was hosting a friend of mine asked me if I’d ever had picanha. That answer was no, not only had I never had it, but I had no idea what it was.

His reaction was instant, and he started telling me that I was, basically, missing out on the greatest steak ever.

Picanha is something of a national dish in Brazil. The cut, called a sirloin cap in the U.S., is a large, fat-covered cut of beef that sits along the back of the cow, just before its tail. It has a large fat cap but the intramuscular fat is limited. On top of this, the muscle is rarely used, so it is incredibly tender.

But what threw me off about picanha was the deceptively simple recipe. What do you mean I just roll steaks cut from this muscle in rock salt and cook it until it hits the desired internal temperature? Surely something without a dozen ingredients can’t be that good.

Well, I’m glad to say that I was wrong. I just finished eating one of three picanha steaks that Chef Tom cooked over a charcoal fire, and I have to agree: It is one of the best steaks I have ever eaten.

And here's how he made it:

Picanha

Ingredients

  • 1 sirloin cap
  • rock salt

Instructions

  1. Preheat a charcoal grill for high heat (500ºF) direct and indirect grilling.
  2. Trim the fat cap on the sirloin cap down to 1/2” thickness. Slice the sirloin cap across the grain into 2.5” strips. Curl each strip into a “C” shape, with the fat cap on the outside. Thread each “C” onto a large skewer, first piercing the fat cap side, then through the meat and out the fat cap on the other side. Repeat with the remaining strips.
  3. Season all surfaces of the meat and fat with the rock salt.
  4. Place the skewer on the grill grate over direct heat. When the meat is browned and you have formed some nice char, flip and brown the other side. Then, transfer the skewer to the indirect grilling area and continue cooking until the internal temperature reaches 125ºF. Remove and rest the meat for 3-5 minutes.
  5. With the steak still on the skewer, slice thin slices across the grain and serve immediately.
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