If you’re looking to cook up an authentic taste of Brazil, this picanha recipe may be what you need!
This beef steak dish isn’t just delicious — it’s also incredibly easy to prepare.
- This picanha recipe is a Brazilian churrasco classic. In fact, it was one of the first meat cuts that the Portuguese brought to Brazil when they colonized the country in 1500.
- It was named after the indigenous tribe of hunters who lived on the banks of the São Francisco River in Minas Gerais, Brazil.
What Is Picanha?
Picanha translates to “little cow” or “small cow” because the cut is so small.
The name comes from the Brazilian word for cow, bovina.
In general, the cut consists of several muscles which are combined into a single piece of meat.
Picanha can include the following muscles: the short loin (also known as the tenderloin), the back (or rib) muscle, and the bottom (or chuck) portion of the shoulder blade.
The entire picanha cut is about 6-8 inches long by 2-3 inches wide.
You should be able to find all three of these pieces at your local grocery store if you live near a large city like New York City or Los Angeles.
There are two main types of picanhas available: the boneless version and the bone-in version.
Boneless cuts have very little fat around them while the bone-in versions tend to have more marbling throughout their interior.
Either way, both will work well for this recipe.
Where Does Picanha Come From?
Picanha can trace its roots back to the early days of colonization, when Portuguese explorers landed along the coast of South America, bringing their European cuisine with them.
The exact origin of this cut is uncertain, but historians agree that it originated from parts of Spain or Portugal sometime before 1550.
The original name for this cut was “bife de coxo,” which translates to “hipbone steak.”
However, by the time the Portuguese settled in South America, bife de coxo had been replaced by the word picanha (pronounced PEE-kan-ya), meaning “little piglet.”
In Brazil, picanha became known as picanhas, which literally means “small pigs.”
Over time, however, the term picanha came to mean any type of small rib eye steak.
Today, picanha is usually made out of top round, but sometimes bottom round, flank, or skirt steaks are used instead.
What Are The Ingredients In A Picanha Recipe?
Picanha recipes usually include some or all of these basic ingredients:
- Top sirloin (or bottom round)
- Cumin powder
- Herbs like parsley, cilantro, and oregano
- Lemon juice
There are other spices you can add to your picanha, but most recipes leave them out because they don’t have any effect on the flavor profile.
How Do You Make Picanha?
The main ingredient for this picanha recipe is top sirloin or tenderloin, which is cut from the bottom portion of the cow’s leg.
You can find this cut at most grocery stores these days, but if you want to get really specific, look for “top round roast” or even “bottom sirloin roast.”
If you don’t have access to any fresh meat, you can use frozen as long as it’s not too old (older than three months).
You will also need some seasonings like salt, sugar, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.
The seasoning depends on your personal preference, so feel free to experiment!
Next, rub the steak with olive oil, garlic powder, onion powder, cayenne pepper, and paprika.
Then put the seasoned steaks into plastic bags, seal them tightly, and place them in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes before grilling.
Once the steaks have been marinated, take them out of their bag, discard the marinade, and grill the steaks over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes per side until done.
Make sure to turn them frequently so they cook evenly.
When you’ve finished cooking, allow the steaks to rest for 5 minutes before slicing into thin pieces and serving hot.
What Is The History Of Picanha?
The word “picana” comes from a Tupi-Guarani language spoken by indigenous people living along the riverbanks of the São Francisco River.
The word means “to cut off the head” or “headless,” referring to the tradition of hunting heads of game animals as trophies.
Today, the term picana refers to any kind of animal hunted without its head (and therefore, without its brain).
When the Portuguese arrived to Brazil around 1500, they were surprised to discover that many tribes had already settled there, including the Picanos, who inhabited the region where the modern city of Belo Horizonte stands today.
The Portuguese colonists quickly adopted some aspects of their culture, but they didn’t adopt the practice of eating the heads of trophy animals.
Instead, they found other ways to hunt for food including cultivating crops like corn and manioc (cassava), which are still staples of the diet in rural areas of Brazil today.
In time, the Portuguese introduced another type of meat to their new colony: beef.
They called it bovine carne de vaca (cow meat) because cows were raised primarily for milk production rather than meat.
Soon, the Picanos began raising cattle themselves and started cooking them in the traditional way they prepared deer meat: with a fire pit built over hot coals and a grill made out of tree branches set above the flames.
As the years passed, the Picanos eventually learned how to prepare cow meat more efficiently using a spit and a charcoal broiler.
The result was a new dish known as carne de porco à pipanha – beef cooked over hot coals until crispy and charred on all sides.
How Did Picanha Become Popular?
Picanhas were originally made from cattle raised by the indigenous tribes near the São Francisco river basin.
The Portuguese settlers found these animals so tasty that they became known as “the best cow for eating.”
Over time, however, many people had trouble finding fresh picanha (especially during winter).
So, in 1884, butcher Antonio Fernandes Mendonça started selling frozen picanha at his shop in Rio de Janeiro — which quickly became very popular among both locals and tourists alike.
The popularity of picanha grew even more throughout the 20th century.
By 1930, there were over 1 million restaurants serving picanha across all of Brazil.
Today, around half of all Brazilian households have access to picanha every week.
And, although it wasn’t introduced to the U.S. until 1950, we can still find plenty of places where it’s served today.
But how exactly does this delicious cut get its name?
What Are Some Interesting Facts About Picanha?
Picanha is actually a type of cut from the flank section of the cow.
The “picana” part refers to the method used to make the cut.
A picana is a long-bladed knife designed for butchering whole animals, but since most modern grocery stores don’t sell whole animals anymore, the term has been lost over time.
The word “churrascaria” literally means “grill shop” or “barbecue restaurant” because it originated as a way to describe the restaurants where people would gather around tables to eat while seated at their own grills.
In modern times, the term comes from the old tradition of serving sliced pieces of meat (usually tenderloin) along with sides like rice, beans, and salad, all cooked together on a grill.
Today, however, the majority of churrascarias serve more traditional dishes such as roasted meats and poultry, which have been prepared in advance and simply warmed before being served.
Where Does Picanha Come From?
Brazilian ranchers began raising cattle in the early 1900s, and the demand for higher quality beef led them to develop specific breeds suited to different climates and production methods.
Picanha came from the crossbreeding of two original strains developed specifically by ranchers in Minas Gerais, Brazil: the Nelore breed, which is known for its leanness, and the Santa Catarina breed, which produces tougher steaks.
Both were originally intended for use in the region’s dry climate, where grasses grow very slowly and require constant grazing.
Today, there are many variations of picanha available worldwide.
Some countries produce large quantities of beef for export markets, so they often raise the cows to suit the demands of these faraway consumers.
Other regions have traditionally raised smaller herds of cows to provide local families with food.
There are even some areas of Brazil that specialize in growing alfafa, a plant native to South America that can be fed to livestock to increase their fat content.
Alfafa is usually mixed into feedlots to fatten up young bulls destined for bullfighting rings.
What Are Some Common Picanha Dishes?
The name “Picanha” literally means “little cow,” but it actually refers to the shape of the cut of meat.
The picanha (pronounced pa-kane-ya) has a small square cross section, which makes it ideal for grilling and roasting.
Picanhas can weigh anywhere from 300 grams to 1 kilogram each.
In addition to being delicious, picanhas have many other uses as well.
They make excellent hamburgers because their lean quality allows them to hold together well during cooking without drying out too much.
They work especially well as roast dinners because they don’t require any fat or marinades like most steaks do.
Here are some other ways to use your picanha:
Roast them whole for dinner
Skewer them onto skewers and grill them over hot coals to create a delicious picanha kebab.
Use them to make tacos
Cut slices off the bone and serve them between two corn tortillas with fresh salsa, guacamole, and cheese.
Make picanha burgers
Slice picanha into thin strips and toss them with seasoned breadcrumbs before frying them in a pan with oil until golden brown and crispy.
Try this tasty recipe below for preparing a succulent picanha:
4 pounds boneless top round steak
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Season both sides of the meat with salt and pepper.
Using a mortar and pestle, mash three peeled garlic clove halves at a time into a paste using a little bit of the olive oil.
Rub garlic mixture all over the steak.
Place the steak on a wire rack set inside a baking sheet and place the baking sheet in the preheated oven.
Cook uncovered for 15 minutes per pound.
Reduce heat temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue cooking for another 30 minutes or so, depending on how thick your steak is.
Remove the steak from the oven and let rest for 5 minutes before carving and serving.
What Are Some Tips For Making The Perfect Picanha?
The key to cooking a great picanha steak lies in choosing the right cut of meat, as well as preparing everything properly before grilling or broiling it.
Here are some helpful hints to keep in mind about how to make your picanha steak extra tasty:
How do I choose the right cut of meat for my picanha?
Picanha steaks come from the bottom section of the cow’s rib cage.
They’re very lean, so if you want to avoid excess fat, go for the “fresher” cuts of meat.
To determine which cut of meat goes best with your picanha recipe, check out our guide to different types of steaks here.
If you don’t feel like going through all of those steps, we have three quick recommendations for you below:
Top sirloin (also known as rump) – The most popular choice among chefs worldwide.
Bottom round steak – A bit tougher than the other two options, but still pretty good.
Flank steak – Very tender, but can get dry easily.
Here are some more suggestions for selecting the right cut of picanha meat:
- For the freshest flavor, buy the steak from a local butcher shop.
- Ask the butcher whether he has any leftovers available at his store.
- Buy fresh meat whenever possible.
How should I prep my picanha steak?
Before putting the meat into the pan, season it with salt, black pepper, and freshly ground white pepper.
These spices will help bring out the natural flavors of the meat.
Next, rub the entire surface of the meat with olive oil and place it in a shallow bowl.
Then, add chopped garlic cloves and mix them around evenly by hand.
After rubbing the marinade over the meat, let it sit for 30 minutes.
When you’re ready to grill the meat, take it out of the fridge and set the table.
What Are Some Of The Best Picanha Recipes?
The best part about cooking this picanha recipe is that there aren’t any tricks or techniques involved.
The simplicity of the recipe makes it so versatile, too.
You can use almost every cut of beef to make it, including ribeye steaks, filet mignon, flank steak, short ribs, skirt steak, tri-tip, and even chuck eye roast (which we don’t recommend).
Picanha is typically served medium rare.
However, if you prefer your meat more well done, here’s how to do it right: Cook the steak over high heat until it reaches 145ºF / 63ºC, which will take anywhere from 6 minutes per side to 8 minutes per side depending on the thickness of the steak.
Remove the steak from the grill to rest at least 5 minutes before serving.
Here are some other great picanha recipes:
Classic Picanha Recipe #1 – Churrascaria Style
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Prep time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4 people
4 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup chopped onion
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
½ tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic, minced
⅓ cup fresh oregano leaves
1 ½ pounds boneless top round steak
Preheat oven to 425° F/220° C.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
Add onions and sauté until slightly softened, about 3 minutes.
Add half of the salt and all of the pepper. Stir to combine and let them caramelize for 5 minutes.
In a small bowl, mix together remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, garlic, oregano, and ¼ teaspoon of the salt.
Rub mixture onto both sides of the pork tenderloin.
Season each side of the pork tenderloin with additional salt and pepper.
Place tenderloins into a roasting pan and place in the middle rack of the preheated oven for 30 minutes.
Remove tenderloins and brush with extra oil.
Return to the oven for another 20 minutes, basting frequently as needed.
When ready to serve, slice tenderloins and arrange on platter.
Classic Picanha Recipe #2 – Barbecue Stuffed Pork Tenderloin
Cooking time: 2 hours
Prep time: 12 minutes
Serves: 4 people
1 (12 ounce) package frozen puff pastry dough sheets (or 1 pound store bought)
1 ½ teaspoons paprika powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 teaspoon brown sugar
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1-pound trimmed top sirloin steak
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
Unwrap the puff pastries and separate into two rectangles.
Roll out pieces of puff pastry and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Cover each rectangle with plastic wrap and freeze for 10 minutes.
While the puff pastry is freezing, season the steak with salt and pepper.
Using sharp knife, gently score the fat cap of the sirloin steak down the center of the muscle.
Season steak again with salt and pepper.
Melt butter in large nonstick skillet and add seasoned steak.
Sear steak for approximately 2 minutes on each side.
Do not overcook.
After searing, remove steak from the skillet and set aside.
Return skillet to stovetop and reduce heat to low.
Sprinkle both sides of the steak with paprika, cayenne pepper, chili powder, coriander, brown sugar, thyme, and salt and pepper.
Place steak back in skillet and sear for 1 minute on each side.
Turn off burner and cover with aluminum foil.
Allow to sit for five minutes while you roll out the second piece of puff pastry.
Remove foil and return steak to the skillet by placing it directly on top of the puff pastry.
Roll out puff pastry around steak and seal edges using fork tines.
Brush seam with melted butter and bake for 40 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 140 degrees Fahrenheit.
- 1 Grill
- 1 Bowl
- 2.5 lbs Picanha
- 2 Tbsp Brazilian Sofrito
- 1/4 tsp mustard powder
- lemon pepper
- ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp parsley
- 1 cup cassava flour
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 1/2 onion
- 2 Tbsp cilantro
- 4 whole eggs
- salt and pepper
- Set the grill to 350 degrees.
- Combine the sofrito, mustard, dry parsley, and a drop of olive oil in a small bowl. Place aside.
- 4 steaks should be cut from the meat in the same direction as the fibers.
- Salt and lemon pepper should be used to season the steaks before applying the sofrito mixture.
- Add the steaks to the grill, then cook them to the desired doneness on each side.
- Before slicing the steaks, remove them from the grill and give them five minutes to rest.
- Make the farofa while the steaks are resting.
- Melt the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat on the stove.
- Add the onions to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, or until they are translucent.
- Scramble the eggs lightly in the pan after adding them.
- Add the cassava and stir when the eggs are done but still soft.
- Stir in the cilantro after turning off the heat in the pan.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve the steaks with the farofa after cutting them across the fibers.