We’re really excited to share this delicious recipe for smoked picanha with you. If you’ve ever been to a churrascaria (Brazilian steakhouse), you’ve probably enjoyed a picanha, but it’s rare that even the most intrepid of beef fans have cooked it at home.
At the churrascaria, picanhas are traditionally cooked over a large charcoal grill. With this recipe, we’re amping up the flavor, and sharing a different method for cooking this steak: smoked picanha.
In this post, we’re going to share details about picanhas, how to prep them for smoking, what to serve with this steak, and then include an easy-to-follow recipe. Keep reading to get all the details on this steak, or scroll down to the recipe to get cooking.
What is a picanha?
The picanha, as it’s known in Brazil, is more properly known as a sirloin or rump cap. The French call it a coulotte, but in America, we just don’t think of it that much, which is why you’ve probably not seen it in a grocery store!
You see, beef is cut using slightly different methods and patterns all throughout the world, and in America, the typical method we use to cut sirloins doesn’t separate the picanha from the top sirloin. The picanha is called a sirloin cap because it sits on the cap of a sirloin steak.
We generally keep the cap on a top sirloin steak so the top sirloin is a nice, large steak to grill. The downside to this method is that we don’t get to enjoy the picanha.
When separated from the rest of the sirloin, a picanha is a richly flavored, tender, triangular chunk of meat weighing about 3 pounds per piece. A large fat cap is left on top of the picanha which will render to juicy flavor as it’s cooked.
If you love beef, you definitely need to try cooking a picanha!
Why should I smoke picanha instead of using a different cooking method?
There are many ways to cook picanha, but we think using a smoker to make smoked picanha gives the steak a unique flavor dimension. Picanhas have a flavor and texture combination that you won’t find anywhere else on an animal, and each animal only yields about 6 pounds total of this cut.
When you cook this cut, you want to keep it simple to highlight the meat’s qualities, not the qualities of your cooking or seasoning.
Since we’re seasoning this beef pretty simply (more on that below), we want our cooking method to bring a flavor dimension to the game. You can oven roast or grill a picanha, but by smoking, you accomplish two things:
- You keep the meat juicy and flavorful by using a low and slow cooking method.
- You add the flavor of the smoke to the beef without overwhelming the beef’s flavor.
Trust us, we’ve tried picanha in many ways, and we think smoked picanha is the best way to enjoy this cut!
How do you recommend seasoning this picanha before smoking it?
As we said above, we want to keep things simple and let the flavor and texture of the beef shine.
We could use a barbecue rub or a Montreal steak seasoning, and that would be fine, but in our book, we want to stick with the classic Texas barbecue playbook and season our picanha with just kosher salt and coarse ground black pepper.
Our rub is copied from Aaron Franklin’s (the first person to win a James Beard award for barbecue) suggested brisket rub – here’s how to make it:
- Add 1/2 cup kosher salt and 1/2 cup coarsely ground black pepper to an empty seasoning shaker.
- Shake the shaker up until the salt and pepper are evenly combined.
- Congratulations, you have your rub!
What are the logistics of this smoke?
Here’s how I suggest setting up your smoker for ideal results:
- A temperature of 250ºF – some people like 225ºF, but I think a slightly higher temperature and a faster cook does a better job of producing the results I want.
- A water bath underneath the meat. Cooking with a water bath creates a humid environment for the smoker. Heat transmits better in the humidity for a faster cook that helps preserve the juiciness of the beer.
- Oak or hickory wood for the smoke. We recommend using wood chunks to create an even smoke over the length of the cook. A bolder smoker such as oak or hickory is great for the rich flavor of the beef. Lighter woods such as cherry or apple are a bit too light for this meat, in our opinion.
- Smoke smokers have options for direct heat cooking, but we recommend using indirect heat.
Why do you sear this picanha after smoking it?
The picanha is well known for its plentiful fat cap on the top of the steak. We recommend placing the picanha fat cap side up on the smoker. This means that when it’s done smoking it probably will be a little undercooked and not fully rendered.
Eating a not fully rendered fat cap can be unpleasant, so we recommend briefly searing the picanha’s fat cap in a hot cast iron skillet before serving. This step is optional, particularly if the fat cap is totally rendered, but we think it helps with presentation (the seared fat looks incredible) and flavor.
Be sure to save the fat that renders in the pan and then drizzle it over your sliced smoked picanha to enjoy that unbeatable beef flavor!
Can I make smoked picanha if I don’t own a smoker?
Yep! We put together this helpful guide on how to use any “regular ole’ grill” as a smoker right here.
If you’re looking for a picanha recipe, that’s just grilled and not a smoked picanha, here’s our Brazilian-style Picanha steak recipe.
What do I serve with this smoked picanha?
There are so many side dish possibilities for smoked picanha. Steakhouse-style potatoes and roast vegetables would be fine, as would American barbecue sides like baked beans and macaroni and cheese.
However, if you want to honor the picanha’s Brazilian heritage, you may want to serve Brazilian-inspired side dishes. Check out this list of 16 Delicious Brazilian Side Dish recipes and enjoy them with your smoked picanha!
Onwards to the recipe! If you have questions or feedback, please leave us a note below. Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you soon at Lake Geneva Country Meats!
- 1 Picanha Steak (about 3 pounds)
- Kosher Salt (see rub recipe above for exact directions)
- Black Pepper
Set up your smoker to cook at 250ºF with oak or hickory indirect heat smoking.
If possible, add a water bath to the smoker to increase the humidity in your smoker. This will help the picanha stay juicy as it smokes.
Generously season your picanha on all sides with a half and half mixture of kosher salt and coarse ground pepper.
Place the picanha on the heated smoker fat side up. This will allow the fat to render across the surface of the meat as it smokes. Smoke for approximately 2 – 3 hours (times will vary based on your smoker and the size of your picanha) until the picanha reaches 130ºF.
For accurate temperature tracking, we recommend using a remote temperature probe like this ThermoPro model you can buy from our Amazon affiliate link.
When the picanha is done smoking, remove it from the smoker and then put it fat cap side down on a cast iron skillet that has been heated to high heat to finish rendering the fat. Cook for about 2 minutes until the fat is nicely browned. You can also skip this step if you don’t want to crisp the fat cat.
After searing the fat (or if you skipped that step, directly after pulling the picanha off your somker, tent the meat in aluminum foil. Let your smoked picanha rest for 15 minutes, then cut it against the grain into thin slices. Pour the drippings that have accumulated in the aluminum foil packet as well as the rendered fat from your pan sear over the sliced steak.
Serve warm and enjoy!