Juicy Reverse-Seared Picanha

Featuring reverse seared picanha, cooked to medium rare.

This recipe is updated from the original on September 11, 2020.

Slice into the smoky, crispy crust of a Reverse-Seared Picanha to reveal the rich marbling, and juicy beef within. Each bite is robust and tender, cooked perfectly due to the calculated process of smoking and searing. Read along and you’ll see how easy it is to master this.

Picanha has claimed its place as the next big thing in American barbecue. The crispy crust on the outside holds in the juicy, moist, perfectly cooked meat on the inside. Sliced thin or thick, it doesn’t matter, the reverse-seared picanha rules the cutting board.

Do you want the most amazing beef sandwiches? Maybe you’re just looking for a juicy, thick slice of steak with a beautiful crust. This whole picanha has the right amount of chew, similar to a Tri-Tip, which makes it a very versatile cut of beef.

Hatch chile chimichurri pairs perfectly with smoked and grilled picanha.

What is Picanha?

Made popular in Brazil, picanha is typically grilled over open fire and served with a variety of side dishes and sauces. It can be cooked whole, sliced into steaks, or even skewered and sliced. Check out your local Brazilian steakhouses, they will be serving various types of picanha!

Picanha steaks taste similar to a sirloin roast, heavy on beef flavor and tougher if it’s overcooked. The fat cap on the top may seem excessive, but this leaner muscle benefits from the flavor as it simply melts in your mouth with each bite.

This tender cut of beef is from the rump of the cow. The meat itself is well-marbled, encased with a thick cap of fat. You may see this referred to as a Sirloin Cap or Rump Cap in the US, but most butcher shops will know what Picanha is. Make sure the fat cap has not been removed if ordering from the butcher, that’s absolutely key!

Why Reverse Searing?

Traditionally, picanha is grilled on skewers, shaved off, and served with sides. There are many ways to cook a picanha roast though, from slicing into individual steaks, to smoking, to reverse-searing of course. Grilling a 3-pound steak is no easy task, especially if the goal is to achieve perfectly medium-rare doneness.

Larger cuts benefit from the process of reverse searing, a timed method that involves slowly cooking the steak to a certain temperature before searing. Doing so provides full control over the finished temperature, making it almost foolproof to hit. Take your time and you’ll pull of the perfect cook!

Preparing the Picanha

Score the fat cap. The biggest key to using the reverse sear method for cooking Picanha is to score the fat cap before seasoning. Doing so will allow the seasonings to penetrate deeper into the top.

Allowing the whole picanha to rest in the fridge uncovered for a few hours helps to dry out the fat cap as well, creating a crispier crust during the searing process. Make sure the fat side is facing up.

Score the fat cap to allow the salt and seasonings to penetrate deeper.

Seasoning Choices

The authentic seasoning for grilled picanha is usually just coarse salt. Sometimes the addition of fresh garlic, or a sofrito is rubbed into the steak right before grilling.

Grab a bottle of our Canyon Crust Beef Seasoning for the ultimate crust. It has a coarse mix of salt, pepper, and garlic, along with some smoky chiles and spices to create a nice dark, crispy surface to slice through.

If you’re looking for something quick using ingredients you have on hand, we’ve got a simple rub recipe to bump up that flavor profile without overwhelming the beef flavor:

  • 1 part coarse Kosher salt
  • 1 part coarse black pepper (16-mesh preferred)
  • 1/4 part granulated garlic
  • 1/4 part ancho chile

Do I need a binder for whole Picanha? It’s not necessary, but you can use a little olive oil or hot sauce before applying the seasoning. I do not recommend a thick layer of anything between the seasoning and the meat, especially the fat cap.

Dry brine the picanha to build a better crust and flavor.

Reverse Searing Process

Seasoning the meat is the first part. Smoking and roasting the meat is next, and very simple. Heat up your smoker to a lower temp (250°F suggested) and cook it until you’ve reached your target temperature. Use a thermometer probe to monitor the internal temperature of the meat.

Remember, steak continues to cook after it’s seared. These target temperatures factor in the carryover cooking time and resting, which will further increase the internal temperature.

DonenessTarget Temp in the SmokerFinal Temp during sear
Rare105°F115-120°F 
Med-Rare115°F 125-130°F 
Medium125°F 135-140°F 
Med-Well135°F 145-150°F 
Slowly smoke the picanha to temp before searing.

Smoke the Picanha

Set your smoker or charcoal grill for indirect cooking, aiming for around 250°F. After years of testing, I’ve found that 225°F tends to produce steaks that are not as juicy. Plus it takes much longer, and we want steak NOW!

Make sure you’re using the indirect side of the grill when placing the picanha inside. Bank the hot charcoal to one side, and leave the meat on the other.

Smoke the picanha with the fat cap UP. Allow the picanha to smoke for at least an hour, or until it’s getting close to the target temperature. Times will greatly vary based on the size.

Rotate the picanha if using a charcoal grill, to make sure it's smoking evenly.

Charcoal Grill Advice: Rotate the picanha during the smoking process to make sure it’s cooking evenly. This isn’t an issue with most offset or pellet grills, but definitely is with charcoal.

Don’t flip it! Keep that fat cap facing up, it needs to stay in tact as much as possible during the smoking process. The fat is gentle, and can easily tear during this phase if handled with tongs.

Remove the picanha when it reaches the first target temperature for reverse searing.

Searing the Picanha

Using the chart above, remove the picanha when it reaches its target temperature from the smoking phase. Get ready to sear!

Prepare the grill for direct searing using medium heat. Too high and the fat can flare up and burn the outside. We’re looking to build a crust by searing and flipping, so a moderate flame is perfect.

Open flames are highly recommended! Skillets or flat tops will not create an even sear, potentially causing localized seared spots while leaving the rest of the crust untouched.

Grill the reverse seared picanha to the target temperature before resting.

Sear the picanha and just keep flipping. Allow each side to sear for about 2 minutes, flip, and repeat. Watch the internal temperature using your thermometer probe, and monitor closely.

Important grilling Tips

Make sure you use all of these!

  • Use tongs, but try to be gentle with the fat cap. You don’t want to tear it by aggressively gripping the steak.
  • Watch out for flare-ups. The fat cap will absolutely cause flames, so be careful. You don’t want to burn one side of the steak.
  • Resting will finish the steak. Don’t cook it exactly to your finished temperature, pull it off a few degrees early. The picanha will continue to warm up as it starts to rest.
  • Did I mention, rest the steak? Allow the picanha to rest for about 10-15 minutes at room temperature. You’ll have a much juicier picanha, trust me.

Slice the reverse-seared picanha against the grain after resting. At this point you can finish it with some flakey salt, hot sauce… or something even better. Traditionally this is served with a Classic Chimichurri.

Best Condiments for Picanha

Reverse-seared picanha has a deep, smoky flavor with rich bites of beef. Topping it with something bright and acidic will help to round out the flavors and enhance the beef even more. Here are some of my top recommendations:

Reverse Seared Picanha RECIPE

Each bite of this juicy picanha is worth the effort, trust us. At Chiles and Smoke, we’re here to bring people together with bold flavors, using spice and flames to ignite the food and friendships.

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Featuring reverse seared picanha, cooked to medium rare.

Juicy Reverse Seared Picanha

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Slice into the smoky, crispy crust of a Reverse-Seared Picanha to reveal the rich marbling, and juicy beef within. Each bite is robust and tender, cooked perfectly due to the calculated process of smoking and searing.

  • Total Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
  • Yield: About 6-8 1x

Ingredients

Scale

Instructions

  1. Prepare the picanha. Score the fat cap 1/4″ in a criss-cross pattern and generously season on all sides.
  2. (Optional) Dry-brine the meat. Allow the picanha to sit on a wire rack in your fridge for at least 45 minutes, up to overnight. Doing so will deeply season the meat and help to build a better crust.
  3. Set your grill for indirect heat, or preheat your smoker. You want to maintain around 250˚F. Smoke the picanha for roughly 60-90 minutes until the internal temperature is 115°F (medium rare final temp).
  4. Prepare a grill for searing. Remove the meat from the grill, and turn the heat up to 400-450°F.
  5. Sear the meat, flipping frequently to control the momentum of the temperature. The fat cap may flare up so be careful and stay nearby! Sear the picanha for about 1-2 minutes per side, and continue to flip. Once you have the perfect crust and your internal temperature is ready (125-130°F medium rare) remove the picanha and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes.
  6. Slice against the grain and steal a piece from the cutting board before serving.

Notes

  • Use tongs, but try to be gentle with the fat cap. You don’t want to tear it by aggressively gripping the steak.
  • Watch out for flare-ups. The fat cap will absolutely cause flames, so be careful. You don’t want to burn one side of the steak.
  • Resting will finish the steak. Don’t cook it exactly to your finished temperature, pull it off a few degrees early. The picanha will continue to warm up as it starts to rest.
  • Author: Brad Prose
  • Prep Time: 60 minutes
  • Cook Time: 90 minutes
  • Category: Beef
  • Method: Reverse Sear
  • Cuisine: Dinner, Steak
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