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Picanha – Rotisserie Top Sirloin Steaks, Churrascaria Style

Here is another idea from Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue: Brazilian picanha, cooked churrascaria style on the rotisserie.

Picanha is a Top Sirloin Cap Roast, with the fat still on (the fat is key).  It is cut across the grain into three steaks, bent into a “C” shape, and cooked on the rotisserie. (Find a Brazilian butcher if you can.  If you can’t find one, here are pictures for an American butcher, so he’ll know what you want: Top Sirloin Simple Cuts [pdf]).

Finding picanha turned into an adventure. My local grocery store only gets top sirloin cap roasts in cryovac packaging, with the fat removed – the French coulotte cut. I need that fat!

I went to West Point Market, where they pride themselves on having butchers on the premises.  Thanks to the pictures in the above link, I was able to explain what I needed.  Success!
*Once he saw the picture of what I wanted, he said “oh, you want a Tri-Tip!” Now, far be it from me to contradict the expert, and he did get me the cut I wanted…but I don’t think it’s a tri-tip. I think that comes from the bottom sirloin. But, I can’t find a diagram of the tri-tip cut like I did for the top sirloin. Any butchers out there who can help me out?
*Update 6/10/2010: I was right, Tri-Tip is a cut from the bottom sirloin, according to Ryan Adams at Eat Me Daily: Tri-Tip []

That’s the hard part – finding the steaks.  Other than that little problem, this is about as simple as rotisserie grilling gets. Steak, salt, fire, rotisserie, done. When it is done, it is a perfectly browned steak, crusty with salt, sliced thin.

Recipe: Picanha – Rotisserie Top Sirloin Steaks, Churrascaria Style

Cook time: 15 minutes



  • One Top Sirloin Cap Roast (Picanha), with fat cap left on – you want 1 to 1 1/2 inches of fat
  • 4 tsp of kosher salt

1. Cut and Skewer the Steaks: Cut the roast across the grain into three steaks, each one roughly three inches across. (The grain runs from the “tip” to the wide end of the roast, left to right in the pictures below.) Skewer the steaks with the spit, bending them into a “C” shape with the fat cap on top (the outside of the “C” – again, see the pictures below). Watch your fingers! Salt the steaks heavily, then let them rest at room temperature while you preheat the grill.

Picanha, or Top Sirloin Cap Steak
Cut into 3″ wide steaks
Bent into a “C” and skewered
Ready for the grill

2. Prepare the Grill: Set the grill up for rotisserie cooking at high heat. The higher the heat, the better the sear you will get.  For my Weber Summit, this means preheating the grill with all burners on high for a full fifteen minutes. I leave the cooking grates in the grill for the thermal mass – they help hold the heat in the grill, and I don’t need the extra clearance for these steaks. After fifteen minutes, turn off all but the two outer burners (burners 1 and 6), light the infrared burner, and set it to high as well. Put the drip pan in the middle of the grate, over the unlit burners, and it’s ready to roll.*
*Get it? Roll? Hello? Is this thing on?.
(See here for more rotisserie setup details.)

3. Cook the Steaks: Put the spit on the rotisserie, and start the motor turning. Cook the steaks with the lid closed until the internal temperature reaches 115*F for Rare, or 120*F to 125*F for medium-rare, 20 to 30 minutes. Start checking the temperature in the thickest steak every five minutes after 15 to 20 minutes of cooking.
*Watch out for the spit when you’re checking the temperature – it can throw the reading off. Also, the steak you get from the pointy end of the roast is a little smaller than the others, so it will cook quicker – if the largest steak is rare, the small one will be medium-rare to medium.

4. Serve: Remove the spit from the grill, and remove the steaks to a carving board. Let them rest for ten to fifteen minutes. Slice across the grain (that is, along the “C” shape), making sure to get a little fat on each cut.

*Garlic butter: An idea inspired by the Fogo de Chao website: Brush the steak with garlic herb butter just before you take it off the rotisserie.

*Top Sirloin Steak: If you can’t find the picanha cut with the fat cap still on it, use a different trick I saw on the Fogo de Chao website. Do what they do with their filet mignon – wrap the top sirloin steaks in bacon before you skewer them.

*Spring was conspiring against me with this recipe. I really wanted to use the charcoal grill, for the extra-high heat that charcoal can provide. But we were under a severe thunderstorm watch all day, and it was raining on and off. There was a gap in the rain, just some minor sprinkles, so I pushed ahead with the gas grill. I can’t wait for summer, when the constant threat of is past.  I want to try this one again with charcoal.

Landscape: Grill with Rain

*In Brazil, they cook directly over the coals. I thought I’d try this on my grill, and I had to act quickly to keep the grease fire from getting out of control. Make sure to use indirect heat on this one, and have a drip pan under the steaks. That fat cap is delicious, and you need it to help moisten this cut, which is relatively lean. But it drips a lot of fat while it’s cooking, and it’s not fun to juggle a hot rotisserie while there are flames pouring out of the fat pooled in the bottom of your grill.
*Yes, I’ve been having a bad streak with grease fires recently. Some lessons I have to re-learn the hard way every spring. Sigh.

*Speaking of Brazil: If you’d like to see how a professional does the cutting and spitting of picanha, watch this video.  (Jump to 0:44 in to see the meat being worked on):

What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:
Don’t have a rotisserie? Try the technique from my award winning grilled steak instead.
Click here for my other rotisserie recipes.

Special Thanks:
The butchers at West Point Market

Adapted From:
Steven Raichlen: Planet Barbecue

Check out my cookbook, Rotisserie Grilling.

Everything you could ask about the rotisserie,
plus 50 (mostly) new recipes to get you cooking.

It’s a Kindle e-book, so you can download it and start reading immediately!

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Filed under: Rotisserie


Hi! I’m Mike Vrobel. I’m a dad and an enthusiastic home cook; an indie cookbook author and food blogger with a day job, a patient spouse, and three kids who would rather have hamburgers for dinner.


  1. Gladstone Anthony Payton says

    Love your book and every recipe has turned out great! Most of my grilling these days revolves around the roti!
    I’ve seen some other recipes for picanha where the thick fat cap is scored for more fat release and browning – but on the grate. Would you recommend this for rotisserie? I don’t want to mess up this perfect process, so just expanding my meat universe tricks.

    Thanks for your great recipes!

  2. I just ordered the rotisserie attachment for my grill, and it should arrive in a week or so. Can you tell me if you need to cover the grill while the meat cooks, or do you leave it open?

  3. I was looking for a recipe online and could barely find yours. I was surprised and the hardest part was just getting and finding this cut. after reading your page I was confident that I could do it. it was one of the best cooks I have ever done. I choose to use all the burners on my weber gas, I also crack the lid with a brick. this allows me to watch for flares ups, check temp without fully opening the lid. it also seems to give it a better outside chare without overcooking. Didn’t invent it, saw it online with many south American style cooking. just a great website… thanks

  4. Ana Rita says

    Mike, I love you!!! I am from Brazil and pregnant but I live in usa.. You know… I was dreaming about picanha hahaha… but I didn’t know the name over here… Monday I will go to the butcher shop… and I hope they cut the meat over there 🙂 thank you.

  5. Adcook07 says

    I am a meat manger . Just ask for the cap of of a top sirloin. If the store still cuts meat , and cuts top sirloin steaks just ask them to peel of the cap and leave the fat on.

  6. Rodrigo Machado says

    My Lord, I am Brazilian and I am shocked to know that people remove the fat of the Picanha in other parts of the world! Here the Picanha pieces with the Most fat are considered to be treasures and they are overall even more appreciated than Filet Mignon for example. It is considered the supreme beef, topped by none.

  7. @David:

    Yes, I agree – chicken and ribs have a lot of fat. I usually get around that with drip pans, but I’ve been careless a couple of times recently, and paid the price.

    I like Montreal Steak Seasoning, and used to use it a lot. Nowadays, I prefer to make my own barbecue rubs. I still have a small canister of it in my cabinet for emergencies.

  8. Mike:

    You have mentioned grease fires a couple of times recently. I have to clean my Weber about every 6-8 uses, particularly if I cook baby back ribs, or chicken, which is the worst.

    Regarding your beef (steak) dishes, have you ever used McCormack Montreal Steak Seasoning? We buy it by the pound, and have found it to be a really good all-purpose seasoning for anumber of dishes.

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