With summer completely behind us and with the full realization that my grilling days for 2006 are numbered, I decided to try my hand at replicating a churrasqueria rodizio meal at home.
Newark has a number of really fine churrasquerias. I’m fond of Solar do Minho (although technically its in Bellevile), Mediterranean Manor and Brazilia Grill. However, for the 30 odd bucks per person at some of these places, you’d better be awfully hungry. And sometimes you just want the top cuts of meat.
One of those top rodizio cuts is Picanha, which is also referred to as Brazilian Tri-Tip or Rump Cover in North America, depending on where you live. It’s incredibly beefy tasting (the cut is part of what we call the Top Sirloin) and is often prepared by its lonesome at family Brazilian cookouts.
After the Newark Brazilian Independence Day celebration on Sunday I decided to go to Seabra’s Supermarket and pick up a Picanha (as well as some fresh Brazilian-style Linguiça sausage) to grill up at home to see if I could replicate the flavor and taste of a churrasqueria. I believe I succeeded beyond my best expectations (click for video).
Here is the Picanha. As you can see it’s a triangular-shaped piece of meat, with a thick layer of fat on the top. Some sources recommend removing some of the fat layer on the top to prevent flare-ups on the grill, but I say (and my Brazilian friends agree) just leave the fat layer intact and deal with the flare-ups as they happen. The fat is what keeps the Picanha moist and also gives it a lot of flavor. You’ll want to generously season both the top and bottom sides of the Picanha with Kosher salt. Optionally you’ll also want to grind on some black pepper and some garlic salt or onion powder, but that’s not traditional — Brazilians just use Kosher Salt, and LOTS of it.
Picanha as prepped for Rodizio in a Churrasqueria.
In churrasquerias, Picanha is often cut into several pieces and then folded over and put on large skewers, which the servers then cut slices off, as depicted above. At home, there’s no need to do this, you can just cook the entire Picanha on your outdoor grill, with the fatty side on top, using indirect heat on high. On the side you can see I’ve got my Linguica.
A side dish that I like to make is grilled pineapple. Here I’ve cored a fresh pineapple and cut it up into quarters, sprinkling cinnamon and sugar on it.
finished grilled pineapple
Tomato and Onion salad is a great side, although not necessarily a traditional one for Brazilian barbecue. Brazilians like rice with black beans, French Fries, and sauteed shredded kale or collard greens with garlic and olive oil.
You’ll want to monitor your Picanha closely to watch for flare ups. If this happens — and it will — just have your barbecue tongs ready and a large platter to put the Picanha on temporarily while the flames go out, and put the meat back on the grill again.
Linguica, hot off the grill.
Picanha is traditionally served somewhat on the rare side. As the cut isn’t of uniform thickness, you’ll want to take the meat off after about 10 minutes of grilling to slice off pieces from the thinner/pointy end, and then put the meat back on the grill to cook it some more as you slice more and more pieces off. This is essentially what happens at a churrasqueria restaurant, where slices are taken off the hunks on the skewer at the table, and then the rarer parts that are left over are put back onto the grill to then slice again for other customers.
I guarantee though, all this slicing and grilling and moving the meat on and off the grill is totally worth it.