What is a picanha? In American butcher-lingo it has been tragically baptized the “rump cap”. It is a triangular cut from the top of the, that’s right, rump region of the cow, and just like our rumps, it has a beautiful layer of fat. It is not a muscle that moves much during the animal’s life, and so, remains tender. The picanha’s blanket of fat lends the meat flavor and juiciness while protecting it from human error that may occur during grilling. And because it is little known in North America and Europe, a picanha is a relatively cheap and plentiful national secret. Oops. Did I just say something I shouldn’t have?
When one thinks of churrasco, one often thinks of picanha. But oddly enough, it is a relative newcomer to the tradition. It only became popular after it was introduced by Hungarian butchers in São Paulo in the 60s serving immigrant workers at the Volkswagon plant looking to make tafelspitz*. Once Brazilians came to know it they naturally decided to grill it. By the 70s picanha became a sensation and the star of the show at any churracaria. Today it has come symbolize “authentic” churrasco.