The top sirloin is situated between the loin and the round and is composed of three muscles: The cap, the center and the “mouse” (trimmed and cut for stir-fry or ground sirloin). The cap is triangular in shape, between one- and two-inches thick and covered on one side with a thin layer of fat. It can be cut into steaks or cooked in one piece. The cap is lean and flavorful and can be roasted, grilled or sautéed.
The top sirloin cap is also known as picanha (pronounced "pee-KAHN-ya") the Brazilian steak specialty of a churrascaria or steakhouse that is grilled and sliced off of a skewer.
The top sirloin cap is not often carried in supermarkets, but it is generally available by request at a butcher. It's relatively inexpensive and is packed with beef flavor. Tri-tip and sirloin steaks are often confused with the top sirloin cap, but a knowledgeable butcher will know exactly what you're looking for. Traditionally, picanha is grilled on long skewers, but for the home cook, it will be a lot easier to cut the steak into portions for smaller skewers.
Here's how to cook the top sirloin cap in the style of Brazilian picanha steak.
- 3 to 4 pounds beef (top sirloin cap)
- 1-1/2 tablespoons salt (Kosher)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- If the steak has been refrigerated, bring it out 1 hour before you preheat the grill. Lay the top sirloin cap flat on a cutting board or other work surface. Using a small sharp knife, cut the fat layer, without cutting to the meat, in a cross-hatch pattern, like you would do for a ham.
- Massage 1 tablespoon salt into crevices of the cross-hatched fat layer of the steak. Season with freshly ground black pepper. At this point, if you want to skewer the steak, cut the steak lengthwise into three equal pieces. Roll each steak piece like a jelly-roll and using a metal skewer, secure the steak so it holds together rolled up. Sprinkle the remaining salt over the meat side of the steak.
- Preheat the grill to high. Clean and oil the grates. Lay the skewered picanha on the grill and turn off all heat except for the one burner furthest away from the steaks. You'll want to cook the steaks -- with the grill cover closed -- for 20 to 25 minutes, turning them every 5 to 7 minutes to ensure even cooking.
- When the internal temperature reaches 128°-130°F for medium-rare on an instant-read thermometer, take the picanha off the grill. Let the steaks rest 5 minutes, then remove from the skewers and slice against the grain and serve.