Ribeye is part of the common vocabulary, who does not know what a ribeye is or has tried it at least once? Lately at the restaurant or at the butcher shop, the word picanha is heard more and more. But unless you are from Brazil, do you know what it is and what the differences are with a ribeye – apart from the price?
From the above, it’s clear both steaks are popular depending on which parts of the world you’re in. Aside from geographical location, the ribeye and the picanha have the following differences: the location of the steaks on cows also differentiates the two, fat content, overall texture and how both steaks are cooked. Needless to say, all these factors to a large extent determine the final flavor.
Let’s go through each difference in depth so you get a clear distinction between the two. Thereafter you can make up your own mind on which one is deserving of the “main dish” title at your next family barbecue!
Table of Contents
Where are Picanha and Ribeye Popular?
I mentioned that whether you’re in favour of ribeye or picanha largely depends on which continent you’re in. If you’re in the South or central parts of America, picanha is literally the tastiest of all steaks. So much so that no barbecue is complete in Brazil without the famous picanha!
As a result, you’re not likely to find it in your average American restaurant. Your chances of having a taste of the delicious picanha are much higher if you head on to your nearest Brazilian steak house.
In North America, ribeye takes the number one spot for most American steak aficionados and they view it as the best all-round cut. Being America’s most popular steak, rest assured you WILL find it in any American steak or grill house.
Which Cut is the Ribeye and Picanha?
In my experience, you’re better able to weigh different meats if you actually know what both cuts taste like. But first, you need to identify which cut is which. This is because, to the layman, ribeye and picanha may look similar.
As the name implies, ribeye is cut from the primal portion of a cow’s rib section. It can either have a piece of rib bone left in or removed depending on your preference.
Picanha is the top layer of muscle located over the cow’s rump area and it’s close to the skin. The cut is triangular in shape. If you’re familiar with where sirloin is located, picanha is the cap that sits on top of sirloin. So, if you’re looking for picanha in the United States, ask the butcher for top cap sirloin, rump cover, rump cap or culotte.
Differences in Texture
With regards to texture, both cuts are considerably tender. Although Americans would love to argue ribeye is one of the most tender cuts of beef after tenderloin.
I wouldn’t go as far as saying picanha is tough. If anything, it’s generally tender. In fact, the texture is more or less similar to that of sirloin. And its tenderness has a lot to do with its location. The muscle rarely gets much exercise, movement or use during a cow’s life. As such, it tends to remain tender.
However, the tenderness is also determined by the exact part of picanha you cut. Since it features a triangular shape, the wider part is tougher. I’m certain those who are of the opinion picanha is tough have tasted this section. The tips on the other hand, are much tenderer. Of course, this is the most desirable, not to mention most sought-after part of picanha.
I believe it’s important to mention the fat content in both cuts. After all, South Americans largely attribute the delicious taste of picanha to its juicy fat content. As you know, it’s no secret how fat contributes to meat’s palatability and flavor.
Again, because of the muscle’s location and the fact it doesn’t get much exercise, it’s usually covered with a large layer of fat. And Brazilians absolutely love that fat cap. Why?
The flavorful fat juices when infused with steak during the cooking process give meat that juicy and scrumptious beef flavor. But don’t get me wrong, regardless of the fat content, picanha has a LOT of meaty texture.
American butchers on the other hand, aren’t too big on the thick layer of fat found in picanha. In fact, they usually trim it off unless of course a customer request otherwise.
Ribeye does have its share of fat that comes from the ribs. In fact, it has the most fat compared to other cuts. That’s why it’s one of the most tender, juicy and flavourful cuts of meat. American meat lovers tend to leave it on as it also contributes to the meat’s insane final flavor.
How Best to Cook Ribeye and Picanha
Now, let’s discuss how best to cook both cuts for optimum results.
Given how tender and juicy ribeye is, you’re spoilt for choice when preparing it. You can decide to grill, boil or pan fry it. Each method yields equally delicious results.
But because of the fat content, it’s advisable to cook ribeye medium rare. This gives the fat enough time to flavor the meat. Also, it’s best to grill ribeye at relatively high temperatures. The duration of the cooking process depends on the meat’s thickness.
For a 1-inch thick steak, between 9 and 12 minutes will suffice. Thicker steaks that are 1 ½ inches thick can be cooked for slightly longer—on average between 12 and 15 minutes. Just remember to turn your steak over a minute before you reach the half way point. This allows your meat to cook evenly on both sides.
I mentioned how picanha is quite meaty despite the thick layer of fat covering it. This can often make it difficult to cook it to perfection especially if you’re a novice griller. But for best results, be sure to cook picanha for longer. And you can decide to remove the fat cap or trim it. It’s your call. My advice? Leave it on during the cooking process for flavor. You can always trim it afterwards if you want to.
Have a look at this video on how to trim fat off your picanha the right way.
Ideally picanha should be cooked for approximately 30 minutes. This will give the fat cap more than enough time to render. Any longer and it might turn rubbery which is highly undesirable. A good idea is to score the fat a little while cooking. This allows fatty juices to run through the meat during the cooking process.
Whatever you do, I highly discourage you from smoking your picanha if you haven’t trimmed the fat. When exposed to high temperatures in a smoker, the fat cap quickly turns rubbery which can ruin the final result. Rather grill it. If you however insist on removing the fat cap, then you can go ahead and smoke it.
The article would be incomplete without discussing ribeye and picanha flavors. Because of the fat content found in both cuts, it’s safe to say they’re equally flavorful. In fact, if there’s one thing meat lovers can agree on is both cuts don’t need seasoning.
Picanha is so rich in flavor to the point any marinades, rubs or seasoning will simply distort its taste. Rather stick to salt and pepper. Same goes for ribeye. If you feel you need to further tenderize it, do it for no longer than 40 minutes and get cooking!
I’ll admit some steak lovers can’t fathom the thought of cooking ribeye without prior seasoning. If you subscribe to that school of thought and absolutely feel it necessary to season your ribeye, garlic, paprika and chilli powder rub will do the trick.
Also, another factor to be cognizant of is the fuel used. Avoid using artificial briquettes or fire starters when cooking your steaks. Most of these artificial additives tend to alter the flavor of the meat. Organic charcoal is tried, tested and works every time!
The facts are in. Now it’s up to you to select a winner between picanha vs ribeye! To round up the differences, picanha is much more tender than ribeye depending on the exact cut as explained earlier. Ribeye is best cooked at high temperatures for shorter periods of time. And you can choose your preferred cooking method, be it grilling, smoking or pan frying.
Picanha should be cooked for longer. It’s best for grilling if you leave the fat cap on and smoking if you remove it. But differences aside, I strongly believe both cuts of meat are equally juicy and delicious and don’t need any seasoning.