Picanha (Brazilian barbeque tri-tip roast)

About this dish

  • Serves: 4-6
  • Time: at least 4 hours total
    • 30 minutes prep
    • at least 3 hours marinating time
    • 30 minutes to cook
    • 10 minutes to rest the meat before serving
  • Method: grill

Picanha (pick-ahn-yeh)

This is a classic Brazilian dinner, learned on a visit to my friend Evie’s parents’ house in Sao Paulo. Her father prepared this for us one afternoon, as I watched intently. It works as a dinner, as well as for a sort of light fare for a light pot-luck/wine-luck we have at our house, called “Wine of the Casita” (WOC). It is served with sliced baked potatoes and a relish, both recipes below. Sometimes we add a green salad, but other vegetables just get in the way 😉


  • 1 ‘tri-tip’ roast 2-4 lbs
  • 5-6 cloves garlic or 3-4 tablespoons of prepared crushed garlic
  • coarse salt (0.5-0.75 cups) best is coarse salt that is pounded with a meat mallet in a fabric bag; the largest pieces should be like oatmeal or rice (maybe a pea)). second-best is kosher salt (also called koshering salt)
  • olive oil 1/4 cup or so

For the potatoes:

  • russet potatoes (1 per person)
  • extra kosher salt (at least 1 T per potato)

For the relish:

  • 2-3 large tomatoes (heirloom or beefsteak work best, i.e., dense with less “gel”)
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 large green pepper
  • garlic (3 cloves, or 1.5 tablespoons crushed paste)
  • olive oil (0.25 cups)
  • red wine vinegar (0.5-0.75 cups)
  • salt, pepper to taste


  • very hot BBQ grill


Trim excess fat from the meat. There’s one side that is mostly a large slab of fat; trim down to 1/8″ approx. Don’t worry about being perfect; most of it burns off anyway. The idea is to reduce the amount of fat that creates flare-ups on the grill.

Mix salt and garlic together to make a paste, rub all over the meat. Add a little olive oil if the paste won’t stick. Marinate the tri-tip several hours (3-4 at least), turning it over once an hour or so. Liquid should come out of the meat.

WHILE THE MEAT MARINATES, make the relish. Dice the onion, pepper, and tomatoes finely and to the same size (1/4″ chunks are nice, but can be tedious).  Mix equal measures of the three (by volume; I do it by ‘eye’) in a larger bowl than you need. Add 0.5-0.75 cups red wine vinegar and stir. Add cold water – about 0.25 cups, and olive oil, all to taste. Add some salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

(AFTER 3-4 hours)

Start the grill and get it VERY hot.

Scrape most of the mixture off the roast, esp. the large chunks of salt. Don’t worry about getting all of it, but try to get most of it off. Rub the meat with a little olive oil, and a little more garlic. Do NOT add pepper – it burns on the grill.

Grill over very high (highest setting) heat. Do NOT turn over until the first side is nearly burnt, but the meat is still about 20-30 degrees F from being ‘done’.

NOTE: while the meat is cooking, prepare the potatoes. Gail’s trick for making the potatoes better is to prepare them in two stages. Clean the potatoes in water; while wet, “dust” them generously with kosher salt (a lot will fall off in prep and cooking). Microwave until nearly done (3 minutes per potato, half of the time on each side). When they’re done, “toast” them on the top rack of the grill or slightly away from the main burners until the outside is dry and slightly crispy. Remove when done.

Turn the meat ONCE, cook until ‘done’ (rare using a meat thermometer). Remove when the internal temperature is as desired ().

WAIT 10 minutes for the meat to rest.

Carve perpendicular to the grain in 3/16″-1/4″ slices (around 5mm). Try to catch the ‘juice’ for the serving plate. Serve warm or cold with baked or boiled potatoes (see recipe below) and relish (see recipe below).

Serve with the relish and/or spooned on sliced baked potatoes.