Tri Tip vs Brisket – What’s the Difference

tri tip vs brisket

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If you just do a quick glance, you might know the difference between a tri tip vs brisket.  It’s pretty easy to confuse tri-tip and brisket with one another simply based on how they look. They are actually two different types of meat.

On the most basic level, tri-tip vs brisket differs due to the cuts of meat coming from different parts of the cow. Tri-tip comes from the bottom sirloin of the cow, while brisket comes from the front part of the animal, just below the chuck portion.

picture of a cow and sectioned off with the different cuts of meat

Both are great cuts of meat to work with, but there are certainly pros and cons to each.

We are going to compare these two great slices of meat and let you decide what you want to work with.

Top Cuts Face-Off: Tri-Tip vs Brisket

Let’s highlight the differences and similarities between these the tri-cut and brisket.

1. Cut and Shape:

    • Tri-tip: Tri-tip comes from the bottom sirloin region and has a triangular shape.
    • Brisket: Brisket comes from the chest or pectoral region and has a rectangular shape.

2. Flavor:

  • Tri-tip: Tri-tip has a rich, beefy flavor with a slightly smoky taste.
  • Brisket: Brisket has a deep, smoky, and hardy flavor.

3. Texture:

    • Tri-tip: slightly tender and a bit firm.
    • Brisket: Brisket is very tender when cooked slow and low.

4. Marbling:

  • Tri-tip: moderate marbling.
  • Brisket: heavily marbled

5. Cooking Methods:

    • Tri-tip: mosy flavorful when grilled, roasted, or smoked
    • Brisket: slow cooking process like smoking or braising

6. Cooking Time:

  • Tri-tip: 30 to 45 minutes
  • Brisket: 10 to 12 hours or more

7. Versatility:

    • Tri-tip: grilled whole and sliced against the grain or used in Santa Maria-style BBQ.
    • Brisket: served as slices or burnt ends but can also be used in other dishes like sandwiches, stews, or chili.

Meat Cut and Size

A whole tri-tip will typically weigh between 3 and 4 pounds.  It’s really not a “huge” portion of the animal. The cut is triangular and taken from the lower portion of the sirloin. This cut works great for smaller gatherings.

A brisket on the other hand can come out to anywhere between 12 to 20 pounds, which is about 4 or 5 times larger than a tri tip. The cut is flatter and comes from the foreleg. If you’re hosting a larger group, then cooking a brisket would be best.

raw tri-tip steal on a wooden cutting boards surrounded by herbsrolled up raw brisket

Which Cut Is Easier To Cook – Tri-Tip Or Brisket?

When it comes to ease of cooking, Tri-tip is generally easier to cook. Tri-tip cooks quickly since it’s smaller in size and leaner in nature. Tri-tip is more straightforward cooking, making it a popular choice for beginners or those looking to save time grilling.

Brisket requires more time and attention. It is a larger and tougher cut of meat that’s rich in connective tissues. Brisket is best cooked slowly such as smoking or braising. This will help break down the collagen and create a more tender and flavorful brisket.

Tri-Tip and Brisket Flavor Profile

Tri-tip has more of a rich, beefy flavor that’s slightly smoky. The meat is well-marbled, which adds a depth of flavor. When slow-cooked to medium-rare or medium doneness, the flavor is perfect.

Brisket has more of a deep, smoky, and robust flavor. When slow-cooked, the brisket flavors develop, resulting in a super tender cut of meat. The connective tissues in brisket contribute to its rich flavor, while the smoky undertones from the cooking method further enhance its taste.

All About Tri-Tip

Let’s talk about the best way to prepare and a step-by-step guide to cooking the perfect tri-tip.

raw tri-tip steak

Tri-tip is a triangular-shaped cut from the bottom sirloin and is considered a steak.  It consists of the tensor fasciae latae muscle.  This cut of beef is considered lean and chewy compared to more traditional steak cuts like a porterhouse or t bone, but offers a similar flavor profile.

Preparing Tri Tip

Tri-tip is technically a steak cut and is markedly more tender than a brisket.  Also due to the smaller size, the tri-tip can be grilled with a sear on the outside.  You can cook a tri-tip on the smoker too though!

One of my favorite things to do with is to smoke it for around an hour then take it to the grill for a quick reverse sear.  Then you just slice it and serve!

With tri-tip, the goal is to cook until the center of the meat reaches an internal temperature of 132-135°F.

How to Cook Tri Tip (Step by Step)

  1. Prepare

    • Allow the raw tri-tip to come to room temperature for about 30 minutes.
  2. Season

    • Season the raw tri-tip generously with your preferred dry rub or marinade. I love to keep it simple and use salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika.
  3. Prep the Grill:

    • Preheat your grill to medium-high heat (around 400°F/200°C). For added flavor, you can use hardwood charcoal or wood chips for smoking. If using a gas grill, preheat with all burners on.
  4. Grill the Tri-tip:

    • Place the seasoned Tri-tip directly on the grill grates. Close the lid and cook for about 5-7 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature reaches your desired level of doneness.
    • For medium-rare, aim for an internal temperature of around 130°F (55°C). For medium, aim for 135°F (57°C) to 140°F (60°C).
    • Use a meat thermometer to accurately gauge the temperature.
  5. Rest and Slice:

    • Remove the tri-tip from the grill to a cutting board. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. This allows the juices to redistribute, resulting in more flavorful and tender meat.
    • Slice the tri-tip against the grain into thin, even slices.
  6. Serve and Enjoy:

    • Serve the sliced Tri-tip immediately. It pairs well with a variety of sides, such as grilled vegetables, salad, mashed potatoes, or bread.

Check out our Santa Maria Tri-Tip recipe or pellet grill tri-tip recipe next for more on this!

All About Brisket

Now let’s talk about the best way to prepare and a step-by-step guide to cooking a properly smoked brisket.

sliced cooked smoked brisket

The brisket is cut from the breast or lower chest area that includes the superficial and deep pectorals, which are strong muscles that are used to hold up the entire weight of the animal.

Because of this, brisket is actually one of the least tender cuts of meat you could end up with.  It needs a lot of time cooking low and slow on the smoker to turn into a juicy and tender BBQ.

Preparing a Brisket

Brisket is definitely best for low and slow cooking.  The superficial and deep pectoral muscles are two incredibly tough muscles with a lot of connective tissue.

All of that takes a while to break down and results in tenderness and juiciness.  Plan on around an hour and 15 minutes on the smoker per pound when smoking at 225°F.

You’ll want to take brisket off the slow cooker when your smoker probe thermometer measures an internal temperature of 165-170°F.  It will take all of that time to get your brisket to a point where it’s tender enough to be tasty.

How to Cook Brisket (Step by Step)

Here’s the best way to cook a brisket:

  1. Prepare

    • Allow the brisket to come to room temperature for about 1 hour.
    • Trim any excess fat from the brisket, leaving about ¼ inch of the fat cap on top for flavor and moisture.
  2. Season

    • Season the brisket generously with a dry rub of your choice. Our simple and delish go-to is salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika. Apply the rub evenly on all sides of the brisket.
  3. Prep the Smoker:

    • Light the charcoal or preheat the gas smoker to a temperature of around 225°F (107°C). Add hardwood chunks or chips, such as oak, hickory, or mesquite, for a smoky flavor.
    • Fill a water pan and place it inside the smoker to help maintain moisture during the cooking process.
  4. Smoke the Brisket:

    • Place the brisket fat-side up on the smoker grates. Close the smoker’s lid and allow the brisket to cook.
    • Maintain a consistent temperature of around 225-250°F (107-121°C) throughout the cooking process.
    • Plan for 1.5 to 2 hours per pound of brisket.
  5. Monitor:

    • Check the brisket periodically using a meat thermometer. Aim for an internal temperature of around 195-205°F (90-96°C). Insert the thermometer probe into the thickest part of the meat without touching the bone. This is a long cooking process.
    • You cou can spritz the brisket with a mixture of apple cider vinegar, water, or other liquids to keep it moist and enhance the flavors while cooking.
  1. Rest and Slice:

  • Carefully remove it from the smoker and wrap it tightly in aluminum foil or butcher paper.
  • Allow the brisket to rest for at least 1 hour to let the juices redistribute.
  • Slice the brisket against the grain into thin slices.
  1. Serve and Enjoy!

    Enjoy along your favorite side dishes. We link a great potato recipe above in the all about tri-tip.

Price Differences

The cost of Tri-tip and Brisket can vary depending on various factors such as location, quality, and market conditions. It’s best to check with your local butcher, grocery store, or online retailer to get the most accurate and up-to-date pricing.

Here is a rough breakdown of what we feel a tri-tip and brisket will run:

  • Tri-tip typically ranges from around $8 to $12 per pound.
  • Brisket prices can vary depending on the specific cut (whole brisket, flat, or point). On average, you can expect to pay around $4 to $8 per pound..

However, it’s important to note that these prices are approximate and subject to change. It’s always a good idea to inquire about the current prices from your local meat suppliers or retailers.

When looking at cost, it’s best to compare on a per-pound basis.  The other practical consideration is that with brisket, you have to trim a lot of that weight off.  During the fat-trimming process, about 30% of the weight of the brisket will be thrown aside.

Note If you need help finding the right tools, we’ve written a complete guide that goes over the best brisket knives for slicing and trimming right here.

Tri-Tip & Brisket – Where to Get Them?

One final consideration about tri-tip vs brisket is availability.  Brisket is widely available – almost every single medium to large-sized grocer will carry some sort of brisket option, even if it’s a half brisket.  If you have a local butcher, I can almost guarantee that they remain in stock of brisket.

Tri tip on the other hand can be a little harder to find, especially in some areas that aren’t close to bigger cities.

Of course, in this day and age, the internet opens up quite a few possibilities.  One of our favorite online sellers of beef is Snake River Farms – you can check out our personal experience with them here.

They are a farm-to-market, family-owned business that will deliver some of the highest quality beef you can imagine right to your doorstep.  They also happen to offer an American Wagyu Tri-Tip Roast that is out of this world good.  Give them a look if you want to try tri-tip but can’t get ahold of it at home!

Snake River Farms also delivers brisket – but fair warning, it’s a little pricey compared to your normal grocery store brisket.  The flavor is hard to beat!

Snake River Farms American Wagyu Gold Grade Brisket

The absolutely the finest briskets available. Offered in limited quantities, Gold Grade briskets are rich with the highest level of marbling offered by Snake River Farms.

Check Price on Snake River Farms

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Is Tri Tip And Brisket The Same Thing?

Although tri-tip and brisket may often look indistinguishable from each other, the similarities between the two cuts of meat end there. Not only are they, not the same thing, but the two cuts of beef actually come from two different parts of the cow’s body.

Brisket is a dense and lean cut of meat that is taken from the cow’s breast section, which is located under the upper portion of the animal’s ribcage. While tri-tip comes from the opposite side of the cow’s body and is cut from the bottom of part of the sirloin primal.

Both cuts of beef are very different in their composition and consistency, and yet they are both known for their rich and delicious taste, with tri-tip and brisket often being considered the two most flavorful pieces of meat that the cow produces.

  1. Is Brisket Cheaper Than Tri Tip?

The short and simple answer to this question is on a per-pound basis, yes, brisket is often sold at a cheaper price than tri-tip. However, this does not mean that the prices can’t vary depending on certain variables, such as the country or area where you are purchasing the meat from.

When it comes to comparing the cost of both cuts of meat, the most efficient method to use is to compare them using a per-pound basis. In basic terms, brisket is commonly sold for around $3-4 per pound, while tri-tip will usually sell for a price of around $6-8 per pound.

  1. Is Tri Tip Tender Or Tough?

Tri-tip is a cut of beef that comes from the back of the cow, where it is taken from a piece of the cow’s body called the sirloin primal. The cut of meat is known for its small size and often comes in a triangular shape, with the beef greatly resembling a cut of sirloin steak.

This striking resemblance is due to the cut of meat coming from the sirloin primal, which essentially makes it a variety of steak. Unlike brisket, which is considered lean and dense meat, tri-tip is known for its smooth and delicate texture and is beloved for its juicy tenderness.

When it comes to the taste of the meat, tri-tip also bears the same rich and beefy flavor as a cut of steak and can be easily grilled or cooked due to its small size.

  1. Is Tri Tip The Point Of A Brisket?

As we have previously established, there is very little connection between tri-tip and brisket, besides the animal they come from and their intense set of flavors. Whereas brisket comes from an area located at the front of the cow, just below the animal’s chuck. Tri-tip comes from the back of the cow and is actually a type of steak.

Because the two cuts of meat are separated by geography and biology, there is no way that they can be related, or even be considered as belonging to the same cut of beef. Brisket and tri-tip are two separate cuts of meat and are vastly different in terms of their size, taste, texture, and cooking styles.

So if you wish to try either one, you will have to purchase the cuts from your local butcher or grocery store separately.

  1. What Is Tri Tip Called In The South?

Because tri-tip is often mistaken for picanha or brisket, the meat has been given many names over the decades. In Southern California, the cut of meat is known as the Californian cut and is particularly popular among meat enthusiasts.

The cut of meat has also been called the bottom sirloin cut, a Santa Maria steak, a Newport steak and even poor man’s brisket.

Final Thoughts on Ti-Tip vs Brisket

If you are stuck between the tri-tip or brisket, I hope this guide has helped you to make your decision!  The reward of a well-smoked brisket is the best, but tri-tip just offers a simpler and easier cooking experience.

Whichever you choose for your next cookout ultimately comes down to your preferences and how much time you can commit.

Looking for more beef knowledge?  Check out our article on picanha steak next – which is yet another delicious cut of beef you can prepare at home on the grill!