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Tri Tip vs Brisket – What’s the Difference?

If you just do a quick glance, you might think a tri tip cut was a really small brisket.  It’s pretty easy to confuse tri tip and brisket with one another simply based on how they look.

In fact, are you able to tell whether the image above is tri tip or brisket?  It certainly looks like brisket, but it’s actually smoked tri tip.

Both of these cuts are beef cuts and taste really good, but the similarities kind of end there.

As it turns out, there are a ton of differences between the two.  There’s differences from where they come from to how you should cook them, and everywhere in between.  Both are still great cuts of meat to work with, but there are certainly pros and cons to each.

In this post, we’ll clear up any confusion between tri tip vs brisket by walking through each cut.  We’ll touch on flavor differences, where they come from, how to cook each, and more.

Where Do They Come From?

On the most basic level, tri tip vs brisket differ in the fact that they both come from different parts of the animal.

A beautiful uncooked tri tip

Tri tip comes from the bottom sirloin of the cow, while brisket comes from the front part of the animal, lust below the chuck portion.

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.

 

The brisket is a 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 somker to turn into juicy and tender BBQ.

Tri Tip vs Brisket

Size

Here’s the first way that tri tip and brisket differ pretty significantly.

A whole tri tip will typically weigh between 3 and 4 pounds.  It’s really not a “huge” portion of the animal.

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.

Tri tip is a great size for a family or party of 4 to 6, depending on how hungry you are.  Brisket is a different story.  If you smoke a whole brisket it can feed a small army.  If there isn’t a small army to feed, plan on having brisket leftovers for a few days.

Price

When looking at cost, it’s best to compare on a per pound basis.  Generally speaking, you can expect to find brisket for around $3-4 per pound, and tri tip for around $6-8 per pound.  Obviously prices could vary based on where you live, but the rule of thumb is that tri tip is about twice as expensive per pound than brisket.

There are some practical considerations outside of cost per pound though.  We already mentioned that tri tip cuts are typically around 3 pounds, and brisket cuts around 12 pounds or more.  That means your total cost of a brisket is going to be higher compared to a tri tip.  You’ll obviously be able to feed more people, but it’s certainly something to keep in mind.

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.

How to Prepare Each

A finished brisket

This is where the differences between tri tip vs brisket really start to come into play.

Tri tip is technically a steak cut and is markedly more tender than a brisket.  Also due to the smaller size, 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 tri tip is to smoke it for around an hour then take it to the grill for a quick reverse sear.

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

Brisket on the other hand, 100% needs to go on the smoker for low and slow cooking.  The superficial and deep pectoral muscles we described earlier are two incredibly tough muscles with lots of connective tissue.

All of that takes a while to break down and result in tenderness and juicyness.  Time is your friend when it comes to smoking brisket.  With brisket, plan on around an hour and 15 minutes on the smoker per pound when smoking at 225°F.

Technically though, you’ll want to take brisket off the smoker 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.

So when comparing tri tip vs brisket, it’s a much simpler and easier process to cook and cut a tri tip.  As such, tri tip is probably the better option for beginners or if you are pinched for time.  Brisket, while rewarding when cooked properly, simply requires much more attention and time to cook.

Flavor Profile

Both of these cuts offer tremendous flavor.  Tri tip is more akin to a steak with a flavorful, beefy taste.  Even though it’s a pretty lean cut of the animal, it has enough fat content to make it tender and offer a delicious, buttery flavor.

Properly cooked brisket also has a strong beefy flavor but takes things to the next level with a crusty bark and incredibly tender and juicy insides.  A properly smoked brisket looks like it’s been burnt to a crisp, but on the inside of the crispy bark you’re treated to delicious, juicy beef.

Of course a brisket is easier to mess up, and if you aren’t careful it can come out dry, chewy, and leathery.  If you’re a first time brisket smoker, plan on there being a little bit of a learning curve.  But it’s worth it to have the patience and learn how to smoke a brisket!

Tri Tip vs 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 regions of the country.   So the next time you come across a tri tip in person, scoop one up and make it delicious in honor of your brothers and sisters who don’t have access 🙂  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.

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 pretty expensive compared to what you would find elsewhere due to the quality and sustainability of their methods.

 

Final Thoughts

If you are stuck between these two different cuts of beef, 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.  Which 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!