Tri Tip vs Brisket: What’s the Difference?

It’s not always easy to know the difference between tri-tip and brisket!

They’re two very different types of meat.

The biggest difference between tri-tip and brisket? They are from opposite ends of the cow.

Brisket is taken from the chest of the cow and tri-tip steak is taken from the rear end of the cow.

They have different textures and flavor profiles and should be cooked differently as well.

Below you’ll find out which cut of meat you should be using for your cookout and how to grill it like a pitmaster!

What Is Brisket?

The brisket is the breast of the cow and it carries most of the animal’s weight.

It’s made up of meat, connective tissue, cartilage, and tendons.

It has a fat cap and a high to moderate marbling throughout.

This is why it’s smoked for a long period of time. It takes time for the connective tissue to break down to juicy gelatin.

What Is Tri-Tip?

The tri-tip is cut from the tip of the sirloin primal so it has a lot less fat marbling than a brisket beef.

It’s a triangular-shaped piece of meat. Funnily enough, it’s famous for looking like the state of California.

It is boneless with a rich, beefy flavor and lean texture that looks and cooks like a steak and it does great on the grill and in the smoker.

It’s a lot easier to cook than brisket because it doesn’t have all that cartilage to break down.

Because of its slight marbling though, it still ends up juicy like a brisket.

Where Can You Buy Tri-Tip and Brisket?

Your brisket can most likely be found at the supermarket or your local butcher shops.

However, you might have to do a bit more digging to find a butcher that sources good quality tri-tip.

Generally, tri-tip is harder to find because there is a higher demand than its supply.

The Flavor Differences Between Tri-Tip and Brisket

Because of its slight marbling tri-tip still has a beefy, buttery flavor but isn’t as rich in flavor as a brisket.

Properly smoked brisket has an intense, rich beef flavor with a crispy bark; the sort of texture you can only get from brisket beef!

Brisket’s flavor profile is iconic, but both cuts of meat are buttery, beefy, and juicy when cooked right.

Size Differences Between Brisket and Tri-Tip

The entire weight of brisket is anywhere between 12 to 20 pounds.

Whereas the cut of tri-tip is only three to four pounds.

What Are the Cost Differences Between Tri-Tip and Brisket?

Ironically, brisket is cheaper than tri-tip.

It’s priced at roughly $4 per pound although you will be buying a large chunk of meat so it does add up. Tri-tip is normally double that per pound.

This is because it’s rich in protein and harder to source than brisket.

Which Is Better, Brisket or Tri-Tip?

The tri-tip is high in protein so a lot of gym-goers will eat it for that reason but there really is no better, ultimately.

The answer boils down to how many people you want to feed and what type of barbequing you’re up for.

Are you up for a slow and low smoking experience or a quick and high grill?

The tri-tip does take a quarter of the time to prepare and cook than a brisket.

But a well-cooked brisket, even though it’s a slow cooking process is a real treat if it’s done right.

Plus, a tri-tip won’t feed anywhere as near as many people as a brisket will.

Is One Better for Smoking Than the Other?

Tri-tip is easier to smoke because it has less connective tissue to break down.

But it certainly doesn’t stop people from smoking a brisket.

More people attempt to do a beef brisket because of its familiarity, but also because when you do it right, it turns out unbelievably juicy and tender.

They both do very well in the smoker. But if brisket isn’t done right it can turn out dry and overly chewy- an overall miserable experience.

Which Meat Is Better to Cook for What Occasion?

Both are sure to impress, especially if smoked to perfection!

But a brisket will serve 12 people comfortable with leftovers for days.

If it’s just a small family dinner tri-tip will do just fine. If you want to do tri-tip for a large group, grab two to four.

How to Prepare Brisket

Trim any excess fat off the fat cap to minimize steaming in the smoker and leave about 1/4 of fat on the meat.

Simply apply a binder like mustard than apply a rub and let it sit for 2-12 hours in the fridge.

How to Smoke Brisket

Choose your favorite flavor of wood chip and set your smoker to 225°F.

Put your brisket in the smoker, fat facing up, and remove it once the internal temperature hits 204°F.

A good rule of thumb to go by is to cook it on a pound basis.

So, for every pound of brisket, you want to have it in the smoker for 1.5 – 2 hours.

Pull the brisket from the smoker when it reach 204°F.

Before you serve it, wrap it in a towel and let the meat rest for a further 1-2 hours in a cooler.

What Are Some Good Cooking Methods for Tri-Tip?

The most popular way of cooking tri-tip is to smoke it and then grill it.

How to Prepare Tri-Tip

Like the brisket, keep it out of the fridge until it’s at room temperature.

Trim any excess fat, and season with your favorite spices, salt and pepper.

Smoking Tri-Tip

We don’t need to go overboard smoking the tri-tip, so set your smoker to 250°F and let it cook until the internal temperature hits 135°F.

See my comprehensive guide to smoking tri-tip here.

If your using a Pit Boss, I have also got a recipe for tri-tip here.

Both parts of the meat are rich in vitamins, protein, and minerals and both are worth the shot at smoking at least once.

Smoke On!


Hi, I’m Charlie, I have been meat-smoking and grilling for the past 15 years. I have an array of different smokers, thermometers, and have a love for finding the right wood and charcoal combo My favourite recipes are my EXTRA CRISPY smoked pork belly, juicy pulled pork, smoked brisket, duck poppers, and ANY SEAFOOD I grill).

I loves sharing his tips with beginners, helping them navigate the world of smoking. I find it’s not just about cooking; it’s a quest for that perfect smoky flavor.

You will usually find me playing with the kids, perfecting my brisket bark, or sipping beers with boys around the fire. Can’t wait to share all my delicious smoking and grilling recipes with you!

You can read more about me on our About Us page.

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