Tri-Tip vs Brisket: Which Cut is the Best?

In this article, we explain differences between tri-tip and brisket in taste, cooking methods and many more
Jeremy Bivens
Jeremy Bivens
Research Writer
Jeremy Bivens is a passionate writer and grilling enthusiast. He's been working as a freelance journalist for over 15 years now and has a particular interest in food writing read more
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Bruce Williams
Bruce Williams
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Claims that grilling is the art that he has been learning all his life long and is not planning to stop. Has been grilling for as long as he can remember. Author of numerous read more
Last updated: August 25, 2023
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Surely each and every BBQ needs some beef! It’s perfect for a variety of grilling purposes and can also be smoked slowly for a delicious flavor. In this guide, we’re comparing tri tip vs brisket. Which is the ideal cut for your grilling needs? What’s the difference between these two cuts of beef? A lot of people know that they like one more than the other, but they might not totally understand all of the differences. If you can develop an understanding of this then it makes it easier to understand exactly how to cook it and how to get the most out of these two BBQ staples. The two cuts are becoming favorites, and there are good reasons for this, but only if you’re able to unlock the potential in your smoker or grill.

What is tri-tip

Tri tip is technically a steak. It is sometimes called the California cut as the actual look of the tri tip is similar to the shape of the US state. It comes from the bottom sirloin steak. This is towards the rear of the cow. The muscle that tri tip is made of is the tensor fasciae latae. It’s pretty lean, but if you don’t cook it right it can end up being really chewy and even unpleasant.

What is brisket

Brisket is a cut that comes from the front of the cow, within the lower chest and the pectoral muscles of the cow. The brisket cut has been popular for some time in smokehouses across America. It needs a long time to get to the ideal tender piece of meat you’re probably dreaming of. Cooked right, brisket can become an absolute joy, partially due to the fact that it is so tender.

Difference between tri tip and brisket

Is tri tip the same as brisket? Do they even taste similar? There are a few vital differences between tri tip and brisket. We compare each of the aspects of these two cuts to help you to understand which is the best for each scenario.

1. Fat texture

Tri-Tip vs Brisket: Which Cut is the Best?Both tri tip and brisket have enough fat running through them that if you slow cook them, you can end up with a delicious and tender piece of meat. The fat melts down to a buttery flavor, and if you cook these cuts right, using a slow cooker or slower setting on a Dyna Glo charcoal grill, you can end up with melt in the mouth beef. If you get it wrong, they might be a little bit tough and chewy.

The fat texture is more prominent in a piece of brisket, whereas tri tip is closer to a steak in nature. It’ll also be more forgiving if you slightly undercook it, as it is less likely to be fatty and chewy after being undercooked. Some people even cook tri-tip in a different method, as if it were a steak, rather than cooking it low and slow on a smoker.

2. Shape

Tri-Tip vs Brisket: Which Cut is the Best?Brisket normally look like a large rectangle. It is much thicker than a steak. The shape of a tri-tip is that iconic triangular cut we’ve discussed already, which gives it the nickname.

Naturally, you can buy smaller pieces of this meat and the shape then depends on the cut and how it has been prepared. Generally speaking, though, you may want to cook them whole, especially if you are opting for a recipe from a smoker cookbook!

3. Price

Tri-Tip vs Brisket: Which Cut is the Best? Tri tip Trusted Source Tri-tip - Wikipedia The tri-tip is a triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut, consisting of the tensor fasciae latae muscle. Untrimmed, the tri-tip weighs around 5 pounds. In the U.S., the tri-tip is taken from NAMP cut 185C. is generally much more expensive. In fact, it is normally double the price. This is because it is closer to a steak in its texture and flavor and you can prepare it without having to put it on for hours and hours.

It’s about $4 per pound to buy brisket, and twice that for tri-tip. Remember that brisket cuts are normally much bigger, so you might have to buy over 10 pounds of meat! It’ll feed you for days, at least. Make sure you have a suitable knife to cut through those large brisket cuts of meat.

We should also say that the price of each of these cuts is dependant on a lot of different things. Whether you are buying from a supermarket or a butcher will make a difference. Also, where you live will impact the price you pay for your meat. A lot of people go for BBQ boxes that can be bought from butchers, which can also save you some money.

4. Taste

Tri-Tip vs Brisket: Which Cut is the Best?Both cuts offer a lovely beefy flavor. As you might expect from what we’ve already told you, the tri-tip has a leaner cut and is therefore slightly less fatty, but it still has plenty of fat when cooked slowly to create a tender and buttery piece of meat.

The brisket also has a strong, beef flavor, but it also has more of a bark when it is seasoned and cooked, with more of the surface area getting crisp. Burnt brisket ends are popular, and simple to create even on a gas cooker like the Weber 46502001 Spirit S-315 LP Gas Grill.

One of the best things about these sorts of low-and-slow cuts is that they can act as blank canvases, you can add so many flavors and do the meat in a variety of different styles, making sure there is a rich buttery basis to the taste.

5. Best cooking method

Tri-Tip vs Brisket: Which Cut is the Best?Preparation is vital to ensure that you end up with the ideal end result. Cooking methods can vary slightly, and though the tri tip can be prepared more like a steak, for tender results we recommend cooking in a “low and slow” setting.

Whether you are slowly preparing on a gas grill or you are looking to cook on a charcoal grill, you should keep a steady temperature of around 195°F for 6-8 hours. Undercook and it will be chewy, overcook and it will be…well, chewy! Using a meat thermometer can allow you to check the temperature even from afar.

Tri tip can be cooked more quickly if you wish. A similar temperature is required, or maybe a little higher. 225 degrees is also a decent temperature to cook tri tip a bit more quickly. It takes about 30 minutes per pound to get a nice tender, medium-rare tri-tip. If you wish, you can actually cook it much more slowly until it is falling apart, this will take 4-6 hours, depending on the size of the piece of meat.

The thing that will really set your meat apart is having a brilliant BBQ rub. Both brisket and tri-tip can benefit hugely from a rub, and though the brisket is more likely to end up having a bigger bark for you to enjoy, you can still impart a lot of flavor by using a rub for your brisket the day before. If you can’t rub the meat and store it in the fridge overnight, you can use the rub on the day, but it is less likely to bring out all the flavor.

A lot of people use a combination of heat flavors like pepper and spices, along with sweetness like apple and sugar, to create the BBQ flavor we all know and love.

6. Safety

Tri-Tip vs Brisket: Which Cut is the Best?Both are pretty safe if you cook them well. The tri-tip is usually a quicker cook, which means that if you don’t get up to the desired temperature quickly enough then you can undercook the beef.

Undercooking beef poses less of a risk than undercooking a lot of other meats, but it is still not ideal and you can run the risk of getting ill. Always make sure you use a quality meat thermometer to check that the meat has reached at least 145°F. If not, it is a good idea to increase the temperature for some of the cook, to make sure that it is safe and bacteria have been killed off. The AcuRite 03168 can be monitored from afar and you can reliably check the internal temperature of the meat.

Final thoughts

If you’re choosing meat for a BBQ or cook out then it all starts with getting the right cuts. If you are in the market for something that can be cooked more quickly then you might want to go for a tri tip, but both offer you beautiful tender textures and beefy, buttery flavors when prepared well.

Comparing tri tip vs brisket when it comes to feeding a lot of people on a budget? It is probably a good idea to get brisket as it is more affordable, but only if you are prepared to slow cook. If you’re in more of a hurry then tri tip might be your best bet. Both of these cuts are BBQ staples, so make sure you learn how to add both to your arsenal if you want to impress people with your grilling.


Tri-tip - Wikipedia
The tri-tip is a triangular cut of beef from the bottom sirloin subprimal cut, consisting of the tensor fasciae latae muscle. Untrimmed, the tri-tip weighs around 5 pounds. In the U.S., the tri-tip is taken from NAMP cut 185C.

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