Tri Tip vs Brisket: Five Differences that Make Tri Tip the Winner!

Brisket vs Tri Tip

If you looking to put some beef on your pit this weekend then you might be wondering about Tri Tip vs Brisket.  Both of these cuts of beef are incredible and I love cooking both.  That being said, these cuts are extremely different in terms of flavor and cooking styles. 

Between the two cuts I prefer to cook tri tip but let’s walk through the differences and see which is the right choice for you.

Brisket vs Tri TipTri Tip vs Brisket:  The Five Big Differences

Let’s start with the basics about these two very different cuts of beef.  The tri tip comes from the Bottom Sirloin at the back of the cow while brisket comes from the front of the animal.

Brisket Cut Diagram

The major differences between these two cuts are:

  • Size
  • Cooking Style
  • Cost
  • Flavor
  • Availability

Let’s look at each of these differences in more detail!

Size Differences – Tri Tip is Smaller than Brisket

A whole tri tip weighs in at around three pounds while a whole packer brisket will typically weigh between 12 to 20 pounds. 

If you are cooking for a family of four then you will polish off a tri tip in one meal.  If you cook a brisket then you are going to be eating leftovers for the rest of the week.


Tri Tip grilled on a Weber Jumbo Joe
Grilled Tri Tip

You don’t always have to buy a full packer brisket.  Sometimes you can find a 5-7 pound brisket flat and, if you get lucky, a 3-4 pound fully separated point. 

I would encourage you to stay away from a partial flat weighing in the 3-4 pound range.  Flats this small still take a long time to cook and are famous for turning out dry.

Tri Tips Are Cooked Fast 

A tri tip roast is also known as a Santa Maria steak and is a classic California cut. 

The traditional way of grilling this steak is in the Santa Maria style where it simply seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic then grilled over an oak fire on an elevated cooking rack.

For Medium Rare you should grill a tri-tip to 135F before letting it rest and slicing.  You need to pay attention while you are slicing a tri tip as the grain direction does a subtle shift halfway through the roast.

My preferred technique is to smoke a tri tip steak with indirect high heat for about 45 minutes to an hour before moving it directly over the charcoal to put a little sear on the outside.   Here is the full article on How to Cook a Tri Tip on a Weber Kettle.

When I smoke a tri tip on a pellet grill. I will skip the reverse sear step.  For more information read How Long to Smoke Tri Tip.

Briskets Are Cooked Slow

A brisket, which comes from the breast of the steer, is a combination of two TOUGH muscles with a massive amount of inter connective tissues which needs to be broken down before it will ever be tender. 

Getting a brisket tender enough to be edible will take you HOURS (6-14) with exactly how long depending upon the technique you are using.  For more information read How Long to Smoke a Brisket.

The slow cooking process for a brisket is much more complex than for a tri tip.  You need to aggressively trim the fat cap on a brisket, hit it with a great dry rub and then smoke it with hickory or mesquite for hours before wrapping it in aluminum foil or butcher paper.  After the brisket has been wrapped it still needs to cook for many more hours in your smoker before it becomes probe tender.

While you cook Tri Tips to medium rare, a brisket needs to be cooked to well done with an internal temperature of about 205F to become amazing Texas Style barbecue.

Smoke Ring Brisket Flat

It is much simpler to cook a tri tip than a brisket.  As long as you have a digital meat thermometer and are remotely familiar with how to grill a steak then you will do great with a tri tip. 

Briskets, on the other hand, have been known to make grown men cry.

Finished Tri Tip
Sliced Tri Tip

Cost Differences Between Tri Tip and Brisket

There are significant difference in the cost and meat yields of these cuts but in the end they cancel each other out.

In general a tri tip will cost about twice as much as a brisket on a per pound basis.  Of course things are different all across the country, etc.  but you can estimate about $8 per pound for tri tip and $4 per pound for brisket. I am estimating costs based upon a full packer brisket.  If you are buying a trimmed brisket flat then the cost per pound increases significantly.

On a per pound basis a full brisket looks like a bargain compared to tri tip, however, once you factor in meat yield they end up costing about the same.  When you cook a whole packer brisket you end up losing about 50% of the weight due to all of the fat that gets trimmed and rendered.  When you cook a tri tip there is almost no weight loss.

If you cook three tri tips that weigh about three pounds each then you will end up with just about as much meat as you get from a 12 pound brisket.  Both cooks will cost you just about $50.

The weight loss you encounter when cooking a brisket makes it challenging to figure out how much you need to feed a crowd.  See How Much Brisket Per Person for more information.

Sliced Brisket
Smoked Brisket


Briskets Have More Flavor Than Tri Tips

While both cuts of meat have a strong beefy flavor there are significant differences between them.

A tri tip is going to taste a lot like all of the other lean steaks (See Tri Tip vs Picanha for more information).  You are going to get a flavor profile that is similar to sirloin, flank or a New York strip. 

A tri tip will not be as succulent as a ribeye as tri tips don’t have much marbling. If you like steaks then you will enjoy a tri tip!

The flavor profile of a brisket is more complex than a tri tip.

A brisket is going to taste similar to a chuck roast (See Brisket vs Chuck Roast for more information).  While the flavor profiles are not identical, chucks and briskets are tough, fatty muscles that come from areas of the steer that do a lot of work.

What makes the flavor of a brisket complex is that the brisket is composed of two extremely different muscles.  The two muscles that make up a brisket are referred to as the “Flat” and the “Point”. 

The flat is extremely lean, has a great bark, and is typically served in slices.  The point has tremendous amounts of marbling, is incredibly juicy, and is typically served chopped or in cubes.  The meat from a properly cooked point is simply luxurious bbq!

Brisket Burnt Ends
Brisket Burnt Ends

Brisket Is Easier to Buy than Tri Tip

The availability of these two cuts across the country is highly variable but, in general, it is usually easier to find a brisket for sale than a tri tip.

In some regions butchers don’t bother with marketing briskets and grind them for hamburger meat. In other parts of the country all you are ever going to find are small brisket flats that really are not worth dealing with.

The general problem with finding tri tips is one of supply and demand.  There are only two tri tips per animal and the cut is extremely popular.  Sometimes I can find a tri tip at my local Costco but the availability is hit or miss.

If you need help finding a tri tip then check out this article about Where to Buy Tri Tip

What About You?

I prefer to cook tri tips instead of briskets because I love steak and it is easier and faster to cook a tri tip.  One the other hand, I cook brisket more often than tri tip simply because it is so hard to find a supply of tri tip in Baton Rouge.

What about you?

  • Do you have a preference for one or the other?
  • What other questions do you have about these cuts?

Drop a note in the comments below.  I would love to know what you think!