Tri tip vs Brisket (The Great BBQ Debate)

Tri tip and brisket, go head to head. Renowned and adored by chefs and food lovers worldwide, these two cuts present distinct nuances in texture, flavor, preparation, and cooking times.

The most significant difference lies in their respective origins and fat content; the tri tip is a lean cut from the bottom sirloin, offering a tender, juicy eating experience, while the brisket is a flavorful cut from the animal’s chest with high connective tissue content, requiring long, slow cooking for achieving optimum tenderness. So, get your barbecue tongs ready as we delve deeper into the culinary duel between tri tip and brisket.

Tri Tip vs Brisket (detailed comparison)

Tri tip vs brisket: Which is better tri-tip or brisket?

When it comes to outdoor grilling or slow-cooked barbecue, two proteins frequently steal the limelight – the tri tip and brisket. Both cuts are held in high esteem for their unique flavor profiles and textures, but they also have significant differences that dictate their preparation methods and usage in various dishes. Let us delve deeper into these differences for a comprehensive understanding.

Tri tip vs brisket
Tri tip vs Brisket

1. Origin and Cuts

Tri Tip: Boasting of a proud Californian heritage, tri-tip is a cut of beef from the bottom sirloin. It is named for its triangular shape and typically weighs between 1.5 to 2.5 pounds. A lean cut with a satisfying level of marbling, the tri tip offers a less fatty alternative compared to more traditional cuts of beef, like the brisket.

Brisket: Originating from the lower chest or breast of beef or veal, brisket is one of the nine primal cuts of beef. It’s a large cut, typically weighing anywhere between 5-20 pounds. A choice cut for long, slow cooking methods, the brisket is celebrated for its rich flavor and tenderness when prepared correctly.

2. Flavor and Texture

Tri Tip: Tri tip has an enticing balance of meaty flavor and tenderness. When cooked correctly, it can vie for the spotlight with much pricier cuts of meat, owing to its rich beefy flavor and moderately tender texture. Tri tip is less marbled compared to brisket but is far from dry, offering a tender bite when prepared correctly.

Brisket: Brisket is layered with hearty veins of fat and connective tissue that break down during slow cooking to yield a velvety, intensely beefy experience. It has a robust flavor profile thanks to the cooking process, which allows the meat to absorb smoky flavors from the wood or charcoal.

3. Cooking Methods

Tri Tip: Tri tip’s relatively smaller size and lean texture make it a favorite for grilling. The exceptional marbling ensures juicy, flavorful steak as long as it’s not overcooked. It’s best cooked over direct heat to medium-rare, then allowed to rest to continue the cooking process to medium. Slicing against the grain is crucial to maintain tenderness.

Brisket: Brisket demands patience with hours-long cooking processes to break down the connective tissue, but the payoff is extraordinarily tender meat packed with flavor. It’s the ideal choice for smoking, but also performs well when braised. The resulting meat offers a melt-in-your-mouth experience, bursting with smokey beefy goodness.

4. Nutritional Value and Cost

Tri Tip: Tri tip is more narrowly cut, which directly translates to fewer calories and less fat, making it a healthier choice for those watching their dietary intake. In terms of cost, it falls on the more affordable end compared to other steak cuts like ribeye, making it a great option for budget-conscious beef lovers.

Brisket: Brisket, with its abundant intramuscular fat content, is higher in calories and fats. However, for those who prioritize flavor and tenderness over nutritional content, this isn’t much of a deterrent. Being a larger cut, brisket tends to be pricier. But considering its larger serving size, the cost-per-serve can still be reasonably economical.

Do you cook tri-tip like a brisket?

No, you don’t cook tri-tip like a brisket. While both come from different parts of the cow and have unique textures, the preparation and cooking methods differ significantly due to their distinct structures. Here is a super detailed explanation of how to prepare these cuts differently:


Tri-tip is a lean, well-marbled cut from the bottom sirloin. It’s relatively small, usually weighing between 1.5 to 2.5 pounds, and has a triangular shape. Due to its tender nature, it’s more suited for faster cooking methods, such as grilling or roasting.

Tri tip
Tri tip

Preparing and Cooking Tri-tip

  1. Seasoning: You can marinate the tri-tip for a few hours or just apply a dry rub with your preferred herbs and spices before cooking. Make sure to coat all sides.
  2. Grilling: Take the tri-tip out of the refrigerator about 30 to 45 minutes before cooking to allow it to come to room temperature. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (about 400°F), and oil the grates lightly to keep the meat from sticking. Place the tri-tip on the grill fat side down and sear the first side for 4-5 minutes. Flip the tri-tip and sear the other side for another 4-5 minutes.
  3. Indirect cooking: After searing both sides, move the tri-tip to the cooler side of the grill or turn off one of the burners for gas grills. Cook the tri-tip indirectly over medium heat, with the lid closed, for 20-35 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 130°F to 135°F for medium-rare doneness. Keep in mind that the tri-tip continues to cook when resting, so pull it off the grill a few degrees below your desired final temperature.
  4. Roasting: Alternatively, you can roast the tri-tip in the oven at 425°F for 30-45 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cut and your desired level of doneness. Use a meat thermometer to monitor the internal temperature to ensure even cooking.
  5. Resting: Resting the meat is a crucial step for any cut of beef, as it allows the juices to redistribute and results in a juicier and more tender end product. Let the tri-tip rest for at least 10 minutes with foil to keep it warm.
  6. Slicing: When it’s time to serve, slice the tri-tip against the grain to maximize tenderness.


On the other hand, brisket is a tougher, larger cut originating from the chest or breast of the cow. It consists of layers of fat and connective tissue. To break down the connective tissue and tenderize the meat, brisket requires a long, slow cooking process such as smoking or braising.


Preparing and Cooking Brisket

  1. Trimming: Trim the surface fat and silver skin carefully, leaving a thin layer of fat (about 1/4 inch) to help keep the brisket moist and flavorful during the cooking process.
  2. Seasoning: Apply a dry rub or seasoning mixture evenly, ensuring that it covers all sides of the brisket. Some popular options include a simple mix of salt, pepper, and garlic, or more complex rubs with paprika, sugar, and other spices.
  3. Smoking: Preheat the smoker to 225°F. Place the brisket with the fat side up on the smoker grate. Smoke the brisket for about 1 to 1.5 hours per pound, aiming for an internal temperature of around 195°F to 203°F. Using a water pan in the smoker helps maintain moisture during the long cooking process.
  4. Braising: Alternatively, if you don’t have a smoker, you can braise the brisket in the oven. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Sear the brisket fat side down in a hot Dutch oven or oven-proof pot. Add liquid like beef broth, beer, or wine until it reaches the halfway point of the brisket. Bring the liquid to a simmer, cover the pot, and place it in the oven. Cook for roughly 4-5 hours, turning the brisket occasionally until it reaches the desired internal temperature and is fork-tender.
  5. Resting and Slicing: As with the tri-tip, allow the brisket to rest for at least 20 minutes (and up to an hour) before slicing. Slice the brisket against the grain to ensure maximum tenderness.

In conclusion, tri-tip and brisket require different cooking techniques due to their unique fat content, texture, and size. Tri-tip is a leaner, tender cut and is better suited for faster cooking methods like grilling or roasting, while brisket is tougher and needs slow cooking methods like smoking or braising.

Other useful articles you may read: Wagyu Steak vs Angus | Bone In vs Boneless Ribeye | Prime Rib vs Ribeye

Frequently asked Questions (FAQs)

Can you slow cook a tri-tip like a brisket?

Yes, you can slow cook a tri-tip, but unlike a brisket, the tri-tip doesn’t necessarily benefit from an extended slow cook due to its lean and well-marbled structure. Overcooking may lead to a tough, dry texture. Tri-tip is often grilled or roasted at moderate to high temperatures, which helps to sear the exterior and retain the juicy interior. If you choose to slow cook it, closely monitor the temperature to prevent drying it out.

Is brisket cheaper than tri-tip?

The exact price of brisket or tri-tip depends on the area and the supplier. However, on average, brisket is more expensive due to its larger size. While making a pound-to-pound price comparison, tri-tip often comes out as cheaper. But remember, pricing can fluctuate based on factors like season, quality of the cut, and whether the meat is organic, grass-fed or grain-fed, etc.

Is tri-tip the best cut?

Whether tri-tip is the best cut is subjective and depends on personal preference. Tri-tip is renowned for its robust flavor, lean texture, and relatively lower cost, making it a favorite among many meat lovers. Its versatility allows for a different range of cooking methods. However, some might prefer more marbled or fatty cuts such as ribeye or beef short ribs for their distinct flavors and textures.

Is brisket the best cut of meat?

Brisket is often hailed as one of the best cuts of meat, especially when it comes to slow cooking, smoking, or making dishes like traditional barbecue, corned beef, and pastrami. Brisket’s rich marbling and connective tissues, when slowly cooked, break down and create a tender, intensely flavorful dish. However, whether it’s the “best” is largely subject to an individual’s taste preferences.

Why is tri-tip only sold in California?

While tri-tip is synonymous with California, particularly Santa Maria barbecue, it is not exclusively sold there. It gained popularity in California because of its lean profile, robust flavor, and affordability, but it is available elsewhere. That said, it might not be as commonly found in butcher shops or supermarkets outside of the western U.S. due to regional differences in butchering practices and regional preferences for certain cuts.


Both tri-tip and brisket offer their own unique flavors, qualities, and cooking methods that cater to different preferences and occasions. Tri-tip shines as a lean, tender, and budget-friendly cut perfect for grilling or roasting, while brisket entices with its rich, succulent texture when slowly cooked, making it ideal for smoking or braising.

Ultimately, the choice between tri tip vs brisket depends on personal taste, cooking style, and the desired end result. Whichever cut you choose, proper preparation and cooking techniques will ensure a memorable and delicious dining experience.

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