Brisket vs. Tri Tip: What’s The Difference?

Written by Mike Futia | Updated October 1, 2023

Quick Answer

The main difference between brisket and tri-tip is that a brisket must be cooked low and slow, while a tri-tip should be cooked quickly over high heat.

Grilling up a tasty cut of meat is one of our favorite pastimes. But what happens when you can’t choose between two particular cuts of meat?

If you are like us, you’ve probably found yourself deciding between cooking a brisket versus a tri-tip at some point in your life. 

The main difference between brisket and tri-tip is that a brisket must be cooked low and slow, while a tri-tip should be cooked quickly over high heat. 

Of course, this isn’t the only difference between the two cuts of meat, so read on to discover all the details and make your decision. 

What is Brisket?

smoked brisket done

Brisket is a popular cut of beef for smoking, and it originally comes from the chest portion of the cow. The cow exercises this part of their body with every step, and as a result, it is very muscled and is considered a tough cut of meat.

Because brisket is known to be tough, the only way to enjoy it is by cooking it low and slow so that the connective tissue can dissolve back into the meat. While smoking is one option, simmering is another, and when brisket is brined for a long time and then simmered, it is known as corned beef. 

Brisket is a large cut of meat and is often divided into two pieces, which can be purchased separately: the flat and the point. Those looking to smoke a brisket frequently choose the flat, while corned beef is almost always made from the point. 

What is Tri-Tip?

smoked tri tip

Tri-tip is a cut of beef that comes from the bottom portion of the sirloin, which is on the cow's back near its rump. When the bottom of the sirloin is removed from the cow, it has a natural triangle shape, which is where it got the name tri-tip. 

Tri-tip can look like brisket, which causes people to confuse it for the popular cut. Tri-tip, however, comes from an area that is not frequently exercised by the cow, making it a tender cut suitable for making steaks. 

Because tri-tip is basically a steak cut, it is best cooked using a searing method over high heat, though it can also be smoked or simmered.  

The Main Differences Between Brisket and Tri-Tip

trimmed brisket

Although they look similar in shape, brisket and tri-tip are different cuts of meat. We will dive into the differences below. 


As we mentioned above, brisket is a tough cut of meat, and, as a result, it has a very distinct texture. One of the reasons grillers cook it low and slow is to get the fat cap to melt into the meat. While this will make the brisket super tender, you will still notice the texture of the meat as you eat. 

Because tri-tip is more marbled (meaning it has fat throughout), you will notice that the meat has a smoother texture than brisket. But, this being said, even a well-cooked tri-tip won’t “fall apart” in the same way a brisket will. It will still be tender and juicy, but it won’t fall apart on the plate. 


An entire brisket is much larger than a tri-tip, often weighing up to 20 lbs. Because most smokers rarely need an entire brisket, if you are buying yours from the store, it will likely be only a portion of the brisket that you purchase. This portion may be pre-divided from the whole brisket, or it may be divided by a butcher upon request. 

A full tri-tip, on the other hand, is 3-4 lbs., meaning you will always be buying the entire tri-tip rather than just a portion. 

Cooking Method

A brisket that isn’t cooked low and slow won’t come out right–in fact, there is no quick way to cook a brisket. With a tri-tip, a sear is the most popular method of cooking, but there are other cooking options that set it apart from brisket. 

In fact, you can smoke a tri-tip just like you can a brisket. Check out our smoked tri-tip recipe for more information. 


Tri-tip and brisket vary in price depending on your location, however, tri-tip tends to be more costly by the pound than brisket. This can be confusing for buyers who often see a smaller price tag on a tri-tip, but remember, a brisket is much larger than a tri-tip and can feed more people–meaning your cost per pound is often lower than that on a tri-tip. 

Which is More Tender, Brisket or Tri-Tip?

As far as tenderness goes, tri-tip is generally known to be the more tender cut of the two. Take this with a grain of salt, however, as a well-cooked brisket can melt in your mouth–which we find tastier than a tender steak any day. 

How to Choose Between Brisket and Tri-Tip

smoked tri tip

Are you still confused over whether you should buy a brisket or a tri-tip? Below, we’ve got a series of questions to help you make your decision.

1. How Many People Are You Feeding?

If it is just you and your significant other, then this decision is easy–choose a tri-tip. After all, you are only feeding two people, and even a smaller brisket will likely be too much. You can smoke it or grill it, whatever you prefer, and enjoy your dinner, just the two of you.

But if you are preparing for a large family event, you will quickly be priced out of providing everyone with tri-tip (not to mention you will need to make several), so a brisket is the better option.

2. How Much Time Do You Have?

There isn’t really a way to make a brisket quickly, so if you are in a rush, it is better to pick a tri-tip that you can have cooked within a couple of hours. 

If time isn’t a problem, then a brisket is an excellent choice, especially if you want to work on improving your smoking skills.

3. What Appliances Do You Have?

Do you have a smoker? If so (and if you have time), there is no reason not to work on making a delicious brisket. 

If you only have a grill, though, then we recommend picking up a tri-tip, as you won’t be able to make a brisket effectively without a smoker (or at least a pellet grill that can cook low and slow.)

4. What Have You Made Before?

While tri-tip can be delicious and tender, it also takes a lot of practice to be able to cook one correctly. If this is your first time making a tri-tip, it might be better to skip it if you are planning to entertain guests. 

Many people are scared to try making a brisket, especially if they haven’t made one before. While it does take some practice to get a brisket just right, it is actually a fairly easy meat to master if you have the right equipment. 

Need help making your first brisket? Check out our smoked brisket recipe

5. What/How Do You Plan to Serve?

Honestly, this one is a bit of a trick question, as both brisket and tri-tip can be served with some amazing sides. However, if you are making something for a crowd in a park or social setting, just a tri-tip and some sides won’t be enough(and might seem a bit too formal.) 

In this case, it is better to go with a brisket where everyone can have a couple of thin slices and then load up on some sides. It is also easy to serve brisket in an informal setting where not everyone will have access to a steak knife. 

But if it is just your small family of 4, a tri-tip and a couple of sides will probably be plenty. Keep in mind, though, that tri-tip is generally seen as a little fancier, and when you serve it, you should supply all the eaters with a steak knife. This can be difficult to do at a neighborhood BBQ, which is why, in these cases, we recommend serving brisket. 

The Final Verdict: Brisket vs. Tri-Tip

If you’ve made it this far, then you know the final decision between brisket and tri-tip will come down to the time you have available, as well as the number of people you plan to feed. 

Personally, we love a good brisket, and we always recommend trying to make one if you have the time. Just don’t forget to check out our best brisket rub to make your brisket delicious. 

Mike Futia

Hello, I'm Mike Futia, a passionate griller and BBQ enthusiast. I'm the creator of Grill Frenzy, and I'm committed to sharing my knowledge of grilling and smoking with you. I believe that BBQ and grilling should be accessible to everyone. Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out, I'm here to guide you on your grilling journey. Welcome!


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