In 2012 I stepped into a dim restaurant in one of Rome’s popular districts. I was intimidated and then floored by an oxtail ragu. I couldn’t believe how thick and flavorful the sauce and dish was.
I haven’t looked back since.
What is oxtail?
Oxtail is meat cut from a steer’s tail. Despite its chunky, bony appearance, oxtail is full of rich, beefy flavor when braised and is popular in stews, stocks, casseroles, soups, and pastas. Once a cheaper cut relegated to lower classes, oxtail has become more expensive as chefs recognized its richness and versatility.
An oxtail typically weighs around 3.5 kilograms (8 pounds) and is skinned and cut into shorter lengths for sale [*]. The chunks will vary in length depending on the portions of tail you receive. This cut has delicious but limited amounts of meat, and the majority of an oxtail’s weight is in the bones.
Oxtail is as popular in as many cuisines as there are cultures that raise cows. From Jamaican butter bean stews to Vietnamese pho, oxtail’s rich broths and deep flavors have found a home all over the world.
Where do oxtails come from?
Oxtail is exactly what it sounds like — chunks of meat and bone cut from a steer’s tail. They are packaged in groups of links, resembling a chain. Meat surrounds the bones found in the center, resulting from a cross-section cut of the tail.
Oxtail used to refer only to adult, castrated steers, but now oxtail is a general term for any cow’s tail since there is no significant difference between oxtails sourced from male or female cows.
What does oxtail taste like?
Oxtail meat surrounds the tail bones, resulting in a rich blend of bone marrow, gelatin, and beefy flavor when cooked. Similar to brisket or chuck, oxtail shines brightest when cooked slowly. This gives time for the fats to render and the collagen to cook out of the bone and into the dish, resulting in thick, gelatinous broths and tender meat.
Is oxtail healthy?
Like most red meat, oxtail is healthy when cooked on its own, sourced correctly, and eaten in moderation. Its “health” is more determined by the dish you prepare with it. On its own, oxtail is zero carb, has many healthy fats, and is high in protein. If you are concerned with health, consider sourcing your oxtail from producers that raise cattle on grass from the beginning all the way to the end of their life.
Research has shown that grass-fed beef is lower in calories, has more healthy fats, many antioxidants, and has less antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Grass-fed and grass-finished beef is also more commonly produced by companies concerned with nutrition and sustainability, making it a win-win-win for your taste buds, your health, and the planet.
Oxtail nutrition facts
A 100g portion of oxtail has [*]:
- Calories: 257
- Protein: 25.9g
- Fat: 16.5g
- Carbs: 0g
- Sodium: 357mg
- Calcium: 13mg
- Iron: 2.18mg
- Zinc: 5.06mg
Oxtail also has a wide smattering of other nutrients including niacin, potassium, and B vitamins.
Health benefits of oxtail
Oxtail has many of the typical nutritional benefits of red meat — high in protein, rich source of iron, good B vitamins, but it also has a high amount of collagen. This combination makes for a rich, nutritious protein source that people all over the world have come to recognize for its taste and nutritional value.
High in protein and zinc
With 20+ grams of protein in a typical serving and almost half of your daily required zinc, oxtail is a great main for your meal. Protein helps you feel satiated for longer and helps build muscle mass, and zinc is critical for your immune system [*].
May be good for your skin, nails, and hair
While the research isn’t conclusive yet, many people have reported benefits from increased collagen intake and skin, nail, and hair health [*]. Collagen is a protein responsible for healthy joints and skin elasticity, or stretchiness, and it breaks down into gelatin when cooked [*].
Great source of iron and B12
100g of ox tail has about 25% of the iron adult males need and about half of the recommended B12. We rely on iron to create hemoglobins, which help transport oxygen in our blood, and Vitamin B12 helps keep blood and nerve cells healthy [*][*].
And like any red meat, oxtail is best served alongside a healthy, diverse diet and eaten in moderate amounts.
How to cook oxtail
Oxtail is versatile. You can shred the meat for tacos, place them whole in pho or stew, or use the bones to prepare a deliciously gelatinous broth — one of the most cherished broths, in fact. Most chefs braise or stew oxtail because low-heat cooking methods work well on tougher cuts of meat that need time to render fat and tenderize. Slow cookers, instant pots, dutch ovens, and roasting pans are all great tools for oxtail.
Almost all recipes call for an initial browning before stewing or slow cooking your oxtail. This allows the Maillard reaction (a complex series of chemical reactions between amino acids and sugar) to build flavor and create that signature brown crust on steaks.
A few of the most common oxtail dishes include:
- Jamaican Oxtail Stew
- Oxtail Casserole
- Oxtail Ragu
- Oxtail Bone Broth
Where to buy oxtail
Oxtail is popular these days, so you can normally find it in most supermarkets. If not, local butchers and higher-end meat stores will carry it.
The key to sourcing oxtail that tastes the best is to choose producers who understand the effects healthy grazing and environments have on taste and nutrition. Every choice a farmer makes while raising a cow matters. The grasses they eat, their roaming schedules, their proximity to other cows, the choice to supplement with grain feed or not, and so on.
Industrial meat sacrifices nutrition and taste for efficiency and scale. Sustainable producers prioritize nutrition, taste, and environment over profits.
Try beef oxtail from cows raised on the best grass in the world.
Is oxtail a good cut of meat?
Yes, oxtail is a fantastic cut — it just needs to be prepared correctly. Oxtail is prized for its flavor and collagen. It wasn’t always this popular, but over time chefs began to recognize the incredible flavor and texture you can create with this cut. While you can’t toss oxtail directly on the skillet and be done in a few minutes, low-heat cooking methods like a braise bring out a whole world of flavor.
Is oxtail really ox or cow?
Oxtail specifically refers to the tails of adult, castrated cows, but most producers expand this definition to include any adult cow tail. The difference between a male and female cow tail in terms of cut, taste, and flavor is moot.
Is oxtail healthy to eat?
In moderation, of course. It does have high amounts of saturated fats, but there is nothing wrong with healthy fats when you source your oxtail from producers who don’t constantly feed their cows antibiotics and GMOs. And like most proteins, it depends on what you make with it.
Why are oxtails so expensive?
Supply and demand! Oxtails are a small fraction of available meat on a cow. Like chicken wings, you only have a limited number. Combine that with the coveted taste and texture, and you have a recipe for increased prices.
Why do people love oxtail so much?
Because it is delicious. Why else? Oxtail is famous for its collagen-field texture and flavor. Oxtail broth is thick, rich, and buttery. If you haven’t experienced it, you need to pick some up right now and make it happen.
What meat is similar to oxtail?
Any bony, tougher cut of beef will resemble oxtail in terms of preparation method, but oxtail is unique in its flavor and constitution. For oxtail substitutes, consider shank, flank, or brisket. Each of those cuts shines when cooked slowly, but you won’t have the same thick broth. You could add bone broth in with those substitutes to mimic oxtail, though.
The bottom line
Oxtail is renowned for its deep flavor and gelatinous texture. Cut from the tails of cows in a cross-section fashion, each link is surrounded by delicious meat.
Oxtail is most popular in stews and has been a popular choice for dishes all over the world.
Making oxtail at home is easier than you think and deeply rewarding. Pick out a recipe, order some oxtail from cows raised the right way, and enjoy a cut that will likely become a house staple.
Nathan Phelps owns and writes for Crafted Copy, a boutique copywriting shop that finds the perfect words for interesting products. He is also an ethical foodie, outdoors-aficionado, and hails from Nashville, TN. He splits his time between helping sustainable businesses find new customers and managing his ever-increasing list of hobbies, which include playing guitar, baking bread, and creating board games.