Why Do Oxtails Take So Long To Cook?

Oxtails are often slow-cooked, meaning they can take a few hours to cook. Traditionally, oxtails were cooked in a pot over an open flame for twelve hours or more.

Why do oxtails take so long to cook? Oxtails contain connective tissue, bones, and fat that take a long time to become tender and flavorful.

Why? And what should we do to cook them perfectly? Let’s find out!

What is an Oxtail?

raw oxtails
Raw Oxtails. Credit: canva

What kind of meat is oxtail?

Oxtail refers to the tail of an ox, which is found on male cattle. The tails are mostly fatty and used for soup or stew.

It’s not a popular cut in many countries because it can be challenging to find, but if you do some digging around at your local butcher shop or grocery store meat counter, there’s a good chance you’ll find it.

The tail is mainly made up of fat and connective tissue, but there are small amounts of protein in the meat. If you look at a cow’s anatomy diagram, you will see that the tail has muscles all over it. These tiny little muscles don’t work for the cow, so they don’t get very big.

Oxtails are a great soup or stew meat because the fat helps keep them nice and tender as they cook in liquid over a long time. 

What do oxtails taste like?

The meat from the oxtail dish is dark and has a slightly beefy flavor. It’s not as strong as, say, a steak or roast, but it’s there.

Oxtails are often slow-cooked with vegetables like carrots and onions, which helps to develop the flavors even more.

What makes oxtails so delicious?

Oxtails contain a lot of connective tissue, bones, and fat.

Oxtail is delectable because it has a lengthy, low-temperature cooking process that breaks down the connective tissue. The longer you cook oxtails, the more delicate they become and the better their flavor.

Bones are composed of various tastes and gelatin, both of which seep out as the meat is cooked insufficient moisture.

The collagen must be heated for a long time to break down, and the fat will melt and distribute throughout the meal.

No wonder oxtails taste so delicious.

Why do oxtails cost so much?

Oxtails are a unique cut of meat. Cows don’t use their tails much, so they’re not particularly hearty or challenging to prepare like other cuts of beef can be.

This means the price is often just high enough for them to remain rare in grocery stores and butcher shops worldwide.

If you do find oxtail, though, I highly recommend picking some up. They’ll be the perfect addition to a delicious stew or soup!

Why do Oxtails Take So Long to Cook?

cooking oxtails in pot
Cooking oxtails in a pot. Credit: canva

Oxtails contain a lot of connective tissue, but also bones, tendons, and fat. All of these benefits from a long cooking time in a moist environment.

Fat and Tendons

Fat and tendons in oxtails aren’t textures that can become super soft, super fast.

They need to be simmered so that the gelatin and fat in them can melt into your stew or soup.

Bones

If bones are cooked for an extended period, the marrow will eventually seep out and add flavor to your sauce or soup. The gelatin in bones also thickens liquids over time, making it desirable in long-cooked dishes.

Collagen in Oxtail

Aside from collagen, there isn’t much protein in oxtail meat itself.

The natural flavor comes from the connective tissue found throughout each tail segment. However, this tissue doesn’t break down quickly, so you need to cook it for a long time to get the most tender cuts.

Breaking down collagen

The best way to break down the collagen is by simmering the oxtails in a stew or soup for a long period of time. This will ensure that the connective tissue is simmered and easily digested by your body.

Oxtails need to simmer for about 4 hours on medium heat. This allows the collagen in the meat to break down and become soft.

Oxtail isn’t a trendy cut of meat, but it’s one of my favorites! The lengthy cooking process results in tender, juicy meat that has been infused with all the delicious flavors of vegetables and broth.

How long does it take to cook oxtails?

The time it takes for oxtails to cook depends on the size and cut.

Oxtail stew meat needs four hours in a slow-cooker or six hours simmering in liquid at medium heat.  

If you’re making soup, follow your recipe instructions, as they’ll vary depending on how much broth is used. Generally, oxtails will need about six hours to cook in a soup.

Oxtails are a labor of love, but the result is worth it! The long cooking process results in meat that’s so tender and juicy, you’ll be coming back for more.

How to Cook Oxtails?

oxtails stew
Oxtails Stew. Credit: canva

How to make oxtails tender?

You can use any cooking method you want to make oxtails. However, I prefer slow-cooking methods like braising.

I recommend using a pressure cooker. A pressure cooker cooks food quickly, allowing you to get dinner on the table faster.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can also try roasting the oxtails. Roasting is another excellent way to make sure the meat gets tender.

Slow Cooking vs. Pressure Cooking

I recommend using a slow cooker for oxtails. Slow cookers allow you to set the temperature and leave the oxtails alone until they reach the desired level of tenderness.

Pressure cookers are great for quick meals. However, they aren’t suitable for long cooking periods.

Cooking Methods for Oxtails

There are several different ways to cook oxtails. Here are some of my favorite methods:

Braised Oxtails

Braising is a classic technique used to make tough cuts of meat tender.

To make oxtails tender, you must first brown the meat. Then you add liquid and let it cook slowly.

The common braising time for oxtails would be 2-4 hours. After that, the meat is ready to eat.

Braising works best with shortcuts of meat. For example, you could use oxtails instead of pork ribs.

Roasted Oxtails

Roasting is a popular way to cook oxtails because it adds a delicious smoky flavor.

To roast oxtails, please place them in the oven and turn the heat up high. Let them bake for 30 minutes.

Then reduce the heat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue baking for 2 1/2 hours.

Sautéed Oxtails

Sautéing is another standard cooking method for oxtails. It’s a quick process that requires little attention.

To sauté oxtails, put them in a pan over medium heat. Add a small amount of oil and stir occasionally.

When the meat starts to sizzle, please remove it from the heat and serve immediately.

Stir-Fried Oxtails

Stir-frying is an easy way to make oxtails tasty.

To make oxtail stir fry, cut the tails into pieces and then marinate them in soy sauce or other flavorful ingredients.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. When hot, pour in enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom of the pan.

Add the oxtails and stir fry for 5 minutes. Remove the oxtails and keep warm.

Return the pan to the stovetop and add more oil if necessary. Stir fry the vegetables of your choice.

Season the vegetables with salt and pepper before adding them to the pan.

Reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 minutes.

Remove the oxtails and toss them back into the pan. Serve immediately.

How do I know when oxtails are done?

oxtail stew vegetables
Oxtail Stew and Vegetables. Credit: canva

There’s no exact time for when they are done when cooking oxtails. However, there are some general guidelines that you can use to determine whether they are ready.

1. Check the meat with a fork. If the heart pulls away quickly, then it is done.

2. Remove the oxtail from the heat and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving. This allows the juices to settle back into the meat.

3. Test the meat again with a fork. If it still feels soft, then it is done!

4. When you remove the oxtail from its pan, place it on a plate and cover it with foil. Let it sit until it cools down completely. Then store it in the refrigerator.

Recipes to Cook Oxtails

Oxtail Soup Recipe

Ingredients

  • approx. 400g of oxtail (more will give a meatier flavor)*
  • little oil or butter for frying
  • 1 medium-sized carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 1/2 a leek
  • salt (to taste)

Instructions

  1. Add a little oil or butter to the soup pot and brown the oxtail on all sides over medium heat.
  2. Add the cut carrot, onion, leek, and chosen soup veggies. To add flavor, brown them in the saucepan as well.
  3. Add enough water to cover and seal the pan when everything is nicely brown.
  4. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for another 3-4 hours (If you have an InstantPot, you may also pressure cook it; however, it will take around 45-60 minutes depending on the size of your oxtail).
  5. When the meat is completely falling off the bone, it’s time to take it out! First, remove the bones and adjust the stock from cooked oxtails with salt.
  6. You can eat it or add more ingredients to make a hearty soup.

Jamaican Oxtails Recipe

The ideal Caribbean dinner is Jamaican Oxtails—the perfect Caribbean stew, with delicious and tender oxtail and butter beans cooked to perfection.

  • Prep time: 20 min
  • Cook time: 45 min

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 lbs oxtails
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon all-spice
  • 1 teaspoon browning
  • 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 4 green onion chopped
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic (cloves of garlic) chopped
  • 2 whole carrots chopped
  • 1 scotch bonnet or habanero pepper seeds
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 Tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 Tablespoons cold water
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 16 oz can Butter Beans drained

Instant Pot (Pressure Cooker) Instructions:

  • Rinse the pieces of oxtail with cold water and vinegar, and pat dry. Cover the oxtails in brown sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, black pepper, all-spice, and browning to rub into them. Season with salt.
  • Set Pressure Cooker on High Sauté and, once hot, add vegetable oil.
  • Then, lay a single layer of your larger oxtail pieces flat side down about ¼ inch apart in the same pot and brown them on both sides.
  • Remove oxtail after browning and place in a bowl.
  • Pour about 2 Tbsp of beef broth into the pressure cooker’s insert. Remove the brown bits at the bottom of your pot using a wooden spoon.
  • Then add your yellow onions, green onions, carrots, garlic, and scotch bonnet pepper. Stir and sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onions have softened.
  • Add dried thyme, oxtails, remaining beef broth, and ketchup to the pressure cooker insert.
  • Press “Cancel” on your Instant Pot. Cover and cook on high pressure for 45 minutes. Once the timer is done, allow the pressure cooker to release naturally.
  • Once all pressure has been released, open the lid and remove oxtails and vegetables, leaving the liquid behind. Next, turn the Pressure Cooker on sauté.
  • Once the liquid begins to simmer, create a corn starch slurry by combining corn starch and water into a separate bowl. Stir into the simmering liquid.
  • Add drained butter beans into the pressure cooker and simmer for about 5 minutes, until liquid is slightly thickened and butterbeans are warmed.
  • Add oxtails and vegetables back to the pressure cooker. Serve and enjoy ????

Slow Cooker Instructions:

  • Prepare the recipe as instructed up until the oxtails need to be browned.
  • Brown oxtail over medium-high heat on the stovetop in a skillet. Once oxtail is browned, deglaze skillet by adding 2 Tbsp of beef broth.
  • Add onions and carrots to the skillet and stir until onions have softened. Add these ingredients to the slow cooker and all remaining ingredients, except the butter beans.
  • Cook on low heat for 8-10 hours or until oxtail is tender.
  • 30 minutes before serving, create a cornstarch slurry by combining corn starch and water in a separate bowl. Stir into the slow cooker along with the drained butter beans.

Stove Top Instructions:

  • Follow the instructions above, and then rather than placing it in a slow cooker or pressure cooker, cook it on the stove on medium-low heat for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally or until oxtails are tender.
  • Add the butter beans when there are about 30 minutes left on the cooking time.

FAQs

How do you soften oxtails quickly?

You can soften oxtails by placing them in a pot with enough water to cover the meat. Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and allow them to simmer for about an hour or until you are ready to use them.

Why is my oxtail not tender?

Oxtail takes a long time to cook. So plan and have some patience!

How many hours does it take to cook oxtails in the oven?

It will take about two hours to cook oxtails in the oven temperature at 350 degrees.

What can I do if my Instant Pot doesn’t have a sauté function?

If your Instant Pot doesn’t have a sauté function, you can brown the meat in a skillet on the stovetop before adding it to the pressure cooker.

What temperature do you cook oxtails at?

Oxtails can be cooked at a temperature of 350 degrees. You can also cook them on low heat in a slow or pressure cooker.