Once considered something along the lines of offal, or a less desirable cut of meat in the mainstream consciousness, oxtail has seen a surge in popularity in recent years. However, many people who are curious to try oxtail are finding that this cut, once considered poor man’s food, is now very expensive. As such, many people are left wondering, why is oxtail so expensive?

What Is Oxtail?

As the name suggests oxtail was originally derived from the ox tail. Often the tail of an ox would be eaten when an old ox was to be butchered for food. This was often seen as an undesirable cut but would be eaten so as not to waste food. 

Nowadays an ox tail is not the only place where oxtail meat is sourced though. Instead, it will often be harvested from cows and bulls and they are more commonly bred on farms. 

When you buy a portion of oxtail you will find it is cut into sections, typically at the tailbone. Each of these sections will have marrow in the centre along with some bony portion of meat surrounding it. As such oxtail is often slow-cooked or used in the stew.

How Is Oxtail Meat Used?

Many modern oxtail recipes can be seen in fine dining restaurants. However, oxtail meat has been commonly used all over the world, particularly in Asia and Europe. 

Additionally, oxtail is often seen as a soul food delicacy as commonly Jamaicans eat oxtail in oxtail stew. When slow-cooked along with a variety of herbs and seasoning, the meat will often be both incredibly tender and flavourful. 

Why Is Oxtail So Expensive?

Some Great Oxtail Dish Options

Oxtail, as mentioned above, is often slow-cooked or used in stews. This is because when cooking oxtail you want to do so slowly to achieve that sticky feeling you’ll get with meat falling from the bone. 

When time is taken to slowly cook oxtail, such as with oxtail soup, the gelatin content will soften, creating a unique texture and flavour. As such the dishes from around the world that use oxtail will often follow similar principles. 

Some of the most popular dishes in Asia and European countries, along with West Africa and soul food cuisines include the following:

  • Braised Oxtail: A simple but fantastic option for home cooks new to cooking oxtail. This technique produces excellent results and can easily be done simply in a Dutch or French oven. This makes excellent soul food when combined with carrots and turnips and served with mashed potatoes.
  • Guazzetto: This Italian oxtail stew is rich in wine and often served over pasta, mashed potatoes, polenta or bread.
  • Barley Oxtail Soup: Both the Garden and Eastern European are excellent options if planning ahead. The main variation between the two being the vegetables used in the soup.

Has Oxtail Always Been Expensive?

Believe it or not, in the olden days, oxtail used to be considered a poor man’s meat in many countries and still is to an extent. As such, many people would see it as offal meaning you could buy oxtail from the butcher at incredibly low prices.

Why Is Oxtail So Expensive?

Unfortunately, nowadays, oxtail is no longer so affordable as it is now commonly seen in high-end restaurants. However, it being seen as a fine dining luxury is only a symptom and not the cause of the increased price.

Why Is Oxtail So Expensive?

Increased Popularity

As more people become aware of oxtail’s status as a delicacy around the world, naturally the desire to try it increases as well. As a result, the demand for oxtail from both chefs newly discovering the potential of oxtail and from the customers of smaller foreign food stores has increased dramatically.

The increased popularity of oxtail isn’t just down to the taste of it, however. The push to reduce food waste has also had a massive impact on how edible but formally less desirable cuts of meat are seen. 

This attitude originates mainly from Native Americans is the concept of snout to tail eating. What this essentially means is that no edible part of a slaughtered animal should go to waste. The benefits of this include less waste along with being seen as healthier and more ethical.

Availability

Due to one cow only having one tail, oxtail is a remarkably scarce cut of meat when compared to something like brisket or rump. This is because the oxtail harvested usually isn’t any bigger than six or seven pounds.

As a result of this limited supply, even a small portion of oxtail can end up being quite expensive with a single pound of meat potentially costing between five and ten American dollars. 

Additionally, with the high demand oxtails currently have and a large proportion going to the restaurant industry, the limited availability is only likely to increase. 

Preparation

Whilst not particularly difficult to cook compared to other forms of beef, oxtails are highly specialised in the way they must be cooked. This is because unlike other meat from cattle, oxtail at the very least requires two to five hours of cooking to become tasty and tender.

For home cooks, this is an issue somewhat sidestepped by the use of slow cookers. However, in restaurants, chefs will often use more traditional and advanced techniques to really get the most out of the oxtails.

Additionally, since the ability to cook oxtails well is a niche skill even amongst chefs, those that can do it are able to charge a premium for their services. Naturally, the extra cost from this is passed on to the customers by the restaurants that serve oxtails.

Is Eating Oxtail Cheaply Possible?

With all the above factors in mind, you may be wondering if it is possible to eat oxtail cheaply anymore. Fortunately, whilst it may not be considered a cheap cut anymore, there are still ways to try your hand at cooking oxtail yourself.

Why Is Oxtail So Expensive?

Buy It Out Of Season 

The peak of oxtail popularity is in the late autumn and winter months. This is because the hearty stews and soups it is commonly used in are in higher demand during these seasons. As a result, it is in the lead up to and during these periods of time when oxtail is at its most expensive.

However, in warmer seasons such as late spring and summer, oxtails are at their least popular. As a result of the lower demand, there will be more meat available for cheaper. 

If wrapped well you could even save these oxtails until the winter months when you’re more likely to want a hearty stew yourself. Then once you’re ready to cook them, they can be either cooked without thawing or defrosted in the same ways as prime ribs.

Buy Direct From Your Butcher 

Like all products, the more middlemen in the chain from the farm to the shop floor, the higher the costs. As such, by going directly to your local butcher you can potentially save some money. Additionally, if they aren’t getting a high demand for oxtail, they may even be willing to negotiate a cheaper price.

Try Oxtail Substitutes

If unsuccessful in finding a more affordable oxtail or you just want to try something cheaper first then you use many similar techniques with other ingredients. Whilst they may not have the exact same flavour that oxtail provides, using alternatives can save you money and potentially expose yourself to something new and delicious.

Some great alternatives to oxtails include beef neck, soup bones with meat and fat left on, short rib beef or veal.

Answered: Why Is Oxtail So Expensive?

Oxtail is mainly expensive as a result of a combination of low supply and high demand. Meanwhile, restaurant prices have also surged due to the very niche skillset required by chefs to cook it will. Fortunately, it can be affordable if you’re willing to buy in the offseason and freeze it or source it straight from the local butcher. If not though then there are a few substitute options you can use instead.

FAQ

What is a good substitute for oxtails?

Some excellent substitutes for oxtails include beef neck, soup bones with meat and fat left on, short rib beef or veal.

How much should oxtail cost?

The price of oxtail can greatly vary depending on the type of store you go to and where in the world you are. However, in America, a pound of oxtail meat is usually somewhere between five and ten dollars.

Is oxtail a cheap cut?

At one point in time oxtail was considered to be a cheap cut of beef. However, nowadays it is much more expensive due to the rise in popularity it has enjoyed along with the lack of availability when compared to other beef cuts.

Is oxtail good for your health?

Red meat can be bad for your health in high quantities, especially beef. However, oxtail has many beneficial properties such as being a rich source of protein. Additionally, it is also rich in collagen which can be beneficial for muscle growth and bone strength.