Why Is Oxtail So Expensive? [Plus 4 Cheaper Alternatives]

Steak is a popular dinner choice at my house. One day at the local butcher, the clerk recommended I give oxtail a try. I was intrigued, but when he mentioned the cost, I was shocked.

To me, eleven dollars for a pound of meat was a  surprise, to say the least. I couldn’t help but wonder, why is oxtail so expensive? 

Oxtail is a delicacy in many cultures. It’s a slice of gelatin-rich meat, meaning that when cooked, oxtail melts in your mouth. Its texture and cultural popularity explain part of the cost, but what really makes oxtail expensive is supply and demand.

Consider this, most oxen weigh between 400 and 900 pounds, but oxtails only weigh about 6 pounds – that’s less than one percent of an ox’s body. So, because there is so little tail meat to go around, oxtail costs more than most parts of a bovine.

The average pound of oxtail costs between 11 and 12 dollars, meaning an oxtail dinner for four can cost more than sixty dollars just for the meat!

Oxtail Costs More Because It Is A Luxury Meat

The average ox or cow has just over 600 pounds of meat on its body. However, less than one percent of that meat is oxtail. Oxtail comes from the portion of the tail that connects to the cow’s rump (also known as the round.)

Only about half of the actual tail has enough meat to serve up. Because so little meat is available on a cow, consumers have to pay more for the product.

Additionally, oxtail is expensive because it is considered a delicacy in many cultures. South Africa, Jamaica, China, and Spain all have traditional recipes for oxtail. Its heavy gelatin content makes it a decadent, rich meal.

Because of the difficulty in procuring oxtail, only the wealthy could afford to it eat in many cultures. Its wealthy connotations and history contribute to the dish’s cost, too.Oxtail

There Is No Price Difference Between Oxtails And Cow Tails

The term “oxtail” is misleading; not all oxtail comes from an ox. In fact, oxtail can come from any gender of cattle, so you might occasionally see it labeled as cow tail. There is no price difference between the two. 

The Size Of Oxtails Impacts Its Cost

The ratio of tail to cow is tiny – there’s one tail for every cow or ox. When you think of it this way, it makes sense why the meat costs so much. Consider this: of the 600 pounds of meat on a cow, less than one percent comes from the tail. Of the tail, only six pounds of it can serve as meat; the rest is bones, thin muscle, and cartilage. 

Additionally, it takes time for a cow or ox to develop enough for the tail to provide meat. Cattle generally don’t reach maturity for two to three years. Ideally, oxtail is produced from fully-grown cattle. 

Another factor increasing the cost of oxtail is its highly perishable nature. Oxtail needs flash-frozen or shipped in refrigerated trucks to prevent it from going bad.

Most manufacturers ship oxtail at an expedited speed compared to other meat to ensure its quality, and the expedited shipping will increase the cost of the meat. 

Because producing oxtail is both time consuming and comes from limited stock, the demand is always higher than the supply. Therefore, merchants can charge more for oxtail than other cuts of meat.

The Average Price Of Oxtail Varies By Location And Availability

The cost of oxtail will vary depending on local availability and location. Most butchers sell oxtail for anywhere between $5 and $15 a pound. However, ifIts you elect to buy organically fed oxtail, you’ll see the price go up to somewhere between $10 and $20 per pound. 

Price Comparisons Of Oxtail And Other Cuts Of Beef

Type of Meat Price Per Pound
Oxtail $10-15 (non-organic) $15-$20 (organic)
Sirloin Steak $6-10 per pound
Short Ribs $4-6 per pound
Top Round $7-9 per pound
Porterhouse $10-$14 per pound
Strip Steak $10-$12 per pound
Rump Roast $8-10 per pound
Beef Stew Meat $8-12 per pound
Back Ribs $4-5 per pound

Oxtail Isn’t A “Sale” Item

Unfortunately, due to oxtail’s limited supply and popularity, it doesn’t go on sale very often. Its highly desirable nature also means that oxtail remains consistently pricey throughout the year and usually costs more near major holidays like Christmas or Easter. 

However, if you live stateside, you may find oxtail cheaper in Asian or European stores. These stores carry oxtail as a traditional staple and purchase the meat in bulk, so they might sell it at a more reasonable price than a grocery store butcher.raw pieces of oxtail

Making Oxtail? Here’s How Much You’ll Need

If you’re making oxtail for dinner this week, you may not know how much to buy. Since oxtail is so pricey, it makes sense you only want to buy what you need. A healthy serving of oxtail is just 4 oz, or about the size of a woman’s palm. One pound of oxtail will serve about four people. 

Oxtail Has A Unique Flavor Profile

In today’s world, oxtail dishes are trendy and served in five-starred restaurants. Its popularity comes from the meat’s silky smooth texture and delicious flavor. 

Oxtail is similar to finely marbled steak, but it literally melts in your mouth when prepared right. The gelatin of the meat creates a smooth, silky texture similar to slow-cooked meat, but better. Most oxtail recipes use fragrant herbs, butter, and spices to bring out the rich flavor of the meat as well. 

Even Beginner Cooks Can Make Good Oxtail

The cost and concept of oxtail leave a lot of beginner cooks questioning whether to try the meat. After all, you don’t want to burn a $12 pound of meat accidentally! But, don’t worry, oxtail is beginner-friendly. There are dozens of easy recipes and ideas for creating the perfect oxtail meal. 

There Are Many Health Benefits To Eating Oxtail

In many cultures, oxtail is considered highly nutritious and a superfood for health. The meat contains healthy fats and protein needed for weight loss. Additionally, oxtail is high in collagen and keratin that helps skin, hair, and bones stay healthy.

However, because oxtails are fat-heavy, you should consume them in moderation. As with most rich meats, overconsumption can cause weight gain and cholesterol problems. 

Top 4 Oxtail Substitutions

If the price of oxtail has you running for the hills, don’t stress – there are plenty of affordable substitutions you can try.

Meat Price Per Lb
Oxtails $10-15 (non-organic) $15-$20 (organic)
Short Ribs $4-6 
Beef Neck Bones $2-3
Beef or Lamb Shanks $3-4 (beef) $4-7 (lamb)
Beef Cheeks $8-12

1.Short Ribs

Short ribs have a similar muscle to bone and cartilage ratio as oxtails, so they’ll taste similar and have a great texture when slow-cooked. They usually cost about $7-$10 per pound. You’ll want to make sure and cook them at a slow rate and low temperature to prevent the meat from becoming tough or chewy.short ribs

2.Beef Neck Bones

Beef neck bones aren’t the most popular cut of meat, so you usually need to request them from the butcher counter. But, the bones have a high collagen content, meaning the end result of slow-cooked neck bones is a smooth, rich dish similar to oxtails.

However, neck bones work best for stewing and can’t sub in for other oxtail variations. Most beef neck bones will cost about $3-$4 per pound.

3.Beef Or Lamb Shanks

Shanks, also known as fore shanks or hind shanks, substitute well for oxtail stew, roasted oxtail, and other oxtail recipes. They have a similar texture to oxtails but cost significantly less.

Lamb shanks tend to cost about $7-$9 per pound, while beef shanks cost about $4-$5 per pound. Note that lamb shanks will have a stronger flavor than beef shanks, so don’t buy it if you don’t like lamb flavors.lamb shanks

4.Beef Cheeks

Beef cheeks aren’t the most popular cut of meat because they can get really chewy and tough if overcooked. However, if you have the time to slow cook the meat, beef cheeks can provide an inexpensive alternative to oxtail in stew or braised dishes. They usually run about $10 per pound, and you will probably go to the butcher counter to find them.

4 Easy Tips For Perfectly Cooked Oxtail

When it comes to cooking oxtail, slow and steady wins the race.

1.Cook the Oxtail Slowly

You should always cook oxtail as slowly as possible to ensure tender, silky-smooth meat. However, most recipes call for at least one and half hours of cooking time, and many will recommend cooking oxtail longer than that.

Therefore, you can anticipate most oxtail recipes taking anywhere from one and three hours to cook.

2.Cook Oxtails At Lower Temperatures

Unlike a steak, you shouldn’t sear oxtail or cook it at high temperatures. Instead, most recipes recommend cooking oxtail around 300 degrees Fahrenheit. The lower heat prevents the oxtail meat from drying out or becoming crispy.

3.Make Cooking Easier With Crockpots

Crockpots are a popular method for cooking oxtails. They work great for making an oxtail soup or a slow-roasted oxtail dish. Plus, you can have the crockpot going all day and come home from work to a ready-to-eat meal.

4.If You Have A Pressure Cooker, You Can Use It For Oxtail

Many oxtail lovers choose to use a pressure cooker to quickly make oxtail that tastes like it’s been roasting for hours. If you decide to use a pressure cooker, keep in mind that they aren’t fool-proof, and you could possibly overcook your oxtail into a chewy, dry texture.

Instant pots work best with liquid-heavy oxtail recipes, like oxtail soup, that help prevent the meat from drying out during pressurized cooking.

Popular Oxtail Dishes To Try At Home

There are dozens of popular oxtail dishes to try, and the good news is, many are beginner-friendly. 

Oxtail Stew

If you’ve ever made beef stew, you have the skills to make oxtail stew. Just sub in oxtail for the beef stew meat, and make sure to use a good, dry red wine for the broth. Popular variations of oxtail stew include the French Oxtail Bourguignonne and English Oxtail Soup.

Jamaican Oxtail

Oxtail is a culturally significant dish in Jamaica; you’ll often find it served both at markets and fancy restaurants. It’s similar to slow-roasted jerk chicken and delicious!

Oxtail Pho

In many Asian countries, oxtail pairs rice or pho noodles for a simple, tasty dish. If you like noodles, oxtail pho is a great choice for beginners to try!

Bon Appetit!

Oxtail has grown in popularity over the years, and its popularity has only increased the price of the rare delicacy. If you want to give oxtail a try, make sure to cook it slowly, so you don’t waste money by drying out the meat!

And, if you can’t afford oxtail for dinner, you can always sub in another form of beef or lamb to make a similarly tasting dish. Happy eating!

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