By Christie Vanover | Published September 19, 2015 | Last Updated July 14, 2022
Oxtails aren’t just for stews or oxtail soup anymore. You can barbecue them until they are fork tender and serve them whole or shred for sandwiches, tacos or nachos.
What Are Oxtails
Oxtails aren’t from some crazy animal. They’re actually just beef. But they do come from a part of the animal that many people aren’t used to eating. It’s the tail meat.
When butchered, the tail is skinned and sliced into pieces that are generally a couple of inches thick. There is a bone that runs through the middle that enriches the flavor of the beef as it cooks.
They have a taste that is similar to short ribs, because there is a lot of collagen and fat weaved between the meat.
Oxtails used to be a leftover cut that most Americans weren’t accustomed to, so I used to find them for a $2-3 a pound. But due to inflation and the fact that many people have discovered how tasty they are, the 2022 price is about $10 a pound.
Ingredients for Smoked Oxtail
You won’t need too many fancy tools for this cook, just a grill, some tongs and a spray bottle.
How to Season the Oxtails
Smear a good amount of mustard over the oxtails to make sure they are completely covered. The mustard will act as both a binder and a tenderizer, because mustard contains vinegar.
Then, either use your favorite beef rub, like my Brisket Rub, or make your own blend.
I’ve included a recipe below for a sweet, savory, smoky rub that goes great with beef.
I like to let these brine in the refrigerator overnight. If you don’t have that much time, however, you can let them rest in the fridge for 1-2 hours.
How to Cook Oxtails
My favorite way to cook oxtails is to smoke them slow and low around 250F degrees. They taste great with apple, cherry and/or hickory wood.
If you live in a dry climate, you can add a pan of water to the smoker to create steam and moisture.
It is important to cook the oxtails over indirect heat. If you’re using a pellet grill or ceramic cooker, just be sure the deflector or diffuser is installed.
If you’re cooking these on a gas grill, adjust the burners so you have an area where at least one burner is off. You can use a foil pouch to get smoky flavor.
If you’re using a charcoal grill without a deflector plate, push the coals to one side and cook over the side without coals. Add a couple wood chunks to the coals for more smokiness.
How Long Do Oxtails Take to Cook
Because oxtails have a lot of collagen and connective tissue mixed in with the beef, it’s important to cook them slow and low, so that gelatin breaks down. Once it does, it’s so flavorful.
The cooking time will depend on their size. A cows tail is thicker toward the rear of the animal, and it thins out at the tip.
If you get the tip pieces, they will cook in much less time. Therefore, I always look for the bigger, meatier pieces.
The larger oxtails generally take 4-5 hours to reach a point where they are fork tender and the meat falls off the bone. At this point the internal temperature of the meat is around 200F degrees.
Throughout the cook, spritz the oxtails every 30-45 minutes with a blend of apple juice and apple cider vinegar. This will not only keep them moist, but the vinegar will provide acidity that will balance out the rich flavor of this cut.
Many oxtail recipes call for braising the beef in a liquid. That works super with this cut of meat, and it’s actually the method I use for my smoked osso buco, which are beef leg shanks.
You can also speed up the cooking process by using the Texas crutch. This is where you wrap the oxtails in foil or butcher paper with some beef broth or the spritzing liquid.
But Wait There’s More
Once you’re done picking the meat off of the bones, save the bones to make a broth. You can do this right away or freeze the bones and do this later.
When you’re ready, place the bones in a large pot. Cover them with water. You can add some carrots, onions, celery and garlic for even more flavor.
Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat, and let the water simmer for at least an hour. As it does, the meatiness and smokiness will be distributed into the water for an insanely rich broth. Strain the liquid and save it for future recipes.
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Frequently Asked Questions
I have had success finding oxtails at Wal-Mart and Hispanic markets. If you don’t have those options near you, check with your local butcher and see if they can place a special order. If ordering, the beef item number is 1791. Let them know that you’d prefer the larger pieces.
An ox is a castrated bull that is over four years old. It’s not raised on the farm for food production. Its role is more as a work animal. Oxtails that you find in the grocery store come from younger cattle that are raised specifically for beef.
Once you’ve smoked the oxtails, you can store them in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. I recommend pulling the meat from the bones while it’s still warm. Then, save the bones to make broth (see above). As an alternative, you can freeze them for up to 3 months.
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- 4 lbs oxtails
- 1/4 cup beer and brat mustard
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp rosemary
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup apple juice
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- Season: Place the oxtails in a large bowl. Rub with mustard. Combine the dry ingredients in a small bowl. Then, rub all over the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
- Heat Grill: Heat your smoker to 250F degrees with apple, cherry and/or hickory chips with an indirect heat zone.
- Make Spritz: Combine the apple juice and vinegar in a spray bottle.
- Smoke: Smoke the oxtails for about 5 hours, spritzing every 30-45 minutes with the apple juice and vinegar. Cook until they are fork tender.
- Rest: Remove from the smoker and let rest 15 minutes before serving.
This estimate was created using an online nutrition calculator