The Reason It's Often Difficult To Find Oxtail At Your Butcher Shop

Have you ever tucked into a bowl of oxtail? If so, you may have enjoyed a Jamaican oxtail stew or a hearty, filling oxtail soup. But what is oxtail, really? What, even, is an ox? According to The Spruce Eats, oxtails indeed once came from oxen — castrated male cows — but today the term oxtail refers to the tail cut of beef or veal of either sex (via Farmhouse Guide). 

Before being packaged for sale, the tail is skinned and cut into cross-sections that end up as rounds of meat with a section of bone at the center. Full of connective tissue, oxtail is rich in collagen that dissolves as it cooks slowly into soups, stews, and braises, naturally thickening the dishes with gelatin and providing a luxurious mouthfeel. While you can't get much more humble than a literal tail of an animal, oxtail can become downright luxurious when cooked well and over the years, chefs have been taking notice.

Oxtail has gone from a throwaway cut to a highly desirable one

Like many other now-luxury foods that were once considered better fit for the trash — such as lobsters, which were once so copious and cheap that they were fed to American prisoners, and oysters, which were sold from NYC street carts for a cent apiece (via Pinterest) — oxtail has gone from being a cut that butchers would often throw away to one that quickly sells out, The Spruce Eats writes. As chefs have taken to using this meltingly tender cut in dishes such as fancy French dip sandwiches, wild mushroom, oxtail dumplings, and oxtail pad thai (via LMT Online), its price has gone way up and its availability has gone down.

Today, oxtail will run you between $5 to $10 a pound, when you can even find it, according to Prepared Cooks. The Spruce Eats notes that due to the combined factors of oxtail's rising popularity and its naturally limited availability — after all, a cow only has one tail, in contrast to the generous amount of meat that can be cut from one animal — it can be hard to source from your local butcher or supermarket. If you're planning a dish with oxtail, the site advises calling ahead to reserve a few pounds.