How Long You Should Cook Oxtail Soup For Meat That Falls Off The Bone

There's a reason why oxtail is often difficult to find at some butcher shops and it's due to the meat's popularity. The cut of meat comes from the cow's tail so it's full of tough cartilage — which is why oxtail is perfect for slow-braised soups and stews to turn it into flavorful, tender shreds that literally fall off the bone. It takes some patience to give the cartilage and fats time to break down — but it doesn't take as long as some tough cuts of meat because it can be ready to eat in about three hours.

That's according to our slow-braised oxtail stew recipe from Tasting Table's Jennine Rye. Oxtails are small compared to other cuts, which is why the meat doesn't have to cook all day long to become tender. Of course, the cooking time may increase depending on the size, cooking method, and how many oxtails are in the pot. For example, some recipes suggest cooking oxtail soup on the stovetop and then in a slow cooker for up to 10 hours. However, a slow braise at a low temperature in the oven like Rye suggests should only take three hours. While Rye's recipe is specifically for stew, the same slow-cooking method applies whether it's a slightly thinner soup or thicker stew you're aiming for.

Brown the oxtails first to lock in flavor

Oxtail is one of the best cuts of meat for braising, but there's an essential first step before it goes into the pot. To caramelize the outside and lock in meaty flavor, sear the oxtails first in a pan for a few minutes until browned on all sides, just like when you braise other meats. Next task is to remove the oxtails and soften the rest of the ingredients, then add the broth and oxtails back to the pot. To ensure the oxtail becomes tender, the stew should go in the oven heated at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for three hours.

You'll know the soup or stew is ready when the oxtail meat is falling off the bones. If the meat isn't that tender, it might need a little more cooking. Also use a thermometer to check the internal temperature which should be at 145 degrees Fahrenheit when it's fully cooked. As for those bones that have given the broth much of its flavor, you can pull the meat off them and shred it, discarding the bones, or keep everything intact so everyone can pick the meat off themselves — and clean the bones to their liking. 

If you're after a silky soup, some recipes suggest straining the liquid before adding the shredded meat back in. You could even refrigerate the liquid until the fat solidifies, then discard that fat before reheating the soup slowly with the shredded beef.