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Mar 16, 2009 11:02 PM

Why did my braised oxtails come out tough?

I love braised oxtails that are tender and falling off the bone. I usually braise them on the stove, but last weekend, I decided to cook them in a crock pot. I used a recipe from - Braised Oxtails with Star Anise and Chinese Greens. I used all the suggested ingredients except onion as I hadn't realized I had none in the house. I also used the suggested amount of liquid, and cooked them in the slow cooker on Low heat for 12 hours (under the theory of "the longer the more tender").

After cooking, I refrigerated the oxtails and sauce. Tonight, I removed the thick layer of fat from the sauce and reheated the oxtails in the sauce. The sauce was delicious, but the meat was very tough! What did I do wrong? Did I cook them too long? Should I have used more liquid (it reduced by half)? Could the meat itself have been of poor quality (purchased from an Asian market)? I would love to hear your thoughts on what went wrong, and any suggestions on how to "guarantee" tender oxtails. Thanks!

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  1. 12 hours???

    I think that's just a wee bit too long.

    I usually braise my oxtails for about 3 hours, tops.

    2 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      That was 12 hrs in the crock pot, not stove top. I think that if they were tough, it just wasn't long enough at that temperature. It's been a long time since I used a crock pot, but experience has been that they heat up at different rates, and cook at different temperatures. So timing on a meat like this could vary widely.

      You should be able to pull the meat off the bones with your fingers. And if the tails are really cooked well, the ends of the bones should detach from the rest.

      I'd suggest putting the tails, meat and bones, along with the sauce, in a pot, and simmer it slowly on the stove for another hour, maybe two.

    2. We cook oxtails regularly in our household, sometimes on the stovetop, sometimes in the slowcooker. Very occasionally, some oxtails will come along that just will not tenderize no matter how long they're cooked. My dad says it's because they're from old cattle.

      7 Replies
      1. re: stilton

        I would have to agree with (stilton). Outside of the crockpot failing at some point during the 12 hours(malfunctioning) thoughts are you simply got some bad beef.

        1. re: fourunder

          Even if the meat fibers remain tough, shouldn't the collagen break down with sufficient cooking? In Spain, the preferred animal for oxtail is a bull killed in the ring. In fact the name, oxtail, suggests that it commonly came from old working animals in the past. Now days, there is little reason to suspect that an oxtail in the USA comes from anything other than the common feedlot steer - regardless of store. I can't imagine rendering plants cutting off the tails just to meet the high demand for mature oxtail.

          1. re: paulj


            The answer to the collagen question would presumably be yes, but the OP is questioning the meat alone from what I read. Maybe the oxtail simply did not have any marbling in it.

            1. re: fourunder

              I don't think I've seen an ox with a skinny tail ...

              Would that be like a lean rump?


              1. re: fourunder

                Yes, it was just the meat that was tough. Unfortunately, I don't remember if there was any marbling on the oxtails. I'll have to remember to look for that next time. I couldn't believe they were still so tough after 12 hours in the crockpot, so maybe I did get bad meat. I feel better now! :) Thanks, everyone!

                1. re: goodeatsgal

                  I too have experienced this problem using a pressure cooker. I'm Of the opinion that despite marbling, which is significant in all meats except things like London broil and tenderloin, how the livestock was fed during its lifetime is a major factor. One example might be, if it was grass fed or grain fed! If antibiotics was used or not. As you can see these different factors contribute to the end product. Opinion only I'm not a scientist nor a veterinarian.

          2. re: stilton

            Yeah, I've had tail that never gets's a bummer when it happens. My mom claims this happens when they're old milk cow tail.

          3. Just came across this thread looking for pressure cooker recipes for oxtails. Once I had the same problem of tough oxtails that would not get tender no matter what.

            The recipe involved browning the oxtails first, then braising. I believe they "seized" - I read somewhere that this can happen especially with beef if it is browned too quickly over too high heat...

            1. As the OP, I've come to another possible conclusion as to why the oxtails were so tough. I've since tested my slow cooker, and it cooks way too hot. After "cooking" water for 8 hours on the low, high and even keep warm settings, the temperature was between 208 and 212. Boiling! So I think that the oxtails may have boiled for 4 or more hours. No wonder they were tough!

              I'm now on the hunt for a new (vintage) slow cooker. :-)

              10 Replies
              1. re: goodeatsgal

                your "warm" setting was boiing water? yes. time for a new one!

                another hound loves her wolfgang puck versacooker she got from hsn - you can sear, then cook at desired temp over crockpot-time periods.

                1. re: goodeatsgal

                  Why vintage? The new ones are soooo much better in all ways, IMO.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    The newer ones run hotter than the vintage ones, because of some kind of legislation to do with possibility of food poisoning due to the temperature not being high enough.


                    1. re: ursy_ten

                      I know people mention that but my low settings work great.. I say settings cause I have two slowcookers and overheating is never a problem.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        You're one of the lucky ones, then.
                        It probably does vary a lot between brands.

                        1. re: ursy_ten

                          Maybe it does vary by brand, but I've read a lot of "running too hot" horror stories on the web. These stories usually refer to new slow cookers of varying brands. Conversely, I've read that the older vintage cookers take longer to heat up (which doesn't bother me) and don't get as hot (maximum temp below 200). Additionally, many of the new slow cookers have electronic controls rather than the manual knobs of the older vintage. With the manual knobs, you can set up the lamp-type timer to delay the start of cooking. I can't do that with my Rival Crock-Pot. As soon as you set it, it starts counting down the time.

                      2. re: ursy_ten

                        The problem is with the long warm up time of older pots. Old ones were slow because they had low power and took half the time to warm up to cooking temperatures (about 140F). If you are comfortable with leaving your chicken at room temperature for 4 hours, you could plug a new pot into a timer.

                        1. re: paulj

                          I'm actually wondering if I can do something with a timer so that it turns off periodically, like 5 minutes every half hour - thus lowering the temperature.

                          Not sure I like the chicken at room temperature for 4 hours idea though.

                          1. re: ursy_ten

                            There is a chow-tips video about hooking a temperature control to your slow cooker. The goal is to imitate an expensive sous vide cooker., but with a higher target temperature you could use it for braising.

                            1. re: paulj

                              Thanks paulj, yep, I just saw that one (doing some resesarch). I've never done anything like that before so am not sure if I could pull something like that off.

                  2. Old ox is why they're tough. You have to cook them a long time.

                    I use a pressure cooker for any long cooking braises - stews, ox tail, lamb shanks etc. It cooks way faster. Time depends on size of meat cuts, sometimes you cook for 15 min intervals and check it. Continue cooking if it's still too tough.