Best wood for smoking oxtails | You need to try this

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  March 13, 2022

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If you’re stuck in a smoking rut and need something new to try, smoked oxtails are fork tender and extremely delicious.

The secret to perfectly smoking oxtails is to season and marinate them overnight so they absorb all the tasty aromas.

Best wood for smoking oxtails | You need to try this

Oxtail simply refers to the crosscut sections of the cow or veal’s tail. This tends to be a chewy meat but once smoked it becomes soft and delicious as it’s infused with stronger wood smoke.

The best wood for smoking oxtail is hickory because it is very meaty, earthy, and bacony with a strong wood smoke flavor. Pecan wood is the second-best choice because it is sweet and nutty thus ideal for those who don’t prefer the earthy aromas of traditional Southern BBQ.

If you’ve never bought the oxtail cut from your butcher, it’s time to give it a try. Many people underestimate how tasty this tail meat actually is.

After all, it tastes like beef so you can experiment with your favorite smoking woods and discover the best recipe.

What is oxtail?

The oxtail is the crosscut tail section of the cow or veal.

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The most common oxtail recipe is a hearty stew-like soup called oxtail soup. It has long been soul food for cold winter days.

But, for BBQ enthusiasts, smoked oxtails is the new favorite food to smoke. You can find oxtail at most butcher shops or even grocery stores.

The smoked oxtail meat is tough, chewy, and marbled. It contains a higher percentage of fat because it is full of bone marrow.

Also, it is filled with gelatin because of the high collagen content, which is great for your body.

Once cooked through, it takes on a rich, smoky taste like short ribs or pot roast.

Instead of a simple braising, oxtails are cooked slowly at lower temperatures in a smoker for several hours, just like ribs.

The taste of oxtail, despite its unappetizing appearance, is well worth the effort. If you’ve never had it before, you’ll be surprised at how similar it tastes to beef once it’s cooked.

Braised oxtail has a more delicate texture than a short rib when compared.

Smoked oxtails are served as fall-off-the-bone alongside rice, potatoes, or collard greens. You can even serve them with mashed taters.

There are many options out there but any basic smoked oxtails recipe will include a good seasoning marinade.

Best woods for smoked oxtails

The oxtail meat is full of bone marrow and is thus quite fatty. This type of meat tastes best when it is smoked with a stronger smoking wood like hickory.

It also pairs well with lightly sweet woods with a strong nutty aroma such as pecan. These two kinds of wood taste amazing when you’re making smoked oxtails.

However, I am also sharing additional options if you’re feeling experimental.

Hickory wood

  • intensity: medium to strong
  • flavors: earthy, bacon-like, slightly musky, and sweet

There’s no doubt that the bold, bacon-like and earthy taste of hickory is the best match for meat like oxtails.

This beef cut contains a high percentage of bone marrow, fibers, and fats. Thus it needs a stronger smoke wood to penetrate deep into the meat.

If you use a light fruitwood like apple, you’ll end up with an underwhelming aroma because it’s too mild.

The reason why hickory is so good is that it’s bacony, sweet, and savory all at once. The earthy and meaty flavor makes the oxtails taste like traditional Southern-style BBQ.

Traditionally, hickory wood has been used to smoke red meats and fatty cuts and that’s why it works well for oxtails too.

This type of meat is not light or delicate at all and when you cook it, you need to use lots of seasoning and bold wood chips in the smoker.

However, if you use too much hickory flavor, your meat will taste bitter. Therefore, you can even mix the hickory with a bit of pecan to sweeten it and add just a hint of nuttiness.

Hickory wood also makes the oxtails take on a nice dark mahogany color!

For a truly savory and bacony flavor, try the Fire & Flavor Premium All Natural Smoking Wood Chips because it’s going to burn clean smoke.

Another delicious comfort food is this amazing smoked beef chilli (with secret ingredient!)

Pecan wood

  • intensity: mild to medium
  • flavors: nutty and sweet

Pecan adds a lusciously sweet and nutty flavor to dishes. Pecan wood is medium strong and gives a great bold flavor to the oxtails.

I would best describe it as naturally smoky with a strong nutty flavor and a hint of sweetness.

This wood is very versatile and perfect if you want something a bit more toned down as opposed to hickory.

Most pitmasters like to use pecan to smoke pork and beef and so it’s a good match for beef oxtails too.

Since you’re going to marinate the meat with condiments like Worcestershire sauce, beef broth, garlic, and kosher salt, the nutty and sweet taste of the pecan wood smoke is going to make the smoked oxtails taste like serious soul food for the family.

Pecan is a great alternative to the strong woods like mesquite and hickory and is suitable for those who prefer a milder smokey taste.

Even though the wood is sweet, you may want to use it in combination with a harder wood to counterbalance the taste if you find it’s not bold enough.

For the perfect balance between sweet and nutty, add a handful of the Camerons Products pecan wood chunks.

Mesquite wood

  • intensity: strong
  • flavors: earthy, savory, very smoky, slightly pungent

Mesquite wood chips have an intense earthy, rich, savory flavor.

This wood is most suitable for smoking beef and game as it’s generally too strong for any other meat besides red meats.

Mesquite wood is intense and it burns very hotly compared to other smoking woods. It will increase the temperature in your smoker so use the wood chips sparingly.

This rich smoke wood is most commonly associated with Texas-style barbecue where smokiness is king.

Since the oxtails are chewy and fatty they absorb the perfect amount of earthy smoke and taste amazing.

Don’t expect any sweetness from this smoking wood but if you want to make it a bit sweeter or tone down the intensity, blend it with a bit of peach wood or make it nutty with some pecan wood.

Besides, they are powerful and very flavorful so you don’t need to add too much. Overdoing it with mesquite wood can make your food taste a bit bitter.

The Camerons Products Mesquite Wood Smoker Chips are kiln-dried, burn clean, and give the classic Southern smoky aroma you’re after.

Oak wood

  • intensity: medium to strong
  • flavors: earthy, bold, savory, traditionally smoky taste

If you like strong smoky BBQ flavor but want something with a more neutral smoky taste, oak is the best choice.

Oakwood has a medium smoke profile flavor and it is mostly earthy and savory. It’s nowhere as strong as mesquite, less bacony than hickory, but bolder than any of the fruit woods like apple or cherry.

Oak is one of the smoking woods you can use when you want a sure-to-please classic barbecue taste for your smoked oxtails.

This wood doesn’t overpower the oxtails so you can still taste that beefy goodness from the soft meat pieces.

Also, using oak wood to smoke oxtails allows the flavors of the marinade and dry rub to shine through. So, if you add garlic, add onion, and a cup of Worcestershire sauce, you can create a tasty smoked oxtail.

The bold savory smokiness doesn’t have other flavor notes so all you can taste is the medium smoke. It’s best for those who prefer a pure smoky aroma and like to keep it simple!

Post oak and red oak are great options.

If you want to add a hint of bourbon whiskey flavor, you can use Jack Daniel’s whiskey barrel woods chips blended with Camerons Products Wood Smoker Oak Chips. This gives the oxtails an added depth of flavor.

Which woods to avoid when smoking oxtail

Make sure you know what you’re getting before you go scavenging for your own wood, even if it seems like such a great idea.

The sap, toxins, and terpenes in softwoods make them unsuitable for smoking food.

Never use any of the following woods: pine, fir, spruce, redwood, cedar, elm, cypress, sycamore, liquid amber, eucalyptus.

For the most part, trees that produce fruit or nuts are safe to eat; this includes orchard trees and nut trees.

Using unsuitable woods for smoking causes creosote buildup in your smoker and makes food taste bitter.

Also, the softwoods have toxic smoke which can make you ill if your food is tainted.

When it comes to oxtails, avoid using mild fruit woods like apple, peach, pear, cherry, etc. That’s because these woods are too mild and fruity so the taste isn’t as noticeable when you’re eating the meat.

However, you can use fruit woods to create a special wood blend for smoked oxtails or if you want to tone down the intense flavor of mesquite, for example.

How long should you smoke oxtails?

It depends on the size of your oxtails. My favorite smoked oxtails recipe advises you to smoke the oxtails for about 4 hours to ensure all the gelatin melts and the meat becomes soft and tender.

Keep in mind that it’s best to use low to medium heat for indirect cooking in your smoker.

The large oxtails should be smoked between 4-5 hours at temperatures between 275 – 300 degrees F.

At the same temps, smoke medium-sized oxtails for about 3 hours.

If you’re only smoking oxtail tips which are very small, smoke them for about 60-90 minutes.

How to prepare oxtails for the smoker

If you don’t season the oxtails or marinate them overnight, the flavor won’t be as strong and tasty.

It’s best to prepare the yummy seasoning:

  1. Drizzle olive oil on the oxtails. Cover them in a dry rub made of ground black pepper, smoked paprika, and kosher salt.
  2. In a small bowl mix some balsamic vinegar, tomato paste, and add beef broth (1 tbsp) and 2-3 cloves of minced garlic.
  3. Coat the oxtails with the marinade and then let them soak overnight or for a few hours at least.

This is the base of an oxtail stew but you can use this rich broth-style mixture as your marinade.

Takeaway

Once you taste hickory-smoked oxtails you’ll be convinced to pick up this underrated meat cut more often.

Just serve with long grain rice and a glass of red wine and you have one of the easiest BBQ smoker meals that are sure to impress even picky eaters.

After all, the oxtails taste like beef so the rich, earthy flavors of wood smoke are sure to take the taste to a new level!

It’s easier to smoke than to braise oxtails because as soon as you set up the smoker for indirect cooking you can just set it and leave it since this meat isn’t as delicate as others.

How about smoking quail next? These are the best woods to use for that

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.