Beef Barley Soup

If you're looking for a hearty winter soup, look no farther! Beef Barley Soup fits the bill every time. It's rich, filling and satisfying. You can choose to cook the barley right in the soup, or separately for a clearer broth. You can also choose to make this soup in the pressure cooker or on the stovetop.

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A white bowl of beef barley soup on a wooden table with green napkin, spoon and plate of biscuits.

Perfect Winter Soup

When winter kicks around, there are few foods that will warm you up faster than a steaming bowl of soup or stew. This beef barley soup is the perfect answer to cold weather when the only way to really warm up is from the inside out. It’s full of goodness, is rich and hearty and keeps you satisfied until the next mealtime rolls around.

A bowl of stew beef on a wooden table with herbs, vegetables, beef stock and a bowl of raw barley.

The Right Cut of Beef for Soup

The best beef barley soup has tender chunks of beef that just fall apart when you bite into them. They need to be tender enough t0 cut in half with a spoon because that’s what you’ll be using to eat a bowl of this soup. Makes sense, right? Well, the first step in getting those tender chunks is to use the right cut of beef. That right cut is chuck, or the shoulder of beef. It is a cut of beef that is full of flavor and has enough connective tissue to break down into tender morsels. You could buy chuck already cut up into stew meat or you could just buy some chuck and cut it up yourself – it’s not hard to do and that way you can determine the size of the pieces, which need to be spoon-sized. 

Vegetables cooking in a cast iron Dutch oven with a plate of browned beef next to it.

Steps to Making Tender Beef Barley Soup

Once you have the right cut of beef, there are just a couple of other steps to ensuring the meat is full of flavor and tender. First of all, brown the cubes of beef in batches – don’t be tempted to throw it all in at once. Overcrowding the pan will just cause too much liquid to accumulate in the pot and you won’t brown a thing. Honest. You’ll need to do at least three batches of browning to get the right color on the beef cubes and that color gives your beef flavor AND creates a lot of flavor on the bottom of the pot, which then blends into your soup liquid when you deglaze. The other step that ensures you’ll have tender beef is to simmer the stew gently. Very gently! You should just see a little movement in the pot, not boiling bubbles. Let the soup simmer for an hour and your beautiful cubes of beef will turn into tender spoonable pieces.

A glass bowl of raw barley.

How to Cook Barley for Soup

Here’s the great news – you don’t have to cook the barley separately for this soup! The liquid quantity in this recipe is enough to cook the barley right in the soup after you simmer the beef. The added bonus in cooking it this way is that it absorbs the flavor of the soup as it absorbs the liquid. This recipe calls for pearl barley (barley that has had the husk and bran removed). You could use hulled barley (barley with just the husk removed) instead if you prefer. Hulled barley is considered a whole grain and has more nutrients left in it, but does take a little longer to cook. If you use hulled barley, you will need to cook it for 10 to 15 minutes longer (or add 5 minutes to the pressure cooker time). 

A ladle lifting beef barley soup out of a cast iron Dutch oven with a blue and yellow striped towel near by.

What to serve with Beef Barley Soup

You could enjoy a bowl of this soup for lunch or dinner and either way it doesn’t need much to accompany it. A beautiful soft dinner roll or a buttermilk biscuit would be nice, along with a green salad – a simple arugula salad or a heartier radicchio salad with crisp apples. While some soups are good as a starter course, this beef barley soup is definitely the main meal.

A white bowl of beef barley soup in front of a stack of bowls and a blue cast iron Dutch oven.

A Word about Leftovers

You can definitely package up the leftovers of this soup (if there are any) and keep it in the refrigerator or freeze it for a rainy day. Either way, however, when you do re-heat the soup you will need to thin it with some water. The barley will continue to absorb liquid as it sits, so by the next day it will be more of a stew than a soup. That’s not a bad thing if you’re in the mood for stew, but just know that thinning it with water will not dilute the flavor – there’s plenty of that to go around. 

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Beef Barley Soup - Stovetop Version

  • Prep Time: 20 m
  • Cook Time: 1 h 45 m
  • Total Time: 2 h 5 m
  • Servings:
    8

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • pounds beef stew meat cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1 onion chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 stalks celery chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 cups beef stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¾ cup pearl barley
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Drizzle in a little olive oil and, in 2 batches so you don’t over-crowd the pot, brown the stew meat on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Set the browned meat aside.
  2. Add the onion, carrot and celery to the pot, sauté until tender and starting to brown– about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, thyme and bay leaf and cook for another couple of minutes. Deglaze the pot by adding the beef stock and scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the cooker.
  3. Return the browned beef to the pot, bring the liquid to a simmer, partially cover and simmer gently for 60 minutes.
  4. Add the barley and continue the soup simmer for 45 minutes, or until the barley is tender.
  5. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the bay leaf and add the parsley before serving.

Beef Barley Soup - Pressure Cooker Version

  • Prep Time: 20 m
  • Cook Time: 20 m
  • Pressure Release Time: 10 m
  • Total Time: 50 m
  • Servings:
    8

Ingredients

  • olive oil
  • pounds beef stew meat cut in bite sized pieces
  • 1 onion chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 carrots chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 stalks celery chopped into ½-inch pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 cups beef stock
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¾ cup pearl barley
  • salt to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

Instructions

  1. Pre-heat the pressure cooker on the SAUTÉ or BROWN setting. Drizzle in a little olive oil and, in 2 batches so you don’t over-crowd the pot, brown the stew meat on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper as you go. Set the browned meat aside.
  2. Add the onion, carrot and celery to the cooker, sauté until tender and starting to brown– about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato paste, thyme and cook for another couple of minutes. Deglaze the pot by adding the beef stock and scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the cooker.
  3. Return the browned beef to the pot and add the bay leaf and barley. Cover and lock the lid in place.

  4. Pressure-cook on HIGH for 20 minutes.
  5. Let the pressure drop NATURALLY and carefully remove the lid.
  6. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper and add the parsley. Remember to remove the bay leaf from the soup before serving.
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Comments (15)Post a Reply

  1. I haven’t made this yet because I was wondering if you thought it could be done in a slow cooker and if the answer is yes what changes would need to he made. Thank you for your answer in advance.

    1. Hi Allyson. To make this recipe in a slow cooker, follow the pressure cooker directions and ingredient quantities and slow cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or low for 7 to 8 hours. If your slow cooker does not have a browning function, I would brown the beef cubes on the stove top first. Sauté the veggies and deglaze the pan with some stock and then add all the ingredients to your slow cooker.

  2. Your photos look so appetizing! I can’t wait to try.
    On a different note, the little tin of thyme is so lovely. Do you know where it could be purchased?

  3. 5 stars
    Thanks for all you recipes and you videos! You make cooking feel easy and simple, no stress. Been cooking for over 40 years,, recipes my mother or mother-in-law did. Revamped most of them. Learned new skills from you and other Chefs thru tv or videos. Still have a fear with breads and rolls because of the yeast and rising, but I’ll master it someday. Keep teaching us!

  4. Your friend David (QVC) mentioned he made this recipe last weekend, so I decided to give it a try.. I made it in my pressure cooker,,,,,it was delicious! It was even better the next night after it thickened. The beef was so tender and I’ll definitely make again. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  5. 5 stars
    This was absolutely delicious! Definitely a keeper. Every recipe of yours I have tried has been a success. Thank you, Meredith.

  6. 4 stars
    i made this recipe (beef barley soup) and found that 3/4 cup barley made the soup too thick for my taste. I would recommend using 1/2 cup or less to keep it more like a soup and not a stew. nevertheless it was delicious.

  7. 5 stars
    This recipe is delicious! I used sirloin tips instead of stew beef. I added only 7 1/2 cups of the beef stock, but added 1 cup of my favorite red wine about 1/2 hour before it was done. Everyone loved it. I’ve made it 3 times.

  8. I’m making this soup tomorrow. Very similar to my way of making beef barley soup.( my sisters recipe). However, I’ve not added tomato paste. I’m thinking that will only add to the flavor of the soup. Your recipes are the best!😋

  9. 5 stars
    This is my go to recipe for beef barley soup. It is delicious and so easy. However, I add less barley than listed because I prefer a more “soupy” soup. I have made lots of your recipes and have loved every one. Thanks Meredith for sharing them with us.

  10. Made today, & I love it. But can’t wait until tomorrow, the 2nd day is always better. I read some of the reviews, & I might try adding the red wine next time. Thank You, this recipe is a keeper.

  11. 5 stars
    I didn’t think I liked Beef Barley Soup until I made your recipe. It was so good and just enough left for a lunch. I accidentally picked up the Cumin and added 1 tsp thinking it was Thyme. I caught my mistake and just added the thyme too. It came out just fine.
    Will be making this one again.

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