Jump to RecipeJump to VideoLeave a ReviewPin Recipe

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I may earn a small commission for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website.

This old-fashioned Beef Barley Soup is a healthy and easy lunch or dinner for cool days! The one pot meal is loaded with nourishing vegetables, chunks of tender meat, and plump barley for a flavorful and cozy dish that the whole family will love. Serve each warm bowl with a loaf of crusty bread, a skillet of cornbread, flaky buttermilk biscuits, or a simple green salad.

Hands holding a bowl of the best beef barley soup recipe.

Beef and Barley Soup

Classic beef barley soup is truly comfort in a bowl! It’s one of those soothing options that just makes you feel healthy, strong, and nourished with every bite. When you have a quiet Sunday afternoon at home, simmer a pot of this soup on the stove and sit down to a delicious family dinner. You’ll be able to enjoy the leftovers for lunch all week, too!

What is Beef Barley Soup?

Beef barley soup is a rustic dish that includes affordable cuts of beef simmered with vegetables in beef broth until tender. Barley, an Old World grain, is added for it’s chewy texture and slightly nutty taste. The soup is cozy, rich, and satisfying, and tastes similar to a classic beef stew.

The old-fashioned dish dates back to at least 18th century Colonial America, where a recipe for Beef Barley Soup was written by Mary Randolph and included in The Virginia Housewife. The updated version that I’m sharing today holds on to the traditional flavors of the soup, but uses modern day ingredients for a modern gal’s kitchen!

Is Beef Barley Soup healthy?

Yes! This meal includes about 165 calories per cup, less than 5 grams of fat per serving, and almost 20 grams of protein! You also get the benefits of the nourishing vegetables, whole grains, and fiber — so dig in! The soup does contain 13.5 grams of carbohydrates per cup, so it is not Keto-friendly or low-carb. This soup is not gluten-free, since barley contains 5-8 percent gluten.

Close up side shot of two bowls of crock pot beef barley soup on a table.

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the ingredients that you’ll need for a big pot of vegetable beef barley soup. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Olive oil: to brown the meat.
  • Beef stew meat: I use “stew beef” or “stew meat” that has already been cut into cubes for a shortcut. Stew meat is made from cuts of beef with lots of tough connective tissue, typically chuck (which comes from the front shoulder) or round (the rear muscle). When you slowly braise these tough cuts in a liquid, the connective tissue breaks down and becomes melt-in-your-mouth tender. That’s why it’s traditionally simmered in stock and turned into beef stew, soup, or pot roast. If you can’t find this prepared stew beef, you can purchase a whole chuck roast and dice it into 1-2 inch cubes at home.
  • Carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, and garlic: so many fresh vegetables and aromatics that add flavor to the soup and give it a rich, thick, texture.
  • Diced tomatoes: canned tomatoes with their juices add extra flavor to the soup and broth.
  • Thyme and bay leaves: for savory flavor.
  • Beef broth: the base of the soup. Use low sodium broth if you’re sensitive to salt.
  • Barley: this recipe works with both quick barley and regular pearled barley. If using the regular pearled barley, just make sure that you allow about 20 extra minutes of cooking time at the end.
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper: enhance the other flavors in the soup. The total amount of seasoning required will vary depending on your personal preference and on the saltiness of your broth. Just taste and add more as you go!
Browning chunks of beef stew meat in a Dutch oven.

The Best Cut of Beef for this Beef Barley Soup Recipe

Beef stew meat, which is an affordable cut found in just about every grocery store, is ideal for this recipe. With a long, slow cooking time, the beef becomes incredibly tender! Plus, it comes already diced into bite-sized pieces, so you don’t need to do any work. If you can’t find beef stew meat, you can substitute with diced chuck roast or short rib.

Adding vegetables to a Dutch oven.

Which type of barley is best for soup?

I have tested this recipe with both quick barley and regular pearled barley, and both options work well. The quick barley cooks in about 10-15 minutes, while the regular barley requires about 30-40 minutes to become tender. Again, either option is great, so use whichever you have available.

Do you cook barley before adding to soup?

No, you do not need to cook the barley before adding it to the soup. The barley simmers directly in the soup, covered, at the very end of the cooking time.

Adding pearled barley to a Dutch oven.

How to Make Beef Barley Soup

Comfort food at its best! I like to make this one-pot meal in a Dutch oven on the stovetop, but I’ve also included instructions below for the slow cooker. Pick the method that suits your schedule!

  1. Brown the beef in the olive oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pot just to give it some nice color and caramelization on the outside. Work in batches so that you don’t overcrowd the pot. Then remove the meat to a plate.
  2. Sauté the vegetables and garlic.
  3. Add the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and broth. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. These gives the soup great flavor!
  4. Return the beef to the pot, season with salt and pepper, bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to low.
  5. Simmer, covered, for about 1 hour.
  6. Stir in the barley, cover, and simmer until the beef and barley are tender. Ladle into bowls, garnish with fresh herbs (if desired), and serve!
Overhead image of beef and barley soup in a bowl with a side of bread.

Crockpot Beef Barley Soup

To make slow cooker beef barley soup, brown the beef in a pot or skillet, as instructed, and then transfer to a slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the quick barley) and cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours. At the end of cooking, turn the slow cooker to HIGH and stir in the quick barley. Cover and cook for about 10-15 more minutes, or until barley is tender. If using regular pearled barley in the slow cooker, you can add the barley at the beginning of the cooking time (when you add all of the other ingredients).

What to Serve with Beef Barley Soup

Serve the beef barley mushroom soup with any of these easy sides for dinner:

Side shot of two bowls of beef and barley soup on a table with bread.

Storage

  • Make Ahead: Prepare the soup up to 1 day ahead, let it cool to room temperature, cover with the lid, and refrigerate overnight. Reheat the pot on the stovetop just before serving.
  • Freeze: This soup freezes very well! Let it cool to room temperature, then transfer to the fridge. Once chilled, transfer the mixture to an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Reheat: When chilled, the fat from the soup will rise to the top and harden. You can use a spoon to scrape off most of the fat, or you can simply leave it in the pot and stir it back into the dish when it heats up. Place the cooked soup in a saucepan or Dutch oven on the stovetop. Cover and warm over low heat, just until the soup reaches the desired temperature.
Overhead shot of hands eating a bowl of vegetable beef barley soup.

Recipe Variations

  • This recipe calls for “quick barley” which cooks in about 10-15 minutes. You can also substitute with regular pearl barley if you prefer. If using regular pearled barley (instead of “quick barley”), you will need to add some extra cooking time at the end. Regular barley requires about 30-40 minutes to simmer in the soup, so just plan accordingly.
  • Beef stew meat is ideal for this recipe, but you can substitute with diced chuck or short rib. These affordable cuts become very tender when cooked low-and-slow in a simmering soup!
  • Add a splash of red wine for extra flavor, or a dash of balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce.
  • Flavor the soup with additional herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, oregano, or chives.
  • For a richer tomato flavor, add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste to the soup at the same time that you add the mushrooms and garlic to the pot.
  • Chicken broth is an adequate substitute for the beef broth; however, the soup will have a slightly different flavor and a less robust, “beefy” taste.
Side shot of two bowls of beef barley soup on a wooden dinner table.

Tips for the Best Beef Barley Soup Recipe

  • This recipe yields a very large pot of soup. You can freeze leftovers, or prepare a smaller batch by cutting all of the ingredients in half. The rest of the cooking instructions remain the same for a half-batch of soup.
  • Brown the meat. This is an extra step, but it’s worth the effort. The caramelized surface gives the beef extra flavor, while the browned bits and drippings in the pot add even more flavor to the soup.
  • When browning the meat, do not overcrowd the pot. Instead, work in batches so that the meat is spaced apart in a single layer. This will help to achieve that great sear on the meat, whereas a crowded pan will steam the meat.
  • Cook the beef long enough to break down the tough connective tissue and fibers. If your meat is still tough after about 1 hour, simmer the soup a little bit longer. This will result in a delicious soup with tender chunks of beef throughout.
  • Keep the Dutch oven covered while simmering in order to trap moisture in the soup.
  • Garnish each bowl with fresh parsley or other chopped herbs for a bright finishing touch.
Overhead image of hands holding a bowl of beef barley mushroom soup

More easy homemade soup recipes that you might enjoy:

Hands holding a bowl of the best beef barley soup recipe.

Beef Barley Soup

5 from 4 votes
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 1 hour 40 minutes
0 minutes
Total: 1 hour 50 minutes
Servings 14 cups
Calories 165.6 kcal
This old-fashioned Beef Barley Soup is a healthy and cozy lunch or dinner for cool nights!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 lbs. beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 celery ribs, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, NOT drained
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup quick barley (or see note below to use regular pearled barley)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste

Instructions

  • In a large Dutch oven, heat oil over medium-high heat. Season beef with salt and pepper, to taste. Working in batches, when the oil shimmers, add the beef and brown on all sides (it doesn’t need to be cooked through – just make sure it gets nice color on the outside) – about 10 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meat from the pot and set it aside (leave the fat in the pot).
  • Add the carrots, celery and onion to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic and cook, stirring, for one more minute. Stir in the tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves and broth. Scrape up all of the flavorful beef bits from the bottom of the pot as you stir! Return the beef to the pot. Season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.
  • Increase the heat and bring soup to a boil. As soon as the soup boils, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 1 hour (or until beef is tender). Add the quick barley, cover, and simmer for 10-15 more minutes (or until barley is tender).
  • Taste the soup and season with additional salt and pepper, if needed.
  • Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with fresh herbs, if desired.

Notes

  • This recipe yields a very large pot of soup. You can freeze leftovers, or prepare a smaller batch by cutting all of the ingredients in half. The rest of the cooking instructions remain the same for a half-batch of soup.
  • Brown the meat. This is an extra step, but it’s worth the effort. The caramelized surface gives the beef extra flavor, while the browned bits and drippings in the pot add even more flavor to the soup.
  • When browning the meat, do not overcrowd the pot. Instead, work in batches so that the meat is spaced apart in a single layer. This will help to achieve that great sear on the meat, whereas a crowded pan will steam the meat.
  • Cook the beef long enough to break down the tough connective tissue and fibers. If your meat is still tough after about 1 hour, simmer the soup a little bit longer. This will result in a delicious soup with tender chunks of beef throughout.
  • Keep the Dutch oven covered while simmering in order to trap moisture in the soup.
  • Garnish each bowl with fresh parsley or other chopped herbs for a bright finishing touch.
  • This recipe calls for “quick barley” which cooks in about 10-15 minutes. You can also substitute with regular pearl barley if you prefer. If using regular pearled barley (instead of “quick barley”), you will need to add some extra cooking time at the end. Regular barley requires about 30-40 minutes to simmer in the soup, so just plan accordingly.
  • Beef stew meat is ideal for this recipe, but you can substitute with diced chuck or short rib. These affordable cuts become very tender when cooked low-and-slow in a simmering soup!
  • Add a splash of red wine for extra flavor, or a dash of balsamic vinegar or Worcestershire sauce.
  • Flavor the soup with additional herbs, such as parsley, rosemary, oregano, or chives.
  • For a richer tomato flavor, add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste to the soup at the same time that you add the mushrooms and garlic to the pot.
  • Chicken broth is an adequate substitute for the beef broth; however, the soup will have a slightly different flavor and a less robust, “beefy” taste.

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupCalories: 165.6kcalCarbohydrates: 13.5gProtein: 18.2gFat: 4.7gSaturated Fat: 1.3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.2gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.7gCholesterol: 42.9mgSodium: 392.5mgPotassium: 179.3mgFiber: 2.6gSugar: 2.7g
Keyword: beef and barley soup, beef barley soup, crockpot beef barley soup, homemade soup
Course: Dinner, Lunch
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in December, 2019. The photos were updated in January, 2022.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

Square overhead shot of hands serving a chicken pot pie recipe with biscuits
Overhead image of a bowl of chili mac on a dinner table with cornbread
Hands serving a platter of sheet pan sausage and potatoes

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments

  1. may chicken broth be used instead of beef broth, husband doesn’t like taste of beef broth. thanks enjoy all your beautiful recipes

    1. Sure! That will work fine, Barbara. It won’t be as “beefy” tasting, but it will still be good. 🙂 Hope you enjoy!

    1. Hi, Janis! I haven’t tested it in the Instant Pot yet, but I just looked at some other similar recipes. Those recipes call for 15 minutes at high pressure, with a 15 minute natural release. I would start there, and see how it works! Let me know if you give it a try. 🙂

  2. 5 stars
    Just finished this for dinner. My husband and I loved it! We had it with a hard roll. It does make a lot, so I will be freezing a bunch of it for lunches. What a great meal for winter.

    1. Hi, Jaymee! Yep! I included those instructions in the post as well. Here you go:

      To make slow cooker beef barley soup, brown the beef in a pot or skillet, as instructed, and then transfer to a slow cooker. Add the rest of the ingredients (except the quick barley) and cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or on HIGH for 4-5 hours. At the end of cooking, turn the slow cooker to HIGH and stir in the quick barley. Cover and cook for about 10-15 more minutes, or until barley is tender. If using regular pearled barley in the slow cooker, you can add the barley at the beginning of the cooking time (when you add all of the other ingredients).

      Hope you enjoy the soup! 🙂