This Beef Barley Soup recipe is the ultimate winter comfort food! It’s basically a hug in a bowl. The soup is loaded with tender chunks of beef, barley, and lots of vegetables, and will warm you up on even the coldest of nights.
It’s perfect for serving to a large crowd, and can easily be used for weekly meal prep (stock that freezer while you can!). This is definitely more of a soup than a beef stew, as it has a good deal of liquid (10 cups!) and doesn’t cook down until it’s super thick.
- Boneless beef chuck roast: You’ll often find this sold at stores as ‘chuck roll’ or ‘stew meat,’ already cut into cubes. It’s perfect for soups and stews alike!
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper: To season the meat and veggies!
- Neutral oil: We prefer neutral oil to olive oil when cooking over a high heat, as things like canola oil, vegetable oil, avocado, or grapeseed oil have higher smoke points and don’t burn as quickly.
- Aromatics and vegetables: carrots, onion, celery, and garlic!
- Tomato paste: This adds a rich tomato flavor to the soup.
- Chicken broth: This is what makes up the body of the soup. Can use veggie stock or water. We don’t love store-bought beef broth unless it’s bone broth. The former tends to be diluted.
- Balsamic vinegar: Adds a little richness. Can use soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce instead, if preferred.
- Fresh thyme and a dried bay leaf: You’ll love the earthy, lemony flavor that fresh thyme adds, while a bay leaf adds an almost bitter flavor (don’t worry, it’s subtle) to balance out the flavors in the beef barley soup.
- Pearled barley: Rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, barley is a whole grain with a chewy texture and a slightly nutty taste.
- Lemon: To brighten up the flavors!
- Chopped parsley or dill: A little fresh parsley or chopped dill at the end brings the soup to life!
How To Make Beef Barley Soup
Making this beef & barley soup at home could not be easier, it just takes a little time! Here is the simple breakdown of steps, but be sure to head to the recipe card for precise cook times.
- Brown the beef. Season the meat with Kosher salt and black pepper, then sear in some oil in a large, hot Dutch oven. Just until browned, no need to cook longer. The beef will slowly cook for a couple hours. Remove the beef to a large plate.
- Sauté the vegetables. Add carrots, onion, and celery, then cook until tender. Stir in chopped garlic cloves and cook about 1 minute more. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the veggies to a large plate.
- Add liquid. Add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste to the pan, then stir. Next, add chicken stock (or water) and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Return the beef to the pan, bring to a rapid boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add fresh and dried herbs, then cover.
- Simmer. Simmer the beef until tender, about 1½-2 hours (unless your beef was cut thinner, then reduce time by an hour). Return the vegetables to the pot, then stir in uncooked barley. Cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the barley is tender. Remove herbs, season with lemon juice and salt, as needed, then serve immediately with fresh herbs!
Making Soup In A Slow Cooker
We don’t use a slow cooker often, but the same general principles can be applied. Brown the beef, then remove. Sauté the veggies, then remove. Add the liquid and remaining ingredients, return the beef to the pot, then cover and simmer for 4 hrs (high) or 6-7 hrs (low). Stir in barley about 1 hour out from the end of your cook time.
Just like pasta, barley will thicken when added to soup. We recommend adding uncooked barley to the pot about 25-30 minutes before serving, so that it fluffs up, but not too much. If you add the barley BEFORE the beef simmers for 1½-2 hours, the barley will become too mushy, so don’t do that!
No. The only reason you would soak barley ahead of time would be to lessen the cook time. Because we’re adding it just at the end and cooking until tender, there’s no need to soak.
Though more expensive, you can substitute beef chuck roast with beef boneless short ribs for a richer flavor. If using bone-in short ribs, remove from the bone when browning, but add the bones to the soup while it simmers to add more flavor.
Begin checking the beef for doneness around 1 hour, instead of 1½ hours, then proceed with adding the uncooked barley per recipe instructions.
No. Barley is one of three grains (wheat, barley, and rye) that contain gluten. You could easily substitute rice if you want to make this beef and barley soup gluten-free.
- Make sure that the beef is cut into similarly sized pieces! The size is less important than them being uniform. You can always adjust the cook time as needed (eg, smaller, thinner, bite-size pieces will cook in closer to an hour, while larger pieces will take the full 2 hours).
- Don’t add the barley till after the beef is fully cooked. If you do, you risk it being overcooked and msuhy.
- Use low-sodium stock! You’ll have more control over how much salt goes into the soup if you use low-sodium.
This honestly brings me back to childhood — this soup was an absolute favorite of mine, though I was used to eating it from a can… no judging, please. Truly, though, there’s no contest; this really is the best beef barley soup!
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Easy Dairy-Free Beef Barley Soup
- 1½ lbs boneless beef chuck roast (also referred to sometimes as chuck roll or stew meat), cut into 1½" cubes — note: many times it comes already cubed at the store
- 2 tsp Kosher salt
- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 2 Tbsp neutral oil such as canola, grapeseed, vegetable, or avocado oil
- 4 large carrots peeled and cut into ½" pieces
- 1 large sweet onion cut into ½" pieces
- 2 ribs celery diced
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped, about 2 Tbsp
- 2 Tbsp tomato paste
- 2½ quarts (10 cups) low-sodium chicken stock or a combination of chicken stock and water, plus more water as needed
- 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar Worcestershire or soy sauce work too!
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme
- 1 dried bay leaf
- ¾ cup pearled barley (7 oz)
- 1 medium lemon juiced
- Fresh parsley or dill for garnish
- Season the beef. Pat the cubed beef dry on all sides with a paper towel, then season with 2 tsp Kosher salt and ½ tsp black pepper.
- Heat the pan. Heat a Dutch oven or other large pan (with tight fitting lid) over medium-high heat until very hot, about 3-5 minutes. Add 2 Tbsp neutral oil, then add the beef and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned on all sides, about 6-8 minutes. Work in batches, if needed, so as not to overcrowd the pot. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the beef to a large plate.
- Sauté the vegetables. To the same pot, add diced carrots, onion, and celery, then cook, stirring occasionally, about 5-7 minutes, until tender. Add 2 cloves of chopped garlic, stir, then cook about 1 minute more. Transfer the sautéed vegetables to a bowl, then set aside.
- Add liquid. Add 2 Tbsp tomato paste, then use a spatula to stir. Once cooked down, add 10 cups of chicken stock (or a combination of chicken stock and water) and 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar. Return the beef (and any juices) to the pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Add 4 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf.
- Simmer. Cover the pot with a tight fitting lid, then cook for 1½ – 2 hours, or until the beef is fork tender.
- Add the vegetables and barley. Use a spoon to skim any fat off the top of the soup, then return the sautéed vegetables to the pot. Add ¾ cup pearled barley, cover, then cook for 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender and the barley is fully cooked.
- Finish, then serve. Remove the fresh thyme and bay leaves, then add the juice of 1 lemon and stir. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, adding more salt or pepper to taste. Serve immediately with chopped parsley or dill for garnish.
- Make ahead: Can be made a few days in advance. Reheat over medium-low heat in a large pot or saucepan.
- Freeze: Allow to cool completely to room temperature, then transfer to an airtight or freezer-safe container. Will keep for 3-6 months.
- Alternate cuts: Though more expensive, you can substitute beef chuck roast with boneless beef short ribs for a richer flavor. If using bone-in short ribs, remove from the bone when browning, but add the bones to the soup while it simmers to add more flavor.
- Stock: Can use a combination of chicken stock, vegetable stock, and/or water. We prefer NOT to use beef stock unless it’s a bone broth, which has a deep flavor, unlike store-bought beef broth which is very diluted. For an even richer flavor, try substituting ½ cup of broth or water with ½ cup red wine.
- Vegetable add-ins: Feel free to stir in additional veggies, such as fresh or frozen peas, cubed potatoes (in place of barley), parsnips, or turnips.
Photography by: Cambrea of Cambrea Bakes