Enjoy the tantalizing aroma of beef barley soup as it simmers in your kitchen. Brimming with hearty beef, savory vegetables, and barley, it’s satisfying and delicious.
Why you’ll love it: The rich soup is slow simmered until the beef becomes unforgettably tender and delicious.
How long it takes: a couple of hours
Equipment you’ll need: Dutch oven or large pan
Soup is so satisfying, isn’t it? I love soup especially since winter doesn’t seem to want to say good-bye. I’ve said good-bye to winter a few times already and it just isn’t getting the hint. Go away, already! I’ve had enough of you, winter.
This beef and barley soup is a pretty traditional soup. There’s nothing fancy or haute couture about it. Yeah, I know haute couture usually applies to fashion but wouldn’t you agree that there are plenty of food fads? Kind of the same thing, right?
I actually looked up the history of beef barley soup and found that its ancestor was a soup called “Scotch broth” dating back a few centuries or so (Wikipedia). It was popular back in American colonial days and I’m sure there are many, many ways to make it.
Beef barley soup is hearty and filling. It’s nutritious and tasty. It’s easy to make. It’s a one pan meal. What more can I say? You have to admit, those photos are making your mouth water.
About This Recipe
Good things sometimes take a while, right? What’s that saying? “Rome didn’t get built in a day?” Don’t be put off by the cooking time of this soup; the end results are totally worth it.
For most of the time, the soup is just hanging out on the stove, quietly simmering away. It doesn’t require your attention although the good smells wafting through your house might get your attention.
Why the long cooking time? You’re using an economical cut of meat: beef chuck roast. It has long fibers that can be tough unless cooked correctly. A long slow simmer breaks down those connective tissues so that the beef is meltingly tender.
The best method for cooking tough meat is braising. The meat is browned first and then slowly simmered or baked in a covered pan with lots of liquid. The end result is wonderfully delicious. Try my recipe for braised lamb shanks or slow cooker Italian pot roast and I’m sure you’ll agree.
I’ll get you started on the recipe here and hopefully answer any questions you might have. The recipe card is located near the end of the post with measurements and nutrition information.
What You’ll Need
- Beef Chuck Roast: Look for a roast that weighs approximately 2 pounds. A little more or less won’t make a huge difference. Most chuck roasts are boneless but if you happen to buy one with a bone, you can either leave it in and fish it out before serving the soup, or trim the meat away from the bone before cooking. it. Another option is to buy beef stew meat which is already trimmed and cut into cubes. It’s generally more expensive than a chuck roast.
- All-Purpose Flour, Salt, Pepper, Olive Oil: The beef cubes are tossed in a mixture of flour and seasonings and then browned in oil. Don’t skip this step because browning adds great flavor to the soup. The flour helps thicken the soup, too.
- Onion, Carrots, Celery, Garlic: These aromatic vegetables are often added to soups and stews for flavor and nutrition.
- Pearl Barley: Barley is a nutritious grain (it is not gluten-free). Barley has numerous health benefits. It’s high in fiber, both soluble and insoluble, and contains many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants (Healthline).
- Beef Broth: Look for a carton of good-quality beef broth, preferably low- or no-sodium.
- Canned Tomatoes: You’ll need a 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes.
- Worcestershire Sauce: Made with a secret blend of spices and herbs, this dark brown sauce adds umami flavor to the soup and a rich color.
- Paprika: A popular bright red spice that is made with mild chili peppers. It isn’t spicy at all.
- Thyme: The recipe calls for dried thyme but if fresh thyme is available, by all means use that. If you use fresh, you’ll need approximately 3 times more (1 ½ teaspoons).
- Bay Leaf: A single dried bay leaf adds subtle flavor to soups and stews. It will remain whole during the cooking time so be sure to remove it before serving the soup.
- Fresh Parsley: A handful of fresh green parsley adds such great flavor. Add it right before serving so it retains its vibrant green color.
How To Make It
You’ll need a nice big pan with a lid. A Dutch oven works well.
Gather together the ingredients you’ll need. Prep the carrots, celery, and onion; mince the garlic. Don’t cut the vegetables into teeny-tiny pieces; they’re going to cook a long time and if they’re really small, they’ll just disintegrate. Set the chopped veggies aside for now.
Trim the the excess fat from the beef. With a sharp knife, cut it into bite-sized pieces, about one inch or so. I’ve found that if the meat is super chilled, even with a bit of frost in it, it is easier to cut.
Mix together the flour, salt, and pepper in a medium-sized bowl. Add the beef cubes and toss them together until the meat is completely coated in flour.
Always use a separate cutting board for meat. I like to use a non-porous cutting board made out of plastic or acrylic. Immediately after using it, put it into hot soapy water or the dishwasher to avoid cross-contamination.
Heat a splash of oil in the bottom of the pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, add the beef cubes in a single layer (you may have to do this in batches) and allow to brown undisturbed for a few minutes before stirring. Brown all sides of the meat.
Remove the meat as it browns and put it on a plate while you brown the rest of the meat. You may need to add a little more oil. The beef does NOT have to be cooked all the way through.
After you’ve browned the beef, set it aside. In the same pan, add a little more oil and sauté the onions, carrots, and celery for a few minutes.
When the onions are softened, add the garlic, cooking and stirring for one minute. This will release the flavor from the garlic.
Deglaze the pan with some of the broth. Pour a half cup of broth into the pan with the vegetables, bring it to a boil, and scrape away the brown bits with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Add the rest of the broth, the can of tomatoes, and the rest of the ingredients, except for the barley and the parsley. Throw the beef back into the pan, too. Bring the contents to a simmer, then cover the pan and simmer the soup for an hour or so.
Stir in the barley, and cook the soup for an additional 40 minutes or so until the beef is melt-in-your-mouth tender.
You may be wondering why you couldn’t just add the barley with the rest of the ingredients. That wouldn’t be a catastrophe or anything but barley simply doesn’t need that much time to cook. If you cook barley too long, it tends to get a little mushy. Not a huge deal but we’re looking for the best beef and barley soup ever here, right?
Right before serving, pluck out the bay leaf and check the seasoning. Add more salt and pepper, if necessary. Stir in a generous handful of chopped fresh parsley.
Pearl barley (or pearled barley) is barley that has been processed to remove both the outer layer and the bran layer. It is lighter in color than hulled barley and a little less nutritious. Pearl barley takes less time to cook than hulled barley, 40 minutes instead of an hour or more.
Both hulled and pearl barley are processed to remove the outer layer. If you happen to buy barley that has the hull (outer layer), you may need to soak it overnight before cooking it. For more about types of barley, the Whole Grains Council has lots of information and great photos.
Like most grains, barley should be rinsed before cooking to remove any dirt and debris. Place it in a fine mesh strainer and run cold water over it for a minute or so.
Usually soup recipes with barley are cooked long enough to allow the barley to become tender. If you are using a recipe that doesn’t include at least 40 minutes cooking time, you may want to pre-cook the barley before adding it to the soup.
Make It Your Own
- Amp up the vegetables. Add your favorite vegetable to the mix. Cabbage, kale, green beans, parsnips, or turnips are good choices. Frozen green peas or spinach can be added to the soup just before serving.
- If you don’t care for barley, try farro, millet, lentils, or brown rice. Adjust cooking times according to package directions.
To get a head start on making this soup, the carrots, onions, and celery can be prepped ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. That will save you about 10 minutes when it’s time to cook the soup.
This soup freezes really well, too, unlike beef stew with potatoes which tend to get mushy when frozen. If you want to make enough soup to freeze for later meals, consider making a larger batch or doubling the recipe.
Storage & Reheating Tips
Refrigerate leftover soup promptly; it will keep for four days. It also freezes well, for up to 4 months if properly stored in a freezer-safe container. Thaw frozen soup overnight in the fridge before reheating.
Individual portions can be reheated in the microwave in a microwave safe bowl. Cover it loosely with a paper towel to prevent splatters. Larger amounts can be reheated in a saucepan on the stove until hot.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 pounds beef chuck roast (or beef stew meat)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- 1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium onion)
- 1 ½ cups chopped carrot (about 4 carrots)
- ¾ cup celery, chopped (about 2 stalks)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups low-sodium or unsalted beef broth, more as needed
- 1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes, undrained (low sodium or no-salt-added)
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
- 1 bay leaf
- ¾ cup pearl barley, uncooked
- ¼ cup fresh parsley
- Trim excess fat from beef; cut into bite-sized cubes. Toss cubed beef with flour, salt, and pepper.
- In a large Dutch oven, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat. Add beef in a single layer, not overcrowding the pan. You may have to do it in batches.
- Cook without stirring for 2 to 3 minutes, and then stir to brown the other sides of the beef cubes, cooking for another 2 to 3 minutes. The beef doesn’t have to be cooked through at this point. Remove to a plate and repeat with remaining beef, adding more oil if necessary.
- When you've finished searing the beef, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the same pot. Add onion, carrot, and celery. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 to 6 minutes or until onion is translucent.
- Add garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant.
- Add ½ cup to 1 cup of beef broth and scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan (deglaze).
- Add remaining beef broth, tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, paprika, thyme, bay leaf, and seared beef.
- Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat and then reduce heat to medium-low or low. Cover and simmer for 60 minutes.
- Add barley, stir, and cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 35 to 40 minutes or until barley is tender and beef is very tender. If desired, add more beef broth to thin the soup.
- Remove bay leaf, stir in fresh parsley and serve hot.
- Don’t cut the vegetables too small or they may disintegrate with the long cooking time.
- Leftover soup can be refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to 4 months. If the soup seems too thick when reheating, thin as desired with beef broth or water.
This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.