An easy recipe for Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup. A little more prep on the front end means maximum flavor at the end, and you’ll still get plenty of convenience from your slow cooker!
There is something magical about slow cookers, and it’s not in the convenience.
I mean, there is convenience: It’s darn convenient that you can brown some meat, sauté some vegetables, and mix them together with barley and broth and it’s magically transformed into soup when you get home from work.
But how about that magical transformation?
The delicious flavors that evolve from cooking beef low and slow are worth celebrating all on their own.
How do you make beef barley soup?
When I put a slow cooker to work, I like to make sure I’m adding as much flavor as I can every step of the way.
I like to cut my beef into cubes and brown them in a skillet in small batches. You don’t need to cook the meat all the way through.
- Small pieces – more surface area for browning
- Small batches – less chance of steaming the meat
I use the rendered fat and pan drippings to sauté the vegetables before they go in the slow cooker, too. Fat = flavor.
Combine with the remaining ingredients (broth, spices, barley) in a slow cooker. Or, simmer on the stove top until the barley is tender (25 minutes for pearl barley, 40 minutes for hulled barley).
Can barley be cooked in a slow cooker?
Yes, absolutely. Barley holds up really well in a slow cooker so you don’t even have to wait to add it.
Barley is done when it has tripled in size and is soft and chewy in texture.
How do I add barley to soup?
Barley takes 25 to 40 minutes to cook, so you can generally add it right away with broth and seasonings while making soup.
How to make Beef Barley Soup on the Stove
Start with a dutch over or large stock pot. After you’ve browned the meat and softened the vegetables (separately), add back the meat and the remaining ingredients. Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the beef has softened and the barley is tender.
This hearty soup is filling enough to serve on its own. But, if you love to dunk, add slices of crusty bread or biscuits warm from the oven. It’s an easy, delicious meal!
Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup
- 1 pound boneless beef chuck or stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes (see note 1)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion diced (about 2 cups)
- 2 carrots peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 celery rib sliced (about ½ cup)
- 8 ounces mushrooms halved (see note 2)
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon dried thyme or ½ tablespoon fresh thyme
- 2 cups beef broth (see note 3)
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 2 cups water
- ½ cup pearled barley (see note 4)
- 1 bay leaf
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pat beef dry with paper towels and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering.
- Add the beef and let cook, without stirring, until brown on one side, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir beef and continue cooking until brown all over, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Transfer beef to the slow cooker, leaving the drippings in the skillet.
- Add onion, carrots, celery, and mushrooms to the saucepan and sauté until the vegetables have softened and the mushrooms have released most of their liquid, about 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in the garlic and thyme until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add to the slow cooker.
- Add beef broth, chicken broth, water, barley, bay leaf, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper to the slow cooker. Cover and cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours or LOW for 7 to 8 hours. Remove bay leaf and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Boneless beef chuck or stew meat: Chuck roast and stew meat are not only inexpensive, but also have a lot of fat marbled within the meat; an asset here. The longer cook time called for in the slow cooker recipe allows the fat to break down into meltingly tender chunks of beef and a fat that melts into the rich, full-bodied broth. Names can vary, so look for any of these beef cuts: boneless beef chuck roast, chuck pot roast, chuck shoulder, bottom eye, round roast, rump roast, top round, round tip roast, English roast, or pot roast.
- Mushrooms: Cremini mushrooms, white button mushrooms, or baby bellas; choose any one or a mix of all. If they’re already small, no need to slice the ‘shrooms in half.
- Beef broth and chicken broth: I use refrigerated beef base to make broth. Similar to bullion cubes, beef base is highly concentrated beef stock. You can find it in powder or paste forms. I love “Better than Bouillon” brand, a paste which is widely available and tastes delicious. For the chicken broth, buy your favorite store-bought brand in boxes or cans, or make your own chicken broth if you like.
- Pearled barley: Also known as pearl barley, this grain is whole barley minus its fibrous outer hull. Pearl barley gets its shiny name because after the hull is removed, the grains are polished to remove part or all of the bran layer (making it quicker and easier to cook).
- Yield: This Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup makes 8 entree-sized servings. Paired with a salad and warm bread or a half sandwich, this makes for a satisfying and soul-feeding meal.
- Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
- Freezer: Cool the soup completely, then pack into freezer-safe containers (I like mason jars; leave 1/2-inch headspace for expansion). Label, date, and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
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