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.

Slow cooker beef barley soup in a white bowl.

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).

A collage of beef being cooked and a crockpot with vegetables in it.

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.

A bowl of slow cooker beef barley soup on a blue linen.

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!

Beef barley soup in a white bowl.

Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup

Invest 20 minutes of prep to max out the flavor in this hearty Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup. No need to simmer, stir, and fuss; my easy slow cooker soup practically makes itself. Just set and forget!
5 from 46 votes
Prep Time 20 mins
Cook Time 4 hrs 20 mins
Total Time 4 hrs 40 mins
Servings 8 servings
Course Soup
Cuisine American
Calories 190

Ingredients 

  • 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

Instructions 

  • 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.

Recipe Video

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. Storage: Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  7. 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 190kcalCarbohydrates: 14gProtein: 14gFat: 9gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 39mgSodium: 502mgPotassium: 474mgFiber: 3gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 2565IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 35mgIron: 2mg
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Meggan Hill

I’m the Executive Chef and head of the Culinary Hill Test Kitchen. Every recipe is developed, tested, and approved just for you.

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Comments

  1. Hi Meggan: I have not rated this yet because I haven’t made it yet. However I will rate with notes. I have to reduce my sat fats and salt in my diet so I will be making it with a lean beef. I’ll adjust oil as needed. Also might add some cut up leeks to replace the potatoes I was thinking of adding. (I am old school and have cooked for decades. Everyone will miss that favorite meat, potatoes and gravy stew I used to make along with the buttery homemade biscuits lol).

    I get your emails and love the recipes I’ve tried. Learning new tricks is a wonderful adventure for me. Thank you for helping me along the way.

    1. Hi Marla, there is a section in the post right above the recipe card that gives stove top instructions using a dutch oven or stock pot! -Meggan

    1. Hi Diane, I don’t see why not. Quick barley has been pre-steamed so it just takes less time to cook. I haven’t tried it that way, but a reader said they would be putting it in at the last hour of cooking. I would love to hear how it worked for you! – Meggan

  2. I have made Beef Barley Soup many times, but this is hands down the best I have ever made! I followed the recipe exactly as written, but cooked it on the stove in my enameled cast iron dutch oven. Just WOW!5 stars

  3. I just want to say that this soup is just the best! I have been making it now for a couple of years and I do not change anything (other than maybe throwing in some better than boullion for a little extra flavor. I do not add addtional salt when I do this.) Everyone that I have served this to LOVES it! This freezes beautifully, and I currently have it bubbling away in the crock pot. I will love being able to pull a portion out of the freezer during the coming winter. Thank you for this wonderful recipe. Happy Thanksgiving!5 stars

    1. Hi Amy, you would add it with anything left in the pan. If you find you have a lot of liquid, it may be that the mushrooms are still releasing their liquid. It shouldn’t be too much liquid. – Meggan

    1. Hi Melli, of course! The chicken broth just adds more flavor, but you can absolutely substitute for all beef broth.

  4. This was so delicious Meggan. I loved the texture and the balance of ingredients. I can’t believe how much the barley expands! Just one half cup was indeed plenty! The meat was super tender and not dry and the seasoning was spot on. Thank you!5 stars

  5. This soup was easy and so delicious. I used a 1 lb pkg of prepackaged stew meat. Didn’t even cut it up. It was so beefy and comforting.5 stars

    1. Hi Janik, yes, you saute the vegetables in the fat from the beef. You wouldn’t HAVE to do that, but you get the best flavor that way. Then put everything in the slow cooker. Thanks! -Meggan

    1. Hi April, yes of course! I should post a version that isn’t in a slow cooker. I will do that. Thank you! -Meggan

  6. I have made this recipe several times on the stove top and am always pleased with the results.
    The only change I made was to add a tablespoon of tomato paste. It adds a richer flavor and tomato always works well with beef and mushroom#.5 stars

    1. Hi Erik, such a smart idea which I am going to try out next time I make this! Thank you so much. -Meggan

    1. Hi Roni, yes it can! Nothing in here will suffer from freezing. If you need more specifics, please let me know. Thanks! -Meggan

  7. Well right now it is 2 degrees out. I am putting this in my crock pot  can’t wait to warm up with  this in my soup bowl.thanks

  8. Hi Meggen,

    I found your recipe for Slow Cooker Beef Barley Soup, it sounds just like my Mother use to make. Your Ham and Bean soup sounds delicious also.

    The only thing missing from your recipes is the size of the slow cooker to use. I noticed that none of your recipes refer to the size of slow cooker to use.
    I cook for 2 people and have a 3 quart crock pot and need to know the size of your recipe so I can convert it to fit my crock pot.
    Thank you5 stars

  9. Its okay. I figured it had to be high for 4 hours. It is very good but mine is more like hotdish. I used a whole box of barley though lol.

    1. Okay you said hot dish – now you are required to tell me from which Midwestern state you hail. :D -Meggan

    1. Hi Birdie! I’m obviously way too late in replying to you. I’m sorry the recipe has the error of not including the temperature! 3 to 4 hours on HIGH or 6 to 8 hours on LOW. Thank you. I’m so sorry and horrified on your behalf.

  10. Wow this was a great soup! I kept my beef chunks fairly large and browned them up real nice. ThenI doubled the barley (we love barely). I thought next time I make it I’d make cut the veggies a little bigger than diced. I also added a tablespoon of Better than Boullion, for a little more in depth flavor.5 stars

  11. The best barley soup ever !! My husband can’t seem to get enough !!! LOVE IT !!! Also the freezer drinks are awesome for summer BBQS …5 stars

  12. Meggan, this is such a hearty and wholesome recipe! Thank you so much for sharing.
    Absolutely making this for the weekend dinner!
    All the love from Nepal xoxo5 stars

  13. I want to try this receipe….but I can’t determine how much is a “serving”?…..it says it makes 8 servings but how much is each serving?

    1. Hi Doug, that’s a fantastic question. Can you give me a few days to get back to you with the answer? I have culinary school tomorrow but can make the soup again on Wednesday. I’ll see what the total volume of soup produced is and then divide by 8 and I can let you know. Sorry about that! Good question. Thank you, I’ll reply again soon!

    2. Hi Doug, had a chance to make this again. I came up with exactly 8 cups of soup. So I’d say, 8 servings, 1 cup each, or you could do 6 servings and make them all slightly bigger. I hope this helps! Thanks for your question.

  14. Hi Meghan, sounds delicious!  Do you know the amount of sat. Fat?  I always like to know amount.
    Thank you very much.

    1. Hi Lorraine, thanks for your question! 1.6 grams of saturated fat per serving. I was able to adjust the nutrition label to list it. Good luck and thanks again!

  15. This recipe does sound great.    I’ve got a problem with cooking barley and the slow cooker just may solve my problem.    I’ve found that only using beef broth is sometimes  “overpowering” in recipes and I have started using chicken broth only or a combination.     I’ve heard or read somewhere that the combination of broths with mushrooms make the mushrooms “sing”.    I guess it’s all about your own tastes.

    1. Thank you so much for leaving your thoughtful comment, Shirley! I do think if you use too much beef broth (especially if it’s not high-quality or homemade) it could have a metallic taste. I like the combo of broths, glad I’m not the only one. Thanks again!!

    1. You know, that is a really good question. I like it with both flavors? Is that a lame answer? I think the mushrooms add some meatiness to the flavor, too. But yes, I should probably make it again with just beef just to see. :)

    2. The following is taken from a “lifehacker” article. Canned or boxed beef broth is only required to have a 135-to-1 ratio of moisture to protein. That means that most beef broth you buy in the store contains almost no beef at all, with yeast extracts providing most of the savory flavor. Boxed chicken broth will provide far better flavor than boxed beef broth, even for traditionally beef broth–based dishes. This is because, despite the fact that there is no minimum protein requirement set by the USDA, most boxed or canned chicken broth contains around 60 parts liquid to 1 part protein, twice as much as in beef broth.If you can’t make your own, however, and absolutely must have a beef flavor for your dish, try Better Than Bouillon Beef Base instead of store-bought beef broth. Keep in mind though it is very salty so I wouldn’t add too much salt.

    3. Use what ever you prefer, some say chicken broth has a lighter flavor and beef broth can be over powering,

  16. So it’s totally comfort food weather here in Utah now, and I’m on the hunt for all the soup and stew recipes I can find. Love that this is made in a crockpot, too. Laziness FTW!5 stars

  17. “Regular stew beef” is a mix of cuts, which is why the consistency of the pieces varies – some are tough and some melt in your mouth. I stock up on boneless chuck roasts when they go on sale and cut one up when I want to make beef soup or stew.

    Thanks for sharing your recipe. It looks delicious!5 stars

    1. Thank you so much for your information on this, Lee Ann! I had no idea what cut beef stew was, ha ha. And I’ve certainly had mixed results with it too! This explains so much. Thank you again, that was really helpful! I will definitely update my post with the info.

    2. cooking the meat in in a slow cooker is the answer to your tough meat problems, it cooks for 8 hours.

    1. Cathie, is there a slow cooker with a browning setting?! LOL I need that!!! That would be the best, for sure. I will definitely look into that. Thanks so much for the suggestion.

  18. LOVE beef and barley soup and for whatever reason have never done it in a slow cooker. Brilliant! I use beef chuck too. 

  19. i dont eat beef but i have been eyeing this since you posted. looks so comforting! 

  20. Yes YES!!! I love this! Beef barley is sooo one of my faves!!! I am going to try and recreate my beef barley without the beef…so that would just make it veggie barley :)  Either way this just look super!5 stars

  21. I agree, the crockpot is like a magic flavor cauldron and we will need a bowl of this tonight when the rain comes. This is a fabulous looking soup.5 stars