This soup is lovingly simmered on the stove or in the crock pot to produce the richest Beef Barley Soup recipe I’ve ever tasted. Shredded carrots and potatoes give it a fabulous, thick texture. Originally published October 2, 2014.

crock pot beef and barley soup in a white bowl.
Table of Contents
  1. You’ll love this recipe for Beef Barley Soup
  2. Beef Barley Soup Recipe ingredients
  3. How to make Beef Barley Soup
  4. Beef Barley Soup Crock Pot tips
  5. How to serve this recipe for Beef Barley Soup
  6. Beef and Barley Soup storage
  7. Crockpot Beef Barley Soup FAQs
  8. Other soups you will love:
  9. Beef and Barley Soup Recipe

I still remember the first time I walked into Eric’s parent’s house. I mean, of course I remember it, Eric and I were practically engaged before I met his family, so you know, no pressure. Hi, I’m going to be here FOREVER, hope you don’t hate me. (We were married 5 months later.)

The reason I remember walking through the door so vividly is because of the delicious smell. Soup. The soup to end all soups.

You’ll love this recipe for Beef Barley Soup

My mother-in-law Kris is one of the best cooks I know. I’m addicted to recipes (part of the reason I started this blog–it’s a catalog my friends, plain and simple) but she is a true cook, adding ingredients by gut instinct rather than what some imposing recipe says. (I do that sometimes…and sometimes I have to throw dinner in the trash.)

Her Beef Barley Soup is literally the definition of comfort food for me. It reminds me of being in her cozy kitchen in Montana, with snow fluttering outside that somehow makes you feel warmer, and this aromatic soup simmering on the stove, with the cats nosing around to see what the smell is.

Beef Barley Soup Recipe ingredients

This recipe for beef barley soup is loaded with hearty, good-for-you ingredients! See the recipe card below for the full list of ingredients and instructions.

  • Beef stew meat (nicely marbled beef chunks)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Oil
  • Water
  • Beef base
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potato
  • Carrots
  • Pearl barley
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whole peeled carrots for beef and barley soup.

How to make Beef Barley Soup

You should have heard me try to finagle this recipe out of Kris. She sent me an email with the basic beef barley soup recipe but I still had to text her 7 times and call her twice. It worked, because the soup tastes exactly like hers. Which is to say, it tastes just like home.

closeup of crock pot beef barley soup recipe in a large pot.

The shredded carrots and potatoes are part of the reason this soup is so fabulous. It gives it great texture, on top of the barley. This was my first time buying barley. I had to ask where it was after checking by the oats and then the flour. (It was by the dry rice and beans. Here’s the kind of barley you’re looking for.) (Update! I tried this with quick pearl barley in December 2016. It worked awesome and was done in half the time.)

I call this a lazy-day soup. Make it on a rainy day at home when your most exciting task is laundry. It will make you feel all warm and nostalgic, I promise. Or, if you want to eat this on a weekday, throw it in the crock pot and add the barley when you get home.

chunks of browned beef on a plate for crock pot beef barley soup.
a jar of better than bouillon beef base being held.

I love Better than Bouillon. It adds the BEST flavor to soup.

shredded potatoes in a food processor.

I’m telling you guys. Shredded potatoes/carrots is where it’s at. Use a food processor if you have one, but if not a normal cheese grater will do.

celery being chopped on a wooden cutting board.


Well guys, if all goes according to plan, this is the last time I will hit publish with this blog design. I’m so excited to show you! I feel like I just got a new wardrobe. Soon I will make you all sit in the living room while I model my new outfits.

Beef Barley Soup Crock Pot tips

  • Brown the beef. Giving the beef chunks a nice sear before putting together your soup creates the best texture and flavor. Don’t skip this step! 
  • Brown in batches. I recommend splitting the beef up into 3 batches when browning. If there’s too much in the pan at once, you’ll end up steaming it rather than searing it. 
  • Is your soup too thick? Depending on how long you simmer, sometimes the soup can get much too thick. If you like a soupier soup, just add more water and beef base to thin it back out. 
  • Slow cooker or stovetop! This recipe is great in the slow cooker or on the stove, so I’ve included instructions for both. Pick whatever fits your time frame the best!

How to serve this recipe for Beef Barley Soup

I love making this crusty One Hour French Bread to go with this Beef Barley soup. It would also be amazing with The Best Garlic Bread of Your Life, Homemade Crescent Rolls, Creamy Mashed Potatoes, or Garlic Knots!

If you are serving a lot of people and need another side, make this Apple Gorgonzola Salad, or this Raspberry Avocado Salad with Poppyseed Dressing.

beef barley crock pot soup being lifted from a pot.

Beef and Barley Soup storage

One of my favorite things about soup is just how easy it is to make a giant batch to store and eat the whole week! 

To store your soup, let it cool completely, then transfer it to an airtight container. It will stay fresh for up to 5 days. It can also be stored for up to 3 months in the freezer.

To reheat, thaw overnight in the fridge if frozen, then warm on low on the stove until everything is heated through.

overhead of crock pot beef and barley soup recipe in a bowl.

Crockpot Beef Barley Soup FAQs

Do you cook barley before adding to soup?

No, not when you’re making it in the slow cooker. If you cook it first, it will absolutely turn into mush over a long, all-day crockpot simmer.. The barley goes into the soup uncooked, then simmers in the broth until it’s perfect. All you need to do first is rinse it.

How do you thicken beef barley soup?

Beef and barley soup will naturally thicken as it sits and simmers. However, if you’re looking to thicken it a little more quickly, you can whip up a simple slurry. To do so, whisk together 3 tablespoons of cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of water. Add small amounts of that into the soup until it’s thickened to your liking.

What cut of beef is best for soup?

In this Beef Barley Soup I use pre-packaged stew meat, which is usually made of chuck steak. It’s cheap and it’s super tender after simmering in this soup all day. You could also use beef sold as chuck roast or round roast, or even beef short ribs,, but anything well-marbled will work great.

Can you overcook barley in soup?

It is possible to overcook barley if you soak it before putting it in the slow cooker. Start with uncooked barley, rinse it, and let it cook directly in the soup, and you’ll be just fine. 

Should I soak barley before adding to soup?

When you’re using pearl barley, you don’t need to soak it – just give it a quick rinse. Hulled barley needs soaking for several hours; we aren’t using that (no way dude, I am trying to make this dinner easy). 

Is there a difference between barley and pearl barley?

There’s hulled barley, there’s pearl barley, and there’s quick barley. Hulled barley is like the whole wheat bread of barley–it’s been processed very minimally, and it’s a whole grain. Don’t try to use it in this soup! Either pearl barley or quick barley are great in this recipe. Quick barley is more processed but also cuts down on the amount of cook time, so buy what works for you. 

Is barley soup good for you?

This barley soup is healthy, at least by my definition of healthy. It’s got protein rich beef and veggies like onions, carrots, and potatoes. Barley is a nutritious food too. Plus eating something so warm and comforting is always good for your soul!

Is barley more healthy than rice?

Pearl barley has more fiber and calcium than rice, and it’s somewhat less caloric. Full disclosure, I’m not using it in this soup for health, I’m using it for nostalgia and texture. 

Is barley an anti inflammatory?

Barley can be anti-inflammatory because it contains antioxidants. Antioxidants help your cells stay healthy and repair themselves.

crock pot beef and barley soup in a bowl shot from overhead.

Other soups you will love:

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup with Italian Sausage and Pesto << classic minestrone with some super delicious extras.

Cheeseburger Soup << Warm. Filling. Actually tastes like a cheeseburger!

Cream Cheese Chicken Chili << another great dinner to throw in the slow cooker!

Easy Cheddar Cauliflower Soup << dreamy, creamy, and cheesy, this soup uses an entire head of cauliflower.

Slow Cooker Enchilada Soup from Weary Chef

Easy Chicken and Dumpling Soup from Melanie Makes

Tortellini Cheddar Cheese Soup from Simply Gloria

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Beef and Barley Soup

4.83 from 69 votes
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 3 hours
Total: 3 hours 15 minutes
Servings: 8 Servings
This soup is lovingly simmered on the stove or in the crock pot to produce the richest Beef Barley Soup recipe I've ever tasted. Shredded carrots and potatoes give it a fabulous, thick texture.


  • 2 pounds stew meat, nicely marbled beef chunks
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 10 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons Better Than Bouillon Beef Base, mounded tablespoons good quality*
  • 2 cups celery, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large potato, peeled and shredded, about 2 cups
  • 3-4 large carrots, peeled and shredded, about 2 cups
  • 1 cup pearl barley, *** rinsed


  • Generously salt and pepper the beef. In a large stockpot, heat the oil over medium-high heat.
  • When it is very hot, add about 1/3 of the meat. Brown for about 1-2 minutes, then turn to brown the other side. Remove to a plate when it is browned on all sides.
  • Repeat with remaining meat in 2 more batches. (If you add it all at once it will steam the meat instead of browning it–not what you want.)
  • When all the meat is browned, add all the meat back to the pot with 10 cups of water. Add 3 healthy tablespoons beef stock concentrate.
  • Add the chopped celery, onions, and garlic. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 2 hours with the lid on.
  • When the meat is tender and you can break it apart easily with a wooden spoon, add the shredded potato and carrots. Bring to a boil, then continue to simmer on low for another 30-45 minutes, or until the carrots are tender.
  • Add 1 cup of barley. Bring to a boil, then reduce to low. Cook for another half hour, or until barley is tender and the soup tastes…like home.

Slow cooker instructions:

  • In a large pan, brown the meat according to the instructions. Remove the browned meat to a large crockpot.
  • Add 2 cups of the water to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir up all the browned bits. Add this and the remaining 8 cups of water to the crock pot.
  • Add the beef base, celery, onions, and garlic to the slow cooker and stir.
  • Cook on low for about 6 hours. Add the potatoes and carrots and cook for another hour.
  • Add the barley and simmer for another hour or so, until it is tender.


*I suggest Better than Bullion Beef Base.
The simmer times on this soup are pretty rough. I let mine simmer all morning because I was feeling a lazy-soup-day. The best kind of day for October.
If your meat is not marbled well, you might want to add a bit of worcestershire sauce toward the end, to boost the flavor.
If your soup has boiled down to become more stew-like, simply add more water and beef base.
** I’ve had some questions about the green garnish I used for these photos. It’s basil, but that’s just what was growing in my garden when I made this. No garnish is necessary, but I would recommend parsley or chives if you want a fresh kick.
***UPDATE December 2016: I just made this over Christmas for my family in the crock pot using QUICK barley. I used the same amount. I left it in for maybe 15-30 minutes, but check the package instructions. You could do this on stove top too!


Serving: 1bowl | Calories: 345kcal | Carbohydrates: 34g | Protein: 30g | Fat: 10g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 574mg | Potassium: 858mg | Fiber: 7g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 4631IU | Vitamin C: 14mg | Calcium: 73mg | Iron: 4mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Calories: 345
Keyword: barley, Beef, soup
Did you make this? I’d love to see it!Mention @thefoodcharlatan or tag #thefoodcharlatan!

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  1. 5 stars
    I’ve made this a gazillion times because it’s so good. However, I keep forgetting to ask if I can freeze any leftovers. It’s only my son and I who eat it and it makes a whole bunch. lol Would love to be able to freeze and reheat. Thanks

  2. 5 stars
    This is the absolute best beef barley soup! I’ve made it many times now and even my picky little eater loves it!

    1. SO happy to hear this Candace! It’s a picky eater buster if there ever was one! Thanks so much for taking the time to review :)

  3. 5 stars
    I cut this recipe in half because it’s just my Husband and I, and made this on the stove top… It was fantastic, my only regret is that I cut this recipe in half… I used a food processor for the carrots, and really liked how it brightened the soup, and how the shredded potato added texture and acted like a thickener. The flavors and texture of this soup are amazing…. And btw, I am becoming a big fan of the Better Than Bouillon Bases, the flavor is great, and it takes up a lot less space.

  4. 5 stars
    I’ve been making this soup for years and absolutely love it. This time it seemed to be missing something, so I re-read the recipe and saw your tip about adding a little Worcestershire sauce. Perfect fix! And perfect soup for these cold Northern California days. We’re practically neighbors as I’m in Yuba City! Thanks for so many great recipes. (Aunt Shirley’s Famous Dinner Rolls were the hit of our Thanksgiving!)

  5. 5 stars
    This has been a family favorite for years. We follow the recipe exactly. As Karen says it is a good cold weather, “home” recipe. Today when our college sophomore arrived for the Thanksgiving holiday and discovered this was tonight’s dinner I got extra hugs and a couple of “I love you Moms.” As a parent of a twenty year old I couldn’t ask for more. Thanks for sharing this great recipe!

    1. Okay Dawn that is the SWEETEST. Beef barley soup, bringing families together for generations 💕 I bet he really misses your cooking and kitchen love :) that is so nice of him to tell you that, thank you for sharing!

    1. Hi Susie! Depending on factors size the size of your carrots, whether or not you use exactly 2 pounds of beef, and how much liquid evaporates, each bowl will be about 1.5-2 cups. Enjoy!

  6. 5 stars
    This recipe is unbelievably good – as are many of The Food Charlatan recipes. They are always a hit. I’ve made this many times, following the recipe exactly and then making some slight changes. The ONLY suggestion I have for those making this stovetop is – instead of simmering the meat for 2 hours, I do 2.5-3 hours and then I add the potatoes, carrots, and barley at the same time so that they don’t disintegrate. This is a go-to recipe for my family!

  7. I really dont care for the better than bouillon soup base, how can i accurately add some beef broth instead? Thanks so much.

    1. 5 stars
      Just add a box of Beef stock ( not broth), about a cup if deep red wine and any extra H20 to make 10 cups total

  8. 5 stars
    I read your explanation of ‘charlatan’ in the name of your blog and I totally get the whole ‘fake it till you make it’ thing! I couldn’t cook when I got married, not even a little bit, and I learned from the Better Homes & Gardens red-and-white cookbook of the day. But there were some terrible mistakes along the way that even the dogs wouldn’t eat.
    I made your Beef Barley Soup pretty much as written, except I used some steaks I had frozen when hubs grilled too many, and what a delicious soup this is! It was a big hit.
    So glad I found your blog, I’m really enjoying it!

    1. Sounds like we have a similar charlatan story Stacy!! Thank goodness for that red and white cookbook right?? I used mine all the time back in the day! And definitely made some food fit for the dogs lol!! So happy you loved the beef barley, great idea using the steaks. Look at how far we’ve come, haha!! Thanks for taking the time to comment Stacy, it’s so good to hear from you 💕

  9. 5 stars
    My hubby requested soup for dinner tonight and while I had never made beef & barley soup before, I had barley in my pantry, so decided to give it a whirl and I am SO glad I did! It turned out fabulous by following the recipe exactly! I’ve had this recipe pinned for years – so glad I finally gave it a shot! *side note – my hubby isn’t a fan of carrots, but he had no complaints with them shredded! Thank you for a great recipe I can add to my soup rotation! ❤️

  10. I am not a seasoned cook so excuse me if this is a dumb question for soup, why wouldn’t you sauté the onion before putting in the water?

    1. Hi Heather! No such thing as dumb questions here. Sautéing the onion before adding it to the soup is an extra step that Karen’s mother-in-law Kris didn’t include in the recipe–but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Sauté the onion if you like, it will just add extra flavor :-) Enjoy!

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