Hearty beef barley vegetable soup is the ultimate comfort meal-in-a-bowl. Deep rich flavors and loaded with healthy grains, veggies and protein. Delish!
Hands down, this is one of my favorite soups. I can eat it for a week straight.
I promise this classic beef barley soup is way better than anything you would find in a can or jar. It’s packed with healthy vegetables, tender beef, plump barley and a delicious savory broth.
The wonderful old fashioned flavors make it a satisfying, cozy dish for chilly days. I love it with warm crusty bread.
Barley is an excellent source of fiber, protein and many important minerals so, along with all the veggies, the soup is a healthy weeknight dinner or lunch.
Why make this recipe
- Because it’s good like a warm hug – I’ve been making this delicious comfort food soup for over 30 years.
- We have variations and substitutes to suit your tastes and what you have on hand
- You can make it on the stove top, slow cooker or instant pot
- The simple ingredients should all be available at your local grocery store
Ingredient notes – tailored to your taste
Beef: I use chuck roast or chuck eye which has excellent beefy flavor. Other good options are blade steak (pretty much the same thing), rump roast, shoulder steak, bottom round, top round or tri tip. Cuts that cook low and slow to become tender.
Vegetables: I use carrots, celery, onions and a handful of optional fresh baby spinach (or kale) at the end for extra color and nutrition. Other options are parsnips, celery root (celeriac), mushrooms. Butternut squash would work well if you add it half way through.
Pearl barley: or pearled barley is the most commonly sold barley in a grocery store. It is filling and has a slightly nutty flavor and chewy texture. You can also use hulled barley (less processed), but you will need to cook it longer, or quick cooking barley which only needs 10-15 minutes cooking. Note that barley is not a gluten-free grain. Instead of barley, try farro, a high fiber, high protein whole grain.
Gravy mix: just a couple of tablespoons of au jus or demi-glace gravy mix, found in a package. I use Knorr Swiss, but almost any brown gravy mix will do fine. Essentially it’s a quick way to add more depth of flavor and thicken the soup. You can skip it and have a soup with less body or add a cornstarch slurry to thicken the soup instead.
Broth: I use a combination of chicken and beef broth. Use either, a combination or even vegetable broth.
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste with a pinch of sugar for added depth.
- Beans such as white kidney beans, cannellini, chick peas, pinto beans or red kidney beans would be a nice addition for extra fiber and protein.
- Add fresh herbs at the end like chopped cilantro or fresh parsley.
Step by step instructions
Peel and cut veggies in chunks. Process the veggies in the food processor in batches until chopped into small pieces (a few bigger pieces are fine). Alternatively, dice veggies with a knife.
Season beef with salt and pepper. Pan sear full pieces in a large pot. Remove and cut into bite sized pieces.
Sauté veggies in the pot. Add back beef and all remaining ingredients except spinach. Simmer soup for about an hour.
Stir in baby spinach if you like. Taste and adjust seasonings. Soup will thicken more on standing or in the fridge.
Serve with warm crusty bread for dipping.
- I chop the vegetables in the food processor. This saves time and effort even with processing 2-3 batches. You can, of course, dice the veggies by hand.
- For a quicker method, use the instant pot. Instructions are in the recipe notes.
- This hearty beef barley soup recipe keeps well in the fridge for up to 5 days. It does thicken as the barley absorbs the broth, so just add some water or broth to thin it out to your desired consistency the next day.
- Reheat on the stove top or microwave.
With pearl barley, the outer husk and bran layer is stripped away, so it’s not quite as healthy as hulled barley and not considered a whole grain. Hulled barley will need at least 1 hour (or more) of cooking time. Pearly barley will need about 45 minutes.
Yes. Quick barley is a barley that cooks more quickly because it has been partially cooked and dried during the ﬂake-rolling process. So you can add the quick cooking barley in the last 15-20 minutes of cooking.
What to serve with the soup
The hearty beef barley soup can be served as a starter in a mug, but I tend to make it a full meal in a big bowl, almost like a stew. I love it with a crusty bread or garlic bread to soak up the broth. Or try it with cheddar biscuits and a citrus salad with greens.
Other hearty soups recipes to try
Two other soup and barley recipes – also good!
- vegetable bean and barley soup. – for a vegetarian version of this soup
- root vegetable soup with barley
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Best Beef Barley Vegetable Soup
- 1 pound – 1 1/2 pounds (450-680 grams) chuck roast, Note 1
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 4 large carrots, Note 2
- 4 celery ribs
- 1 large onion
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 4 cups chicken broth, Note 3 (about 1 litre)
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/2 cup barley, Note 4 (rounded cup)
- 2 teaspoon Worcesterchire sauce
- 2 tablespoon from Au Jus or Demi Glace gravy mix package, Note 5 (or brown gravy package)
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 4 cups fresh baby spinach (optional)
- PREPARE THE VEGETABLES: Shortcut method: Peel carrots and cut into large chunks. Cut celery and onion into large chunks. Place carrots, celery and onions in food processor. Pulse a few times until vegetables are chopped into small pieces. Alternatively, dice carrots, celery and onions with a knife.
- SAUTE BEEF AND VEGETABLES: Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed pot. Dry beef with a paper towel sprinkle beef with salt and pepper (and a touch of flour as well if you like) and brown it on both sides, about 4 minutes. Remove from pot and cut browned beef into bite-sized pieces. Add remaining oil if necessary. Add vegetables and sauté for 5-7 minutes, scraping up the brown bits on bottom of the pot. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more.
- ASSEMBLE THE SOUP: Add chicken and beef broth, water, thyme, barley, Worcesterchire and 2 tablespoons from the gravy base package. Add bite size beef. Stir, cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer the soup for 1 hour. If not as soft as you like, cook another 10-15 minutes.
- FINISH THE SOUP: Add baby spinach (if using) and stir until wilted, about 1 minute. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper if needed or a bit more soup base from the package to achieve the thickness and depth of flavor desired. Serve immediately with lots of bread for dipping.
- Beef options: Instead of beef chuck, you can use blade steak (pretty much the same thing), rump roast, shoulder steak, bottom round, top round or tri tip. Any beef stew meat that cook low and slow to become tender. If you don’t like beef, use chicken.
- Vegetable options: In addition to carrots, onions and celery, try parsnips, celery root (celeriac), mushrooms, green beans. Butternut squash would work well if you add it half way through.
- Broth options: I use a combination of chicken and beef broth. Use either one, a combination or even vegetable broth in a box, can, or powder or paste (with water as per package directions).
- Barley options: Pearl barley or pearled barley is the most commonly sold barley in a grocery store. You can also use hulled barley (less processed), but you will need to cook it longer or quick cooking barley which only needs 10-15 minutes cooking. Note that barley is not a gluten-free grain. Instead of barley, you can also use farro, a high fiber, high protein whole grain.
- Gravy powder substitute: You can skip the powdered gravy and have a soup with less body or add a cornstarch slurry of 2 tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with 4 tablespoons water to the simmering soup. Add a little at a time to thicken the soup to your desired consistency (note the soup will also thicken standing around).
- Optional add-ins:
- Add 1-2 tablespoons of tomato paste with a pinch of sugar for added depth.
- Add 1-2 cups/250-500 grams beans such as white kidney beans, cannellini, chick peas, pinto beans or red kidney beans would be a nice addition.
- Add fresh herbs at the end like chopped cilantro
- Instant pot beef barley soup instructions:
- Press SAUTE on instant pot or pressure cooker. Add olive oil.
- Brown beef in 2 batches. Turn setting to OFF. Cut beef into bite-sized pieces and return to instant pot.
- Add remaining ingredients (except spinach), using only 7 cups broth and no water (you need less water for this method).
- Place on lid and set valve to SEALING position. Set to MANUAL OR PRESSURE for 20 minutes using + and – button.
- Once cooking time is finished, do a natural release for 10 minutes, then open valve carefully for final quick release.
- Add baby spinach if using and stir to wilt.
- Slow cooker beef and barley soup instructions:
- Pan sear the beef in a pan with a little olive oil over medium high heat until browned. Remove and cut into small pieces.
- Place beef in slow cooker with the remaining ingredients except baby spinach.
- Cook on low 7 – 8 hours then stir in baby spinach if using
- To Make Ahead and Store Leftovers: Store in fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days. The barley will expand further in the fridge and soak up the broth. If soup is too thick, add additional water or broth to thin it out if you like. Freeze soup in zipper lock bags or containers when cooled for up to 3 months.
I’ve been making versions of this recipe for years by eye. To get the proportions down pat, I loosely adapted my recipe from Best Beef Barley Soup.