Homemade Beef and Barley Soup

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I am most definitely not Scottish. The closest I come is knowing all the words to a 2008 rom-com Called “Made of Honor,” where the main character falls in love with his best friend who drops a bomb that she’s marrying a wealthy Scot named Colin.

And if you’re looking for something to watch while you eat, this is also a really wonderful movie that pairs well with a hearty bowl of soup like the one we’re about to dive into.

Vertical image of a white bowl filled with a hearty soup, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

While none of the above may seem to have any direct connection to beef and barley soup, this rant all comes back to the fact that the brothy concoction originated in Scotland.

In regards to Scotch broth, The Oxford Companion to Food states “aka barley broth, probably the best-known member of the broth clan, and one of the most famous Scottish dishes, is typically prepared by boiling beef and barley, adding vegetables (carrot, swede, onion or white of leek, parsley) and a very little sugar.”

Vertical image of a large white bowl with a hearty meat and vegetable stew next to bread on a wooden cutting board.

If you’re interested in learning more about this and a panoply of other foods, this hefty tome is [easyazon_link identifier=”0199677336″ locale=”US” tag=”foodal02-20″]available on Amazon[/easyazon_link].

Unlike myself, this warm, cozy dish most certainly has Scottish roots. But today I’d like to stick primarily with bragging about its flavor and simplicity.

The story of beef and barley begins the same way as that of many classic soups.

There’s a protein that’s seared on all sides until a golden-brown crust is formed. It’s set aside while aromatics bathe in all of the goodness said protein has left behind. With a whoosh!, a liquid splashes into the pot and helps to wriggle all the yummy caramelized bits free from the bottom of the pot.

Protein goes back in. Simmer, simmer. Serve. The end.

Though you may be tempted to call it “beef stew,” the plot twist for this dish is that it’s been thickened through the addition of a fiber-rich grain. So it’s like stew, but wetter.

Moving on…

Vertical close-up image of a large ladleful of a vegetable, grain, and meat stew.

To barley! Hey, I recognize you from my old pal, beer, in the form of malt.

You could use hulled barley in this recipe (the healthiest form since it only has the outermost hull removed, as opposed to Pearl who also lost her bran layer), but it will take an hour or more to cook through.

Instead, pearled barley still exhibits many fabulous qualities like being nutritious and having a chewy texture, with a much quicker cooking time since it’s a more refined grain. Mine was perfect in just around 30 minutes.

If you’ve come across the term “pot barley” before and are currently as confused as ever, don’t fret. Here’s the scoop: This variety has also been pearled, but pot barley endures the process for a shorter amount of time, so it still retains most of its bran as well as the germ.

Pearl barley, hence the name, has gotten a little extra pampering through polishing.

This nutty, versatile grain makes a fantastic addition to soup, and beef and barley has become a classic combination that many will agree is a match made in heaven. I mean, in a stockpot. How romantic.

Vertical image of a large white bowl with a hearty meat and vegetable stew next to bread on a wooden cutting board.

As it cooks, the polished morsels plump up and act like a sponge by absorbing the other surrounding flavors – like those of earthy mushrooms and robust red wine, in our case.

The starch in the barley also acts as a thickener, which takes the texture of the liquid to a whole new level.

Onions and carrots are a no-brainer in beef soup, but woody rosemary, lemony thyme, and my secret ingredient all add to the final wow factor.

Ready for the reveal? Okay, it’s tomato paste. Not really a secret when it’s in the ingredients list, I guess… but now you know!

When you allow tomato paste to caramelize alongside the aromatics instead of just carelessly throwing it into the pot, the natural sugars in the paste become rich and savory.

And when it comes to soup, depth of flavor is everything. Well, along with a good thick napkin tucked into your shirt.

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Horizontal top-down image of stew in a white bowl on a blue plate next to slices of bread and sprigs of fresh herbs.

Beef and Barley Soup


  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
  • Yield: 6-8 servings 1x

Description

Tomato paste and red wine add rich depth of flavor to this beef and barley soup, while mushrooms bring earthiness.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided, plus more to taste
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 2 stalks celery, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 8 ounces cremini or white button mushrooms, trimmed and chopped (about 2 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, plus more for garnish
  • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 6 cups low-sodium beef stock
  • 2/3 cup pearled barley

Instructions

  1. In a large, 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven placed over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat the pan.
  2. Pat the beef dry on paper towels and then season with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add the beef to the pot and sear until golden-brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the beef pieces and set them aside on a plate. 
  3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining oil. Add the onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, remaining salt and pepper, thyme, and rosemary. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and bay leaf and cook for 1 more minute. Add the beef and its juices back to the pot.
  4. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping to release any brown bits from the bottom, and then simmer, cooking off the alcohol until the liquid is reduced by half.
  5. Add the beef stock, bring the mixture to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot and cook until the beef is tender, about 45 minutes.
  6. Uncover the pot, stir in the barley, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer again, stirring occasionally, until the barley is cooked through, about 25-30 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper, and remove the bay leaf.
  7. Divide the soup among bowls, garnish with thyme, and serve.
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
  • Category: Beef
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Soup

Keywords: beef, barley, mushroom, soup

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Prep the Veggies and Beef

Chop the onions, carrots, mushrooms, thyme, and rosemary, dice the celery, and mince the garlic.

Horizontal image of assorted prepped and chopped vegetables and herbs.

Cut the beef into 1-inch cubes. Using paper towels, pat the pieces to get rid of any excess moisture. The drier the meat, the better the exterior crust will be, since residual water will cause it to steam instead of searing.

Horizontal image of a red plate with seasoned chunks of beef.

Season the beef with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper.

Step 2 – Saute the Beef

Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a large heavy-bottomed saucepot like a Dutch oven, and swirl to coat the pan.

Horizontal image of seasoned chunks of beef searing in a pot with oil.

Working in batches to make sure you don’t crowd the pan and cause the meat to steam, sear the beef pieces on all sides for about 3 to 5 minutes, until a caramelized crust has formed.

Using a slotted spoon to make sure you leave the juice in the pot, transfer the beef pieces to a plate and set it aside.

Step 3 – Saute the Veggies and Aromatics

Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil.

Horizontal image of cooking chopped assorted vegetables in a pot.

Once the oil is shimmering, add the onion, carrots, celery, mushrooms, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, thyme, and rosemary. Stirring to make sure everything is thoroughly coated, saute until the onions are translucent, for about 5 minutes.

Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and bay leaf, and cook for 1 more minute. Browning the tomato paste before adding liquid allows the natural sugars in the paste to become concentrated, which enhances the flavor.

Step 4 – Add the Liquid and Simmer

Return the beef and any juices that have collected back to the pot.

Horizontal image of adding stock to a pot with chuck roast chunks and chopped vegetables.

Pour in the wine to deglaze the bottom of the pot, and use a spatula to scrape up any brown bits.

Make sure to use a wine like a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, or a Bordeaux blend that’s not too fruity or sweet, so it doesn’t overwhelm the dish’s flavor. As a general rule of thumb, also avoid oaky varieties, which can become bitter when cooked.

To keep the dish completely alcohol-free, give this roundup of NA beverages a read for other deglazing suggestions like an AF wine, or a dark ale or stout. Just make sure the sugar content in whatever you use isn’t too high, since that sweetness can become more concentrated when it’s cooked down.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half, and then add the beef stock and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the beef is tender, for about 45 minutes.

Step 5 – Cook the Barley and Serve

Rinse the barley to remove any dirt or dust particles.

Horizontal image of a ladleful of a grain, meat, and vegetable stew over a metal pot.

Uncover the pot, stir in the barley, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer again, stirring occasionally, until the barley is cooked through. This will take about 25 to 30 minutes.

To make sure the barley isn’t overcooked, check it every 10 minutes or so. If it cooks for too long, the texture can get mushy or gummy.

Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if necessary, and remove the bay leaf.

Divide the soup among bowls, garnish with the remaining thyme, and serve with crusty bread and a simple mixed greens salad.

More on the Beef, Please

Beef-wise, I reached for boneless beef chuck roast to make this dish, and will boldly state that it was exactly the right cut. Inexpensive to begin with, it also happened to be on sale at my local store. Win-win.

Horizontal top-down image of stew in a white bowl on a blue plate next to slices of bread and sprigs of fresh herbs.

Chuck roast is collagen-rich, which means the meaty pieces will give up their toughness during the low-and-slow cooking process. While chuck might not be the best choice for quick-cooking, it’s excellent in recipes like this soup. The collagen turns into gelatin, which results in muscle softening and meat that’s ultimately moist and delectably tender.

Homemade stock is always superior to the store-bought stuff, but a quality brand can pack a punch of flavor. Nonetheless, if you happen to have homemade chicken stock on hand when you’re whipping up this soup, I’d reach for that over anything beef-flavored that comes in a box.

What soups will you concoct next? Share your slurp-able selections in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Still hungry? Snag a spoon and belly up to these other beefy classics next:

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Lorna Kring on June 1, 2015. Last updated on January 19, 2022.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Fanny Slater

Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”

28 thoughts on “Homemade Beef and Barley Soup”

  1. This is something I have had from a package or in a restaurant but have never had at home cooked from scratch. I’ve always wanted to make some, because I quite enjoy it, but I had no idea what to do with the barley. I was always afraid it would get all sticky if I just threw it in with the other stuff. Who knew it was so simple?

    Well, now I have zero excuses left for not cooking up a batch. I just made soup the other day, but I’ll be giving this one a shot in the next couple of weeks. Thanks, Lorna.

    Reply
    • My pleasure Zyni – it is quite simple and straightforward to make, and tastes much better when homemade!

      Reply
  2. The first soup I have ever tasted with barely in it was made by my dad and it was amazing. I enjoy a good hearty beef soup and the barely adds a wonderful body to it. This recipe looks simple and delicious and I cannot wait to make it for my family. Being a busy mother of two, I do not think I will be making the stock my self, at least not yet. This recipe sounds particularly good with a nice cheese loaf.

    Reply
    • The barley does add wonderful body and texture, and the flavor is a lovely compliment for the tomatoes, herbs and beef… and easy to make! Let us know what you and your family think dawn.

      Reply
  3. I’m a huge soup fanatic and I think I’d eat/drink just about any type as long as isn’t mushroom. Beef and Barley is a indulging pleasure to have every time. It tastes great and when you add the right spices and ingredients, it just leaves you licking the spoon. You got a nice recipe right here for sure.

    Reply
  4. I’ve never heard of pot barley, so I’ll have to look it up, to see how it differs from pearl barley. I love barley soup, but it’s difficult to find here in the States, or at least where I am. Your recipe sounds rich and hearty, so I will definitely have to try making it. Sometimes I toss pearl barley in my other soups when I’m making them, but I like the idea that it is featured in this recipe.

    Reply
    • The difference between pot and pearl barley is in the hulling process Diane. Both have had the inedible hull removed in a polishing machine, but the pearl barely has been further polished which removes the bran as well. Like you, I toss a handful into other soups as well.., chicken noodle, bean soups etc. for its delicious taste and texture. Hope you enjoy the recipe!

      Reply
  5. This is right up my alley for sure. I love beef & barley soup! I love to add boatloads of mushrooms to my beef/barley. Just reading that recipe made me want to go snag some barley & get started. It’s so close to a stew we might have to rename it ‘stewoup’

    Reply
    • Oh, yeah, mushrooms in B & B are a very nice addition… and it does get pretty chunky at times. Garden fresh tomatoes get extra space in mine.

      Reply
  6. This looks like a nice soup. Rosemary always adds a great taste to anything. Soup really is a healthy dish with the vegetables and broth. I kind of feel like the hot liquid aids in digestion. Making your own stock is better because you know exactly what is in it. No hidden surprises or unwanted chemicals.

    Reply
  7. I am absolutely obsessed with soup! It’s one of my favorite things to make and eat. You can experiment so much with creating the perfect soup. Thank you for this post! It has definitely given me some ideas.

    Reply
  8. Having recently visiting Scotland, this is perfect. Although there isn’t a huge difference between American and Scottish soups, the latter’s broths are simply amazing. I grew up hating celery, but now it’s a must for every soup that features either beef or tomatoes.

    Reply
    • The broth’s are where those subtle flavors lie RumbarBrook, and celery certainly adds a lovely depth of flavor. Thanks for your comments!

      Reply
  9. I want to try this, it looks good. I would rather use a recipe that doesn’t include the wine however. That might be a deal breaker for me. It looks like simply omitting it wouldn’t be the best option either.

    Reply
    • Omitting the wine’s no biggie nytegeek… just replace it with another cup of broth, or even apple juice. I’ve used both with very tasty results.

      Reply
  10. Totally the best kind of soup, chunky and warming! I would have this for an autumn or winter supper, with some crusty bread, to provide a good, hearty meal.

    Reply
  11. Just like you, I associate beef barley soup strongly with my grandparents. You said your grandparents were from Scottland, whereas mine were German. It just must be a popular dish with European immigrants. I’m glad you posted this because my family members tend to not write any recipes down and just eye ball the ingredients. I would love to have that skill, but I am simply not that experienced in the kitchen yet. Hopefully this recipe will taste like home!

    Reply
  12. My mom cooks the best soup in my family, she surely will try this one as soon as I show it to her or maybe she will just try to enhance it a little bit, however ,I personally think it still would taste as good as this one. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Good question, Floyd! There’s no way to stop the barley from continuing to absorb some liquid even after it’s cooked, and the soup will thicken in the refrigerator. Your best option for reheating is to add more liquid, either broth or water. Reheating on the stove makes it easy to stir in more as needed.

      Reply

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