Beef Barley Soup

Skip the mushrooms!

Freezer full of meat
Here’s what 100 pounds of beef looks like in a mid-sized upright freezer. The other meat I’ve been storing is on upper shelves. The doors are filled with plastic containers of homemade heat-and-eat meals.

Yesterday, I took delivery of 100 pounds of grass fed, locally raised beef. This “1/4 cow” came butchered, wrapped, and frozen solid. Although I already had a chest freezer I’d brought with me from my Arizona home, I bought another freezer primarily to store this meat. It just about filled the bottom two shelves.

(I should mention here that our local supermarkets often put “expiring” meat on sale for 30% to 50% off. I can’t tell you how many amazing deals I’ve gotten on normally very pricey meats just because their last date of sale is that day or the next. One day I scooped up four racks of lamb for about $7 each and a large boneless leg of lamb — which was great in a Moroccan lamb dish — for about $10. Last week, Safeway had a sale on baby back ribs that were still frozen: $2.99/pound instead of the normal $4.99. I bought four racks for smoking on my Traeger. Having a big freezer makes it possible to take advantage of these deals as they come up. And when you consider how much I’ve been using my new Instant Pot lately, I don’t expect to have any trouble keeping that freezer full of meat or homemade heat-and-eat meals.)

I had some control over what I’d get in my beef package — basically a menu where I could choose a certain number of cuts in certain categories. In addition to a bunch of steaks cut from all over the place and a lot of ground beef, I also got short ribs, roasts, a very large brisket, and stew meat.

With a winter storm coming, I figured that some comfort food was in order. So when I went down into town to run errands and pick up the beef, I stopped at the supermarket for the few ingredients I needed to make beef barley soup.

I found the recipe on I chose it over other recipes I found online primarily because it looked so hearty in the photo and wasn’t tomato-based. Although I made the recipe pretty much as it was written, I wasn’t satisfied with the results. The reason: mushrooms. In my opinion, mushrooms ruin the flavor of this soup.

So here’s my new take on this recipe.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil. The original recipe called for cooking spray. But why not use a little olive oil instead?
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds stew meat, trimmed and cut into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces. You can make it with less meat, but if you have more, use it. It’ll make a heartier soup. The beef I got was amazingly lean and didn’t need a bit of trimming.
  • 3-4 large carrots, sliced. Carrots are a must-have in any meat-based soup.
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, sliced. The original recipe called for 1-1/2 cups of celery. Seriously? That’s way too much.
  • 1 large onion, chopped. The third member of the aromatic trilogy, I put onions in most soups and stews. The original recipe called for 2/3 cup, but more is better.
  • 1 large parsnip, sliced. If you can’t find parsnips, add another carrot or two.
  • 1 medium turnip, cut into 1/2-inch cubes. This will really round out the root vegetable flavor.
  • 4 cups fat-free, low-sodium beef broth. I could not find real beef broth (vs. “beef flavored” broth) in my supermarket that was both fat free and low sodium. So I bought what I found.
  • 1 bay leaf.
  • 2/3 cup uncooked pearl barley. This was the first time I’d ever bought or cooked barley, despite the fact that I really like beef barley soup. Go figure, huh?
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt. You can probably omit the salt if you don’t use low-sodium beef broth. I did, but then again, I’m trying to keep my salt intake down. Remember you can always add salt; you can’t remove it.
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Pepper is always good with beef.


These instructions assume you’re making this on the stovetop. I’ll update this blog post when I have pressure cooker instructions. I need to experiment.

  1. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add beef to pot; cook 4-6 minutes or until browned, stirring frequently.
  3. Remove beef from pot with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  4. Add vegetables to pot; cook 6-8 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates.
  5. Return beef to pot with beef broth and bay leaf; bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
  6. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beef is tender, stirring occasionally.
  7. Stir in pearl barley; cover and simmer 45 minutes or until pearl barley is tender.
  8. Stir in salt and pepper.
  9. Discard bay leaf before serving.

Keep in mind that the longer you cook the pearl barley or let it sit in the hot soup, the more liquid it will absorb. The net result could be more of a stew than a soup. If you want a soupier soup, either reduce the amount of barley or increase the amount of broth.

This yields about six-eight servings, depending on serving size. I think it would be excellent with some crusty bread on a cold winter day.

Want a printable version of this recipe? Download it as a PDF.

What do you think?