Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup is loaded with tender beef, vegetables, and barley in a fragrant broth. There’s no pre-cooking required – just combine everything in the slow cooker, simmer it low all day, and come home to this comforting meal.
This time of year, my idea of busy weeknight heaven is coming home to a hearty, savory soup simmering in the slow cooker. Beef and Barley Soup is one of my all-time favorites. I always serve it with warm, crusty bread, but it really doesn’t need anything on the side at all – it’s a complete meal in a bowl. The best part of this soup? The super fragrant, rich broth that comes from the meat, vegetables, and dried herbs simmering together.
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Why Make Beef and Barley Soup In the Slow Cooker
Beef and Barley Soup uses beef stew meat which is lean and prone to drying out as it cooks. The solution? Simmering the beef over very low heat. The slow cooker does all the work for you and prevents the soup from boiling (which can make the beef tough).
Ingredients for Beef and Barley Soup
- Onions, Celery, Carrots – This mix of vegetables, also called “mirepoix”, is a classic base for soups and stews. The onions can be chopped small, but the celery and carrots should be sliced into thick slices so that they will hold up during the long cooking time.
- Tomato Paste – This adds a rich savory flavor to the soup and thickens the broth slightly.
- Diced Fire-Roasted Tomatoes – Any diced tomatoes will work in this soup, but fire-roasted tomatoes give the soup even more depth of flavor. As the name implies, these are tomatoes that are roasted before they’re chopped. Sometimes fire-roasted tomatoes come with added garlic and basil and those would be great additions to the flavors of the soup. The tomatoes should not be spicy, so be sure to check the label and don’t get a version that includes spice or spicy ingredients like jalapeños.
- Beef Broth – Beef broth helps to enhance the flavor of the soup. This can be fairly salty, so feel free to grab a low-sodium version if you’re sensitive to salt. (You can always season the soup with more salt at the end of cooking if needed.)
- Pearl Barley – Be sure to grab “pearl” or “pearled” barley. These are barley grains that have had the tough outer hull removed so they cook faster (in the right amount of time for this soup).
- Beef Stew Meat – This cut of beef usually comes pre-sliced into cubes. It’s a leaner cut that works well when simmered over low heat. We get ours at Costco and freeze it in 1 lb portions for soups and stews (see below for more uses for beef stew meat).
- Italian Seasoning, Bay Leaves – These pantry staples add herb flavor to the soup.
- Fresh Parsley, Lemon Juice – Most slow cooker meals benefit from having a few fresh ingredients added at the end. You can skip the fresh parsley and / or lemon juice stirred in at the end, but they help to highlight and brighten the other flavors in the soup.
Substitutes for Beef Stew Meat
If you prefer to use another cut of meat in place of beef stew meat, try sliced chuck, sirloin, or brisket. Short ribs (bone-in or boneless) or oxtail also make great additions to beef soup or stew.
Do You Need to Brown the Beef First?
I never like telling you to (or making myself) do the extra work to brown meat in a skillet unless it’s absolutely necessary. This recipe is improved by including the browning step, though it is not completely necessary. I found that browning the meat first helped it to hold its cubed shape, stay tender, and added a noticeable depth to the flavor. That said, we all really liked the version made without browning the meat. It wasn’t *quite* as good, but if you’re in a rush, I say go for it and skip the browning.
Freeze This Meal
To Freeze Beef and Barley Soup: If you’re going to freeze this recipe, combine all ingredients listed below except broth, parsley, and lemon juice in a freezer-safe bag or container. I always recommend leaving some or all of the liquid out of the soup when you freeze it to save space in the freezer. (Just keep a carton of beef broth in the pantry for when you are ready to cook this soup.)
To Slow Cook Soup: Defrost the soup in the refrigerator for 24 to 48 hours. Pour the soup into the bowl of a slow cooker and add 4 cups of Beef Stock. Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours.
Print the recipe below for a printable label you can attach to the top of the freezer meal.
Other Ways to Use Beef Stew Meat
- Instant Pot Korean Beef and Brown Rice – This recipe that uses pantry / freezer staples is a regular at our house. The beef simmers in a rich, savory and sweet sauce that you can spice to your liking (or not at all).
- Mississippi Roast – This slow cooker meal calls for whole chuck roast but it would be great with beef stew meat as well. Just follow the directions, including browning the meat before adding it to the slow cooker.
- Slow Cooker Sesame Beef and Broccoli
- KitchenAid Slow Cooker (6 quart) – This $99 machine has been a staple in my kitchen for years and works better than any other slow cooker I’ve used.
Slow Cooker Beef and Barley Soup
- 6-quart Slow Cooker
- Cutting Board
- 1 Onions, chopped
- 3 stalks Celery, sliced
- 8 ounces Carrots, sliced into rounds
- 4 cloves Garlic, chopped
- 3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
- 2 14 ounce cans Diced Tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted
- 4 cups Beef Broth
- 1/2 cup Pearl Barley
- 1 pound Beef Stew Meat (should come sliced into cubes; see note)
- 2 teaspoons Italian Seasoning
- 2 Bay Leaves
- 1 Tablespoon Parsley, curly or flat-leaf, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Lemon Juice
- Baguette (optional, for serving)
- Optional Browning (this step improves flavor and helps the beef and helps it to stay tender, but can be skipped in a pinch): Heat 2 Tbsp cooking oil (not in ingredients list) in a large skillet or saute pan over medium meat. Pat the beef dry and season it lightly with some salt and pepper. Add the beef to the skillet and cook on all sides until brown. It does not need to be cooked through since it will finish cooking in the slow cooker.
- Combine onions, celery, carrots, garlic, tomato paste, diced tomatoes (including liquid), broth, barley, beef stew meat, Italian seasoning, and bay leaves in the bowl of a slow cooker. (See below for freezer instructions.)
- Cook on low for 7 to 8 hours. (Note: I don’t recommend cooking this on high because many slow cookers so hot on the high setting that they can boil, leading to tougher, drier pieces of meat.)
- Discard bay leaves.
- Stir in parsley and lemon juice.
- Taste soup and season with some salt and pepper if needed.
- Serve with warm baguette slices.
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