Beef & Barley Soup

Beef Barley Soup

Beef Barley is a soup that hasn’t gotten it’s due, perhaps because the recipe most of us know is from the back of the Barley box. Good fare, not great. And while I love a good Beef Barley made with a home-made beef stock, it’s incredibly hard to find good bones here, terribly expensive, and frankly, a lot of work for a simple soup. My solution? A lovely Beef Barley Soup made with a “doctored” up broth.

Beef & Barley Soup
Beef & Barley Soup

Can you imagine me trying to explain my method of infusing flavor into this soup to my Scottish great grandmother? All because bones are so expensive? She’d be shaking her head for sure! Can you imagine the look on her face when I opened up a box of broth? Or made the soup out of left over Pot Roast? Because the meat of pot roast is already infused with flavor at the start, I don’t need to rely on expensive ox-tails, short ribs or flanken for flavor. Funny thing is, those used to be cheap cuts – not so much, anymore.

I have a couple more tricks up my sleeve, though, to further improve this soup, and you may use any or all, as you see fit and as time allows:

  • If you’re using pot roast, use some of the drippings or gravy from the pot roast to enrichen the broth. Depending on how you’ve flavored your pot roast be careful, as some flavors might hijack the profile of the soup. Start with a little, taste, add a little more…
  • If starting just from a broth, caramelize vegetable scraps (from the veggies you’ll be using in the soup) and use them to infuse a boxed or canned broth – a simmer together helps to take away that “tinned” taste.
  • Add dried Porcini or Shitake mushrooms, one of my “Stealth” ingredients, to the broth for a deep, rich taste. Yeah, they’re a bit pricey, but very well worth it. If not, consider finely dicing button mushrooms and cooking until deeply browned and adding them – see Classic Vegetable Soup.
  • Sneak a package of gelatin in the soup to simmer away during the final stages…it adds just a hint of body that’s missing in a store bought broth. After all, gelatin is made from bones and such.
  • Cook the barley is by itself and add to the soup – this is no starchy mess with strange, bloated barley. It’s perfectly cooked al dente, just a bit chewy and delicious. (Make extra barley and toss in the freezer for a great time saver.)
Beef & Barley Soup
Beef & Barley Soup

I think of this soup whenever I make pot roast, and I’m a bit stingy about my pot roast left overs! See, if it all gets gobbled down by a gluttonous family member (you know who you are!) I won’t be able to make this soup. Not only do I love Beef Barley, I recognize that a great way to work some fabulous frugality into the budget is to use a more expensive protein in more than one meal.

The first meal, heavy on the meat, can be quite pricey if it’s all eaten up – but if you add a second, third or fourth meal (like this huge pot of soup – I’ll serve for dinner the first night, freeze enough for a second meal and divide the rest into individual servings to freeze for lunches) into the equation, then all of a sudden you can “cost average” the meals.

I call this “dividing and conquering.” The same holds true, with the “healthiness” of the meal. A huge pot roast with “mashed and a side” might be a bit on the heavy side – if your next meal is chock full of vegetables, like this soup, you’ve just found a bit of balance.

Serve this with a great hunk of bread, saltines or a sandwich. Might I recommend Crusty Bread?

Pot Roast Carbonnade - meal 1
Pot Roast Carbonnade – meal 1

Best Beef Barley Soup

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Doctored up Broth:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • scraps from vegetables used in the soup
  • scant teaspoon sugar
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 to 4 dried mushrooms, chopped or 8 ounces fresh
  • 5 whole cloves
  • Parsley sprigs or stems, optional
  • 6 cups of beef broth, canned or boxed
  • 4 cups water, divided (3 plus1)

Add olive oil to Dutch oven and when heated through, add vegetable scraps, sugar and onion. Cover and adjust heat to medium, stirring now and then, until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 20 minutes. Remove lid, stir until lightly browned. Add rest of ingredients and three cups of water. Cover and simmer at least 20 minutes and up to 1 1/2 hours.

Strain broth into a bowl, pressing on vegetables. Use remaining cup of water to pour through the vegetables and allow to drain for several minutes.

If desired, before straining, the dried mushrooms, which will be floating on the top of the broth may be removed, finely chopped and added to the soup. The longer the broth simmers, the less flavor will be left in the mushrooms, so taste one to see if this would be worthwhile.

If you don’t have dried mushrooms, finely chop 8 ounces fresh mushrooms and saute until deeply colored. Add to the broth.

Beef & Barley Soup:

  • 1 packet of gelatin
  • 6 carrots, peeled and diced
  • 6 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 to 3 cups chopped cabbage
  • small can of crushed tomatoes (optional)
  • 2 to 3 cups of cooked barley (1 cup dry = 3 1/2 cups cooked)
  • 1 to 2 cups of left over pot roast
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • dash of red wine vinegar

Bring stock to a simmer, add gelatin, carrots and celery. Simmer about 10 minutes. Add cabbage and tomatoes if using. Simmer another five minutes. Add barley and simmer about five to 10 minutes until heated through and vegetables are at the desired stage of tenderness.

Check for consistency. Add a bit more beef broth or water if needed or desired for taste. Adjust seasonings. Add a dash of red wine vinegar if the soup needs any “perking up.”

Note on broth:

  • I generally buy 2 boxes of beef broth, 4 cups each. In this instance, I’d already used about a cup of the broth in the pot roast, Pot Roast Carbonnade. The rest went in the soup, but I held the last cup back until the end, just in case.
  • Beef broths vary widely in strength, flavor and saltiness, so this allows me to hedge my bet, here. I don’t wish to overwhelm the soup with a very strong broth, but I don’t want it to be dull and lacking either.
  • The barley can be a variable, too; depending on how well cooked, it may absorb more broth then expected. It’s nice to have a bit of broth on the side in case you wish to add.

from the kitchen of

 Let’s talk about how to save money/time on this recipe:

  • Use a coupon matching site! One of my favorites in my area is Pocket Your Dollars, but every store has a group of enthusiastic Coupon Matchers. Do not discount the savings! I check their site every week, even if I don’t “need” to go to the store and often find bargains I can’t pass up.
  • Follow my 12 Strategies – You’ll see them on the upper drop down menu of every page and how I apply them, below.
  • Don’t get discouraged if your prices don’t match mine! Keep shopping at the best prices and your fridge/freezer and pantry will be stocked with sales priced ingredients.
  • Read Strategies Applied additional tips as well as throughout the recipe, for saving time and managing food.

Put Your own Spin on It:

A soup like this is marvelous with so many different vegetables. Don’t ever feel as if a recipe like this has to be made exactly as written! Use what you and your family like – I do encourage the use of healthy cabbage, though! 🙂


Based on a cup of beef: Calories 178; Total Fat 7 10 %; Saturated Fat 2 9 %; Monounsaturated Fat 3 g; Polyunsaturated Fat 0 g; Trans Fat 0 g; Cholesterol 19 mg 6 %; Sodium 86 mg 4 %; Potassium 249 mg 7 %; Total Carbohydrate 20 7 %; Dietary Fiber 4 16 %; Sugars 4 g; Protein 10 20 %; Vitamin A 77 %; Vitamin C 19 %; Calcium 3 %; Iron 8 %

Final Note:

When I make Wild Rice, which I use in several dishes, especially my Wild Rice and Smoked Turkey Chowder, I never toss any left over water from the rice. I put it in small baggies in my freezer. If I’m making a soup like this that is lacking the deep “umami” flavor I think it should have, I pull out my little stash of liquid and add a bit to the soup. It brings in a deep, earthy, unidentifiable flavor that is lacking in the canned stock.

23 thoughts on “Beef Barley Soup”

  1. Just yesterday, cleaning the pantry I found a neglected pearl barley package and take a note to look for a barley recipe and know I find this, that besides is soup, which is always welcome at home. Must try! 🙂

    1. Thanks much!

      I imagine you have no problems getting the needed bones! Here they are all divided from the meat and sent off to be smoked for dogs!

      I have been considering buying a case of bones, which one of my butcher shops says they can order in, but it seems like such a hassle.

        1. Minnesota. Used to be there was a BIN of bones for dogs for free, good soup bones were just pennies. Then they just went away. It turns out they get sold to big companies who smoke them for dogs, and to restaurant suppliers for chefs.

          So I used to save the bones from roasts, but now almost all roasts come boneless. When we buy a chuck roast, there is a little hole where the bone was.

          Now, around Christmas this year, I saw a few packages of little bones, they were $11.97 a pound, then went on sale for $6.97 a pound after a few weeks.

          Last time I made this soup, I went to three different butcher shops, spanning an area of about 25 miles and picked up all the bones they had frozen to sell, four packages, totaling about two pounds, cost $21.00!!

          To put it all in perspective, the chuck I used in this was $3.49 a pound!

          Crazy, huh?? I mentioned this problem to a butcher in the grocery store who took me aside and told me there was an “artisinal” butcher in Woodbury, MN, who had bones. It seems like an elusive quest – like a search for a wild orchid!

  2. Some really excellent tips on “doctoring” soup made from fast ingredients. And while normally Beef and Barley soup isn’t something I gravitate to, yours looks and sounds delicious, as does the roast beef carbonnade!

    1. Hi, and thanks for the comment. 🙂 That pot roast is really a family favorite. I think other soups would be wonderful with this same method and a bit of left over pot roast, too.

      My Mom used to make what she called “Steak Soup” in the crockpot – it was always good but a little lackluster.

  3. The beef barley soup looks very appetizing … no mushy barley or vegetables in there. I haven’t had beef barley soup in about 15 years. I used to buy the dried soup mix in the bulk food store and make that but the msg etc turned me off. I’ve never made home made beef stock as I rarely buy beef with bones (other than steaks).

    Warning: Rambling comment ahead

    Right now I’m trying to use the contents of my pantry for soup making, I have a handful of yellow split peas, the last pound of cannellini beans that my dad planted and harvested the year before he died … it’s amazing that 5 yr old beans still get tender in 1 hour of cooking after pre-soaking overnight. And some Berta Talaska beans that have been in the attic even longer … kind of like a red kidney sized pinto bean. And, lots of noodles. Rice and wheat pasta.

    Incidentally, I have single bone from a leg of lamb that I boned out, to marinate and bbq, back in April, I saved in the freezer to make soup with but never got around to. I wonder what to do with it. Do you have any ideas? Here’s the post where I did the boning. I took so many pictures as I’d never done it systematically before. I think it turned out quite well. 🙂

    1. Fantastic post! I’m glad you shared it, so now I have a great reference when I buy a leg of lamb for Easter!

      Of course, I’m a traditionalist and would simply make a Scotch Barley Soup with the lamb bone!

      I was using some older beans once and had a heck of a time getting them soft – I transferred them to my pressure cooker and still it was taking forever. I remembered how I’ve used a bit of baking soda when I soften dried dates, added about 1/2 a teaspoon and it worked well. 🙂 Thought I’d mention it even if you didn’t have that issue, just in case someone else runs across it.

      Sorry to hear about your da! I’m sure he’d love to know you are making good use of his harvest, even now. 🙂

      I’ve been working on my pantry, too. Out with old, in with the new!!

      1. I’m glad you liked the leg butchering pics. I DID think of lamb barley soup but the lack of barley (I’m trying to avoid buy packages of anything these days) has been discouraging me. I could buy just how much I needed loose at the bulk food store, rather than the pound package at the grocery store, but the temptation of going crazy when I get in the bulk store is holding me back. As well as the snow.

        I’m going to have to go out in another 15 minutes or so to shovel the miserable stuff.

  4. That looks fabulous! Whenever I would visit my grandmother as a child, I would always look forward to her Barley & Oxtail soup, it had such a rich beef flavor. That was a really long time ago, but it’s still a happy memory. Thanks for sharing!

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