Beef and barley soup is a perfect recipe to show off the ability of your Instant Pot pressure cooker. We’ll make a delicious and hearty soup with tender chunks of beef, delicious barley, vegetables and a savory broth. The Instant Pot makes the total cooking time a fraction of traditional methods.
Beef and barley soup has always been one of my absolute favorites and I LOVE this recipe! It’s really the essence of what a good soup should be. Sure you could have a small cup of it before a big meal. But really, I like it when it IS the meal. Especially with a nice piece of buttered, crusty bread on the side… oh man, just the thought of it makes me hungry for some!
What is Beef Barley Soup?
Beef barley soup is a hearty soup made with beef, pearl barley, carrots, celery, and onions. The beef is browned first to add flavor and enhance the texture, then the vegetables are sauteed to bring out additional flavor. Lastly, the barley is added to the pot along with a flavor packed broth. The soup is seasoned with a combination of herbs and spices, including thyme, bay leaves, and black pepper. The barley adds a wonderful texture to the soup and also helps to thicken it. Beef barley soup is a comforting and satisfying meal all by itself.
Don’t be scared if it looks like a lot of ingredients. Many of the ingredients are pantry friendly so there’s a good chance you have many of them on hand already.
We start with 1.5lbs of beef stew meat. Most grocers or butchers will sell pre-package cuts of beef stew meat. Generally, if from beef chuck. Usually it will be cut into chunks that are a little larger for a classic stew. Since we’re making soup, I like to cut the pieces even smaller, to about ½″ cubes. But go ahead and go with a size that suits your taste. It won’t affect the recipe or cooking time. But I do suggest the smaller pieces for the best soup experience!
Barley, of course, is another main ingredient. You’ll generally find boxes of barley near the rice section of the supermarket. Make sure the package says “pearled” barley. You don’t want to use the quick-cook stuff. We use ½ cup for this recipe. It may not seem like a lot, but trust me, it will grow in size. Even after the soup is done cooking it will continue to absorb moisture for a while and will nicely fill out.
An onion, a couple of medium sized carrots and a couple of medium stalks of celery make up of vegetable mix. You don’t have to get perfect measurements with any of these. Personally, I like a little extra carrots so I may use larger ones or add a 3rd carrot. Oh, and a couple of cloves or garlic too. Even more savory!
The backbone of the soup will be 4 cups of beef broth. Since we’ll be salting the beef and adding some additional ingredients which already contain sodium, I like to use a good quality low-sodium beef broth. Just so we can keep the salt levels in-check.
The flavor of the soup will be bumped up with some Worcestershire sauce, A1 steak sauce, tomato paste and a little beef base. For the beef base, you can use a bouillon cube or powdered beef base. One of my absolute favorite ingredients for this is a product called Better than Bouillon. It comes in small jars and is a paste. The flavor is incredible and really brings recipes to life.
Finally, we and some thyme and parsley flakes to the dish. We don’t need to go heavy with the dried thyme. Only a ½tsp goes a long way. The parsley flakes you can go heavy on. They add such a nice vibrancy and freshness to the soup. And of course those bay leaves will steep in the broth to bring out even more fresh flavor.
This soup is actually pretty easy to prepare. As mentioned above you can use the stew meat that’s already cut into chunks, or cut them down into smaller sized pieces which are more ideal for soup. Make sure to use a good, sharp knife to cut them down.
The vegetables can be cut into larger sized pieces. Especially the carrots. Don’t dice them, rather keep them round and at least ¼″ thick. The smaller end of the carrot can even be ½″ in size.
Cutting up the meat and vegetables is about the only real prep needed. The rest if just measuring out the ingredients, all of which are pretty standard in size and quantity. Many brands of broth come in boxes which are 4 cups in size. I’ve gone with Swanson brand and had excellent results.
Start by adding 2 tbs of the vegetable oil to the Instant Pot set to sauté mode. Once it indicates that it’s hot, add half the beef. We don’t want to overcrowd the meat during this part so it’s best to sauté in 2 batches. When you first add the meat, it will probably stick to the bottom. That’s totally fine. It will begin to release after a minute or two. Once it loosens up, stir well with a large wooden spoon to get all sides browned as best possible. This whole step should take about 3-5 minutes per batch. Then, simply scoop the cooked meat out to a large plate and set aside when done with each batch.
Once the meat has been sautéed and set aside, add the remaining vegetable oil and add the onions, celery and carrots. We only really need to “sweat” them for about 3-4 minutes. They do not need to be cooked all the way through. Finally, add the garlic and sauté for another 1 minute. Garlic burns easily so we only want it on the heat for a minute.
Now press cancel on the Instant Pot to stop the sauté process and add the ½ cup of white cooking (or regular) wine. It will steam and sizzle. Use your wooden spoon and scrape any of the brown bits on the bottom of the pot. This is called deglazing and is an essential part of building the flavor. Make sure to scrape it all off the bottom (don’t remove though – it stays in), because if we leave it on, the Instant Pot can give us a “burn” notice and stop during the pressure cooking process.
Now, add the broth and all the remaining ingredients and give it all a good stir. Secure the lid, make sure the valve is set to “sealing” position and pressure cook on high pressure (which is the default setting) for 20 minutes. The instant Pot will take around 10 minutes to build pressure before the 20 minute timer starts. When the 20 minutes are up, it will beep – letting you know it’s done. But, leave it alone for another 10 minutes. This is called naturally releasing the pressure and is part of the whole process. After that 10 minutes are up, go ahead and open the valve and let the remaining pressure release. it will probably take a good minute or two to all come out before the pin drops and you can remove the lid.
Press the cancel button (to stop the keep warm process. Don’t worry, it will stay plenty hot to serve), and give everything a a nice stir. Let it sit for about 5-10 minutes for the barley to continue to absorb the liquid.
And NOW, you’re ready to serve! Simply ladle the soup in to bowls for serving.
Garnishing and Serving Suggestions
I like to add some fresh chopped parsley to the soup when serving. I love the additional color and fresh flavor. I’m also a big fan of fresh ground black pepper and like to coarse grind some pepper on top of the soup.
And let’s talk about some bread. I mean, this is just the absolute perfect soup to serve with a nice and hearty baguette or crusty roll. Warm up the bread, and some butter, and you’ve got the perfect meal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Can the soup be frozen?
A: You bet it can! It makes for a great meal another day. Let the soup completely cool and seal in an airtight container. Store in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Q: Can potatoes be added?
A: Potatoes can indeed be added. Make sure to cut them down to bite sized chunks. They also tend to absorb a lot of liquid along with the barley so you may need to add some additional water. Perhaps up to 1 cup. If adding potatoes, use a couple of red potatoes. They hold up to the soup the best in soups.
Q: I don’t have beef base. What else can I use?
A: The beef base really helps give the flavor a boost but if you don’t have any, just leave it out. Additionally, you can add an extra tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce.