Cook on a Whim: Hearty Beef and Barley Soup

Happy New Year! Who’s ready for some cozy, feel-good, good-for-you cooking?

This hearty beef and barley soup fits that bill and is the perfect winter meal. It is a full meal in a bowl, with hearty chunks of tender beef, plenty of veggies and wholesome pearled barley. It is rich and flavorful and just what we all want on a chilly evening — my favorite kind of food for one of my favorite times of year. Serve it with some warm, crusty bread and good, salted butter, a glass of red wine or a rich, dark beer and you’ve got the coziest dinner.

I love all the seasons, but fall and winter cooking is my absolute favorite. I love the chill in the air and the cozy recipes. But let me tell you what happens to me every year: Toward the end of summer, I start getting really excited for the cooler temps and warmer dishes. I start jotting down recipe ideas, planning blog posts with the greatest intentions and highest ambitions, doodling photo ideas … and then fall flies by, followed by the busy holiday season. Before I know it, spring is here and I barely made a dent in my cozy-cooking to-do list!

I have pages and pages (literally) of recipe ideas, plus tried-and-true favorites that I just never get around to making before the seasons slip away.

Well, I’m proud to announce that this soup made it off my list, into our bellies and onto my blog this year. This recipe is my version of Karen’s of The Food Charlatan blog. Hers is the first food blog I ever really started following and cooking from. Her recipes are amazing, approachable and always turn out so perfectly! This soup is an all-time favorite from her site.

Another one I make on repeat, especially this time of year, is her Slow Cooker Basil Chicken in a Coconut Curry Sauce. She has comfort food down to a science and her blog posts and stories are so entertaining. If you aren’t already following her, you should!

I did add a few of my own little twists to this recipe, but, still, it is absolutely hers. I added a cup of wine to my broth because the French woman in me just can’t help it. I also added some bay leaves and rosemary because I love them in hearty soups. Other than that, and a few minor changes to the process, I left it just as she has it written.

Another thing about my most recent version that is so special is that I used a beautiful, local chuck roast from my friends at Hayfield Farm. Erica and Dylan are the picture of responsible, loving farmers — loving to each other, to their animals and to the earth. They take care and pride in every step of the process, from raising the calves to having them butchered and processed locally, and with the most minimal waste. If you want soup bones and harder-to-find butcher’s cuts, they’ve got them. And not just beef. They offer pork, lamb, a variety of sausage and more. It’s all delicious and I feel so lucky and totally spoiled to have it in my freezer. Also, if you follow me on Instagram, you know they have the MOST beautiful eggs that have ever existed.

I started with about a four-pound, bone-in chuck roast and trimmed and cubed it myself. I probably ended up with about three pounds of meat, so a bit more than the recipe calls for, but that’s never a bad thing. Just aim for two to three pounds of good, marbled stew meat. And, if you can, try to find a local source for your meat. You won’t just be doing yourself and your family a favor, but you’ll be supporting your local economy, your local farmers and the environment as well.

Hearty Beef and Barley Soup

2–3 pounds stew meat (nicely marbled beef chunks)
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
10 cups water
1 cup wine, red or white
3 mounded tablespoons beef stock concentrate (I recommend Organic Better than Bouillon)
3 stalks celery (about 2 cups), chopped
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 bay leaves, fresh or dried
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves removed and chopped
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and shredded, about 2 cups
3 to 4 large carrots, peeled and shredded, about 2 cups
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
Fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Cook on a Whim.

Generously salt and pepper the beef. In a large stockpot or dutch oven (I use a huge cast iron dutch oven), heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot and the oil begins to smoke a bit, add about 1/3 of meat in a single layer. Don’t crowd the pan. Brown for about 1 to 2 minutes, then turn to brown the other side. Remove to a plate when it is browned on all sides. Repeat with remaining meat until all meat is browned.

When all the meat is browned, add all the meat back to the pot with water, wine and beef base. Add the chopped celery, onions, garlic, bay leaves and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium-low. Simmer for about 2 hours with the lid on but partially cracked.

When the meat is tender and you can break it apart easily with a wooden spoon, add the shredded potato, carrots and barley. Continue to simmer until barley is tender, about another 45 minutes to one hour. If you find the soup becoming too thick, just add a bit more water.


  • Let your pan get smoking hot before you begin browning the meat. Throw open the windows and turn on the exhaust fan. It’s worth it.
  • I used red wine, but feel free to use whatever you have. A dark beer would be good too! Or just leave the alcohol out. It will still be delicious.
  • Feel free to use beef broth rather than the water and stock concentrate.
  • If you are looking for a slow cooker version, go check out Karen’s recipe!

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Cook on a Whim.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *