Look on the web and you will find an endless number of beef barley soup recipes. Sadly, most of them will yield an edible but certainly not memorable soup eating experience. It is no wonder that a large number of people either indicate that they do not like beef barley soup, or respond with a “meh… it is not my favorite”. Who can blame them, why would anybody fall in love with a bowl of bland?

We hope this recipe will change your mind! The secret to this (well jut about any) soup is the layers of flavor. What most of the (bland) recipes lack is not ingredients, but how to manage the key ingredients and steps to add the layers of flavor that make the soup so hearty.

This is not the absolute most frugal soup recipe (beef is expensive) but this soup is a full meal in and of itself. So at around $2 per bowl, you really can’t go wrong. You should have onions, shallots, thyme, oregano, parsley and other spices ready to go from your garden, reducing the cost of making fall/winter soups. If you are not growing and storing these easy vegetables and spices, you should be!

Beef Barley Soup - done right
Prep Time
50 mins
Cook Time
2 hr
Total Time
3 hr 50 mins

A beef barley soup recipe that is sure to be more hearty than any of the numerous bland recipes being copied all over the Internet. Any stock pot can be used, but a cast iron dutch oven works best for browning the beef and vegetables. You could also brown the beef in a skillet, and then transfer ingredients to a slow cooker (crock pot) if you don't have a cast iron dutch oven. 

The beef short ribs are the first choice here, as the bones will help to create that deep beefy flavor we are looking for. A chuck roast can be used, but you will need to purchase beef soup bones as well. In either case, don't cube the beef before browning or it will end up too dry when the soup is done. Another frugal tip:  If short ribs are too expensive, buy chuck roasts when they are buy one, get one free. Use one to make traditional pot roast, and make soup with the other. No matter how you prepare it, always brown the meat first, to caramelize the exterior (that means flavor!). 

Course: Soup
Cuisine: American
Servings: 4 quarts
Author: Bill Burnett
  • 4 pounds Beef Short Ribs bone-in
  • 4 quart Chicken Stock see notes
  • 1 cup Pearl Barley see notes
  • 4 large Carrots peeled, chopped
  • 5 stalks Celery chopped (1 inch)
  • 1 large Onion peeled, chopped
  • 2 large Shallot peeled, quarted
  • 4-5 cloves Garlic coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup Red Wine
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce
  • 3-6 oz Tomato Paste to taste
  • 3 sprigs Fresh Thyme
  • 2 Dried Bay Leaves
  • 2 tbsp Cooking Oil see notes
  • 2 tbsb Kosher Salt
  • Fresh Cracked Black Pepper to taste
  1. Season beef generously with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. 

  2. In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil over high heat until lightly smoking. Add beef and brown well on all sides, including the ends and exposed parts of the bone. Work with only a few pieces at a time to ensure that the pan stays hot. Move each batch to a holding plate when done. 

  3. Turn down heat, adding chopped garlic and carefully browning it, taking care not to burn. Once garlic is browned, add celery, carrots, shallots and onions, turning up heat to ensure they cook quickly, about 5 minutes on high. When stirring be sure to scrape all of the browned beef and garlic bits from the bottom and sides of the pan.

    Important: Remove the carrots along with about 1/3 of the remaining vegetables from the pan and set them aside once they are browned. If the carrots remain in the pan, they will turn to mush by the time the soup is finished. Removing some of the vegetables with the carrots makes the task easier and also allows for a varied texture in the finished soup. 

  4. While the vegetables are cooking, cut beef into stew sized chunks, adding them to the pot as you go. Remove all of the meat from the bones, being careful with the knife.

  5. Add broth, bones (see note), bay leaves, thyme, tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce. Bring soup to a high simmer and then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cover and let simmer for 2 hours.  

  6. Discard bones and herb sachet. Add barley, reserved vegetables, and additional wine and/or Worcestershire to taste. Allow soup to simmer for another 40 minutes, adding additional broth if needed. Serve when barley is done to desired tenderness. Serve!

Recipe Notes

General Notes

  • MEAT: If you decide not to use short ribs, then you really do need to use beef soup bones along with the chuck roast. Without the bones, you simply will not get the deep beefy flavor that makes this soup so good. While you can brown the raw soup bones with the beef, a better alternative would be brushing them with olive oil and tomato paste and baking them at 375 degrees for an hour or so.
  • Beef Stock: can be used, but I find that the chicken stock has more flavor. The deep beefy flavor from the bones is enhanced by the chicken stock and other ingredients. Most pre-made beef stock is simply terrible. By all means, if you have the time to make your own beef stock then use it in this recipe, otherwise use good store-bought chicken stock!
  • SALT: Because we are adding kosher salt to the beef, a low sodium stock should be used. Otherwise, the finished soup may be far too salty.
  • COOKING OIL: I am not a canola oil fan and prefer to fry/brown in peanut, coconut, or extra virgin olive oil. Use any high temperature oil that you are comfortable with.

Cost Notes:

The biggest expense here should be the beef short ribs. My advice is to buy them BOGO or wait for a big sale. They freeze well for this purpose. For this recipe, I used almost 4 pounds of short ribs that were purchased on sale at $3.50 a pound.

So $14 worth of beef, $5 for the stock and another $4 for the carrots and celery. A cup of barley at about $1 and add in another $1 for the rest of the spices.  The wine was leftover. The rest of the ingredients came from the garden, including the onions, shallots and thyme. All in, this pot of soup cost about $24 and yielded about 6 quarts. If the average serving is a large 2 cups, we get 12 servings, or about $2 per large bowl.

If you don't already, please regularly check our COUPON SAVING CENTER, it is as easy as click and print.

-Doc Frugal