Crockpot Cooking: Beef & Barley Stew


If you are looking for a hearty beef stew like Grandma used to make, this might be the ticket.  I like to make a batch of Beef & Barley Stew at least once each winter.  The memorable flavor that results from the long, slow cooking of the beef bones, the beef, onions, tomatoes, herbs and broth always amaze me. When my tastebuds yearn for this, it’s time to make it.

Like any good beef stew, there are several key points to developing the best flavor:

  • Bones

  • Browning

  • Aromatics

  • Long, slow cooking

I love to use some beef shanks, oxtails, or short ribs for the richness that the marrow and collagen release after several hours of slow simmering.

On this day, I used one pound of shank bones, and one pound of already cut beef stewing meat.  I browned these, then removed them from the pot and reserved on a plate while I then added the aromatics.  After they had sweated for about 20 minutes, I added a little liquid and let that simmer for about an hour.  At this point, the pot looks almost like a finished soup on its own.  But no.  Using an immersion blender, I pureed the vegetables, in an attempt to a) get rid of the chunkies so that b) the resulting texture is velvety smooth and c) so that  everyone will eat this.  This step is not necessary, but the texture of the soup at the end result is fantastic.  More vegetables are added towards the end.  How many you actually add is up to you.

After pureeing the vegetables, everything was transferred to a large crockpot.  Add the meat.  Add one more quart of water.  Add 2 teaspoons kosher salt, or one teaspoon regular salt.  Add one cup barley.  Add one bay leaf, one or two sprigs of fresh thyme (1 tsp dry), and one sprig of rosemary.   Let cook on medium or high for 4 to 6 hours.

Add 1 cup finely diced carrots, 1/2 cup finely diced celery, and 1 cup frozen peas.  Return lid and let cook for 1 more hour (or less, if your crockpot cooks faster than mine)

Taste for salt and pepper.

The resulting stew should be rich and thick, with a smooth and velvety texture.  Remove the meat from the bones and cut into bite-sized pieces.  Discard any actual bones, bay leaves, and twigs from the thyme and rosemary.



Brown, and then transfer to a plate to reserve for crockpot:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

  • 1 pound beef shanks

  • 1 pound stew meat, in 1-inch pieces

Add vegetables to pot, saute for about 20 minutes, then add water and puree:

  • 1 to 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, if needed, to saute the vegetables

  • 1 leek, white and green, sliced

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced

  • 2 stalks celery, diced

  • 4 cups water

  • 1 14.5 ounce cans tomatoes, whole or diced (if you choose not to puree the base, use diced tomatoes or tomato sauce)

Add to crockpot with pureed vegetable base and browned meats and bones:

  • 4 cups water

  • 1 cup barley (not quick-cooking)

  • 2 teaspoons salt

  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

  • 1 to 2 bay leaves

  • 1 sprig fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried

  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried

  • 1 teaspoon beef base or one beef bouillon cube, optional

  • 1 pound sliced button mushrooms, optional

For the last hour of cooking, add:

  • 1 cup finely diced carrots

  • 1/2 cup finely diced celery

  • 1 cup frozen peas

Taste for salt and pepper and adjust.  Serve with a good crusty bread, and a coleslaw or potato salad.  Let cool completely before refrigerating.

Freezes extremely well.

2 thoughts on “Crockpot Cooking: Beef & Barley Stew

  1. OK, I’m going to give this a try this weekend. I bought some barley a couple of weeks ago because I wanted to find a recipe for this kind of soup. Is this your mama’s recipe? She used to make something kind of like this. I’ll let you know how it goes.

    • I hope you enjoy it. No, not mama’s recipe. More like your Mama’s vegetable soup that she made occassionally. My mom may have made one like this, but the soup I remember her making at your mom’s is the cabbage vegetable soup, one of the earlier posts here (don’t forget the cloves!) Let me know!

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