Pressure Cooker Beef Barley Soup Recipe

Get a deeply flavorful soup on the table in about an hour.

A bowl of pressure cooker beef and barley soup on a table with a striped linen napkin and spoon in the background.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Using collagen-rich chuck roast or short ribs guarantees flavorful beef that stays tender even after cooking at high heat.
  • Browning the meat in large pieces adds deep, roasted flavor, without the over-toughening that happens when you brown it in smaller pieces.
  • Using two sets of sautéed vegetables guarantees both a flavorful broth and diced vegetables that retain good texture and flavor in the finished soup.
  • A pressure cooker reduces cooking time significantly, making this a recipe that's ready in under one hour.
  • Fish sauce enhances the savory quality of the soup.

If there's one thing I love in the middle of winter, it's a hearty, warming soup like beef barley. If there's one thing I love even more, it's a hearty, warming bowl of beef barley soup that takes less than an hour from start to finish and tastes just as good as a long-cooked version, if not better. With a pressure cooker, such miracles are possible.

Adapting my original beef barley soup recipe for the pressure cooker was incredibly easy. Almost everything stays the same, except for a little streamlining here and there and some small but important adjustments to the quantity of liquid used.

Composite of raw bone-in beef short ribs in raw and browned state.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Here's what remains unchanged:

  • I start with an appropriate cut of beef. That means a tough, collagen-rich cut that, with time and heat (and, in the case of a pressure cooker, higher heat thanks to higher pressure), transforms into meltingly soft gelatin. My preference here is for bone-in short ribs, since the bones add so much excellent flavor to the broth, but you could choose a cheaper cut like the chuck, or a more labor-intensive but even more flavorful cut, like oxtail. Consult our guide to long-cooking beef cuts for more information.
  • Next, I brown the beef in large pieces before cutting those pieces into smaller ones. This helps develop a deep, roasted flavor (thanks, Maillard reaction!), while minimizing the tough, dry texture that deep browning also delivers.
  • Last, a splash of fish sauce at the end adds even more savory depth, without making the soup taste fishy at all.

To make this work in a pressure cooker, we just have to make a few adjustments.

First, Use Less Stock

A pressure cooker works by sealing the cooking vessel and trapping steam. This builds pressure inside the cooker, which allows the boiling point to surpass the typical 212°F (100°C) you get at sea level, drastically speeding up the cooking process. That trapped steam, though, means there's no significant evaporation and reduction: Whatever liquid we start with, including all the water contained in the meat and vegetables, is going to end up in the final soup. In my original recipe, I call for three quarts of stock, but in the pressure cooker version, I cut this amount by one-third, to two quarts, and I end up with an equally brothy soup when it's all finished.

Next, If Using Bone-In Beef, Cook It Whole

For my original recipe, in an admittedly neurotic move, I suggested deboning cuts like short ribs before cooking them. This makes it easier to cut the meat into more perfect cubes after browning it, even though both the bones and the meat are going to end up in the pot.

For my pressure cooker version, I've ditched that step, since the time saved is a big feature of the recipe. Instead, bone-in cuts can go straight into the pot whole. Once they're done, you can just fish them out, slide out the bones (they'll fall right out after a spin in the pressure cooker), and cut up the fully cooked meat before returning it to the pot.

Use Two Sets of Vegetables

In my original recipe, I call for only diced vegetables, like carrot, onion, and celery, browning them early on, setting them aside, then adding them back to the soup toward the end. By keeping them out of the soup through much of its cooking time, I prevent them from turning to flavorless mush, but still give them enough time to flavor the broth near the end.

In the pressure cooker version, I use two sets of vegetables instead. First, I brown the diced carrots, celery, and onion, making sure to not just brown them but to let them approach tenderness. I then reserve them for later, just like in my original recipe. After that, I cook the soup and meat in the pressure cooker with some larger pieces of those same vegetables; given the shorter cooking time, this ensures that I infuse the broth fully with their flavor. When the soup is done, I fish out the large vegetable pieces, which will have become flavorless mush by this point, and add the browned, diced ones back in. By doing this, you get lots of vegetable flavor into the broth, yet still end up with flavorful pieces that have retained a good texture.

Hit It With Some Wine

On top of the stock, I hit this version with a splash of dry white wine. It adds a subtle tartness that balances out the beefy and earthy richness of the soup and builds a more complex flavor profile. Since the soup has less time to cook in the pressure cooker, that extra depth of flavor is a welcome addition.

Finally, Add Peas

Here's a little secret: I meant to add peas to my original recipe, but forgot at the last minute. They didn't make it into the photos, so they didn't make it into the recipe. I'm rectifying that this time around by stirring frozen peas in right before serving, just long enough to warm them through. This change has nothing to do with the pressure cooker, so you should feel free to add peas to the other version right at the end as well, if you so desire.

Peas or no, one thing is certain: Once you switch to this pressure cooker recipe, you'll never look back.

Overhead shot of bowl of beef barley vegetable soup and a spoon next to it.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

4:48

Beef Barley Soup (Stovetop or Pressure Cooker)

February 2017

Recipe Facts

4.9

(13)

Active: 30 mins
Total: 60 mins
Serves: 8 to 10 servings
Makes: 3 quarts

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Ingredients

  • 2 pounds (1kg) boneless beef chuck roast, cut into 1 1/2–inch steaks, or 3 pounds (1.3kg) bone-in beef short ribs (see notes)

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) canola oil, divided

  • 4 large carrots (15 ounces; 400g), 3 diced and 1 left whole, divided

  • 2 large yellow onions (1 1/2 pounds; 680g), 1 diced and 1 halved, divided

  • 3 celery ribs (9 ounces; 255g), 2 diced and 1 left whole, divided

  • 4 medium cloves garlic

  • 1 cup (235ml) dry white wine

  • 2 quarts (2L) homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock (see notes)

  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 1 cup pearled barley (7 ounces; 200g)

  • 1/2 teaspoon (3ml) Asian fish sauce, optional

  • 8 ounces (225g) frozen sweet peas

Directions

  1. Season beef with salt and pepper. In a pressure cooker, heat 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil over high heat until lightly smoking. Working in batches if necessary, add beef and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a large platter.

    Browned bone-in beef short ribs.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  2. Add diced carrot, diced onion, and diced celery to pressure cooker and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits from the bottom, until lightly browned, about 6 minutes. Scrape vegetables into a heatproof bowl and set aside.

  3. Add remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil to pressure cooker and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add remaining whole carrot, halved onion, and whole celery rib, along with garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned in spots, about 4 minutes. Add wine to pot and cook, scraping up any browned bits from bottom of pot, until wine comes to a simmer and alcohol smell cooks off, about 4 minutes.

    Collage of adding carrot, celery, onion, browned beef short ribs, and pearl barley to pressure cooker.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  4. Add stock, thyme, bay leaf, reserved beef and any accumulated juices, and barley to pressure cooker; the liquid should just cover all the other ingredients. Close cooker, bring to high pressure, and cook for 30 minutes. Release pressure using pressure release valve.

  5. Remove beef, discard bones (they should fall right out), and cut meat into bite-size chunks. Return to pot. Discard thyme sprigs, large vegetable chunks and garlic cloves, and bay leaf. Stir in reserved diced vegetables and fish sauce, if using. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in peas and cook until just warmed through. Serve.

    Removing cooked short ribs and chopping up meat into chunks.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

    Adding diced vegetables to pressure cooker.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

    Spoonful of beef barley soup with diced vegetables and peas.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Notes

Beef chuck is the easier and more affordable option, and produces very good results. Short ribs, especially when combined with their bones, create an even more deeply beefy stew. Ask your butcher to remove and reserve the bones for you if you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself. If you have beef chuck that's already cut into chunks for stewing, we recommend searing only half of them in step 1 and adding the other half raw in step 4.

Most store-bought beef stock has poor flavor, which is why we recommend chicken stock instead; if you have good-quality homemade beef stock available, feel free to use it.

Special Equipment

Electric or stovetop pressure cooker (get our full review)

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
294 Calories
13g Fat
17g Carbs
22g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 10
Amount per serving
Calories 294
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 13g 17%
Saturated Fat 5g 23%
Cholesterol 56mg 19%
Sodium 844mg 37%
Total Carbohydrate 17g 6%
Dietary Fiber 4g 13%
Total Sugars 5g
Protein 22g
Vitamin C 8mg 39%
Calcium 63mg 5%
Iron 3mg 16%
Potassium 639mg 14%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)