Recipe: Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew

updated Jan 29, 2020
Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew with Mushrooms
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(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

When you get a craving — especially if it’s for beef and barley stew when snow clouds are building outside — it’s best to just give in and make it. Stew is more of a technique than a recipe, so gather your ingredients and jump right into the kitchen. By late afternoon, you’ll have one mouthwatering pot of stew.

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

Since we didn’t follow any particular recipe for this stew, feel free to modify it as you see fit. You can use less or more of any of the ingredients, or add different ones you think will work. Follow the basic steps outlined in this post on how to make stew, and you’ll be all set.

Tester’s Notes

Hunkering down and cooking when it’s cold outside is one of my favorite activities, and I love using my slow cooker so the house smells delicious all day. This classic stew takes a little bit of prep work, but once everything is in the slow cooker, you can sit back and relax while it cooks away. This winning combination of thyme, beef, and mushrooms will never go out of style, and adding in pearl barley bulks up the stew even more. All you need is a salad to go with it to round out dinner.

This recipe was originally made on the stovetop, but we’ve updated it to also work in the slow cooker. If you want to stick with the stove only, the directions are at the bottom of the recipe.

Christine, January 2016

(Image credit: Melissa Ryan)

Slow-Cooker Beef and Barley Stew with Mushrooms

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info


  • Canola oil

  • 1

    (2- to 3-pound) chuck or round beef roast, trimmed of fat and cut into bite-sized pieces

  • Salt and pepper

  • 1

    large onion, diced

  • 8 to 10 ounces

    medium whole white button or brown mushrooms, stems trimmed

  • 3

    celery stalks, diced

  • 3 cloves

    garlic, finely chopped

  • 1 teaspoon

    dried thyme

  • 1

    bay leaf

  • 1/2 cup

    red wine

  • 2 cups

    beef stock

  • 2 cups

    chicken stock

  • 1 cup

    pearl barley


  1. Film the bottom of a large frying pan or skillet with canola oil and set over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. While the oil is heating, season the meat generously with salt and pepper.

  2. Working in batches, add a single layer of meat to the bottom of the pan. Let it sit for 2 to 3 minutes until the cubes loosen and are seared golden-brown. Flip the cubes and sear the other sides. When all sides are seared, remove the meat to the insert of a slow cooker that holds at least 4 quarts. Sear the remaining meat in batches. If there is any liquid in the pot after the last batch is finished, pour it over the meat. Place the pan back on the stove.

  3. Heat 1 teaspoon of canola oil in the pan and cook the onions with a pinch of salt until they are translucent and brown around the edges. Add the mushrooms and another pinch of salt, and cook until they have released all the moisture and have turned golden-brown. Add the celery and cook until just softened.

  4. Clear a space in the middle of the vegetables and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the thyme and bay leaf.

  5. Pour the wine into the pot to deglaze, scraping up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon as the wine bubbles. Let the wine reduce down until most of it has evaporated or been absorbed by the vegetables. Transfer everything to the slow cooker.

  6. Add both stocks to the slow cooker and top with enough water to cover the meat and veggies by about 1/2 inch. Cover and cook for 4 hours on low. Stir in the barley, cover again, and cook until the meat and barley are tender, about 2 hours more on low. Skim off any fat if desired, taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.

Recipe Notes

Cooking the barley: If you will be out of the house and unable to add the barley 4 hours into the slow-cooking time, just boil the barley separately ahead of time in water until tender, about 45 minutes. The cooked barley can be stored in the refrigerator up to a day or two. Cook the beef for the full 6 hours on low, then add the cooked barley in and heat through before serving.

Stovetop instructions: This recipe can be made on the stovetop instead. Sear the meat in a large Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot instead of the frying pan and transfer to a bowl or plate. Proceed with cooking the vegetables and deglazing in the same pot. Add the meat back into the pot, along with the stock and water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and let simmer for 1 hour. Add the barley and continue cooking for another 45 minutes, until both the barley and meat are tender.

Updated from a post originally published January 2010.