How to Cook Barley

This hearty grain is easy to cook with a multitude of methods.

Whether you love it in soups, salads, or as a side dish on its own, barley is a grain that should be on your dinner table. With a chewy texture and mild earthy flavor, barley is a nice change of pace from staple grains like rice or quinoa. And as a bonus, it's high in vitamins and minerals, fiber, and protein.

Convinced to give barley a try? Learn how to cook this hearty grain:

Types of Barley

The length of time for cooking barley depends on the type you're using.

Hulled Barley: Considered a whole grain, hulled barley only has the outer shell removed during processing. It's more nutrient dense, but has a longer cooking time. This can be shortened though by soaking the hulled barley for a few hours before cooking. It can be bought at most health food stores and well-stocked grocery stores.

Hulled Barley
Hulled Barley. Meredith

Pearled Barley: Not considered a whole grain, pearled barley has its outer husk and bran removed and is polished during processing. Nevertheless, it does still contain a fair amount of nutrients. Due to the polishing, the pearled barley cooks much quicker, but that also allows it to release more starch. Pearled barley's starchiness is perfect for thickening up soups or stews, though that can make it a little less fluffy and chewy when served on its own. Find pearled barley at practically any grocery store.

Pearled Barley
Pearled Barley. Meredith


There are two ways to cook barley on the stovetop:

Absorption Method: In a medium saucepan, mix together one cup dry barley with three cups of water (or your broth of choice for more flavor) and a hearty pinch of salt. Bring the pot to a boil, keeping an eye on it because it may become foamy at first and boil over. Then reduce to a simmer and cook, adding more water if the pan dries out, until done with a chewy but tender texture. For pearl barley this will take about 25 to 30 minutes and hulled barley 40 to 50 minutes. Drain any excess water that may be left, then fluff with a fork before serving.

Pasta Method: In a large pot, bring water and a pinch of salt to a boil, just like you would with traditional pasta. Add a cup of barley and cook until grains are chewy but tender. Begin checking pearled barley at 25 minutes of cooking and hulled barley at 40 minutes. Drain through a fine mesh strainer and fluff up the barley with a fork before serving.

In Soups and Stews

Most of us were probably introduced to barley through soups (beef and barley soup, anyone?) so this is a beloved method for cooking the grain. Simply stir barley into your next batch of vegetable or beef soup to thicken it up and add a nice body to the recipe. Keep in mind that barley, whether pearled or hulled, absorbs roughly three times its measured amount of liquid, so 1 cup of barley would require 3 cups of broth to cook properly. Because of this, you may need to adjust the brothiness of your soup or stew depending on how much barley you want to add.

Kelly's Slow Cooker Beef, Mushroom, and Barley Soup
Kelly's Slow Cooker Beef, Mushroom, and Barley Soup. Cherie Lynn Ball-Harding

Rice Cooker

This handy appliance isn't just for rice. Barley can be cooked on the brown rice setting of rice cookers, just use the amount of water indicated for brown rice depending on your manufacturer's directions.

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