This chicken barley soup is cozy, warming and simply bursting with flavor. It’s also super easy to make with wholesome and nutritious ingredients, just perfect for chilly days or when you’re feeling a bit under the weather.
I’m one of those people who love chicken soup in all forms and enjoy it all the time, not just when fighting a cold.
However, this chicken barley soup has become a firm favorite in our home. That’s because making soup with pearl barley results in a heartier, more robust dish.
Pearl barley has a distinct chewy texture and maintains its structure better than rice in soups. It’s also an excellent source of dietary fiber and a nutty, earthy flavor that adds depth to soups.
Why you’ll love this chicken barley soup
- Simple yet oh-so-comforting — This soup combines wholesome ingredients with the heartwarming goodness of classic comfort food.
- Super easy to make your own — The recipe is very easy to adapt to suit your taste or the ingredients you have on hand.
- Meal prep and freezer friendly — This chicken barley soup is ideal for meal prepping and freezes beautifully, so you can whip up a big batch and have it ready to go whenever you need a tasty, homemade meal in a pinch.
Ingredients and substitutions
Olive oil — Add a lovely, rich flavor base to the soup by sautéing the veggies in some extra virgin olive oil. You can substitute it with other cooking oils like avocado oil, grapeseed oil, or even a bit of melted butter.
Onion, carrot and celery — These three amigos make up the classic mirepoix, the backbone of any most delicious soups.
Leek — This is optional, but I highly recommend it. Leeks bring a delicate onion-like flavor to the soup without overpowering it.
Fresh herbs — A mix of fresh thyme and rosemary adds an aromatic depth to the soup. If you don't have fresh herbs, don't fret!
You can use dried herbs instead; just remember to use about half of the amount called for fresh herbs, as dried herbs are more potent.
Chicken breasts — Lean, tender chicken breasts are a great source of protein for this soup, but you can easily switch it up with chicken thighs or even shredded rotisserie chicken for a time-saving option.
Bay leaves — Bay leaves bring an earthy, subtle depth to the soup.
Chicken stock — I use low-sodium chicken broth in this type of soup as it’s easier to control the overall saltiness of the dish.
Fresh parsley — A generous sprinkle of fresh parsley adds a pop of color and a burst of freshness to the soup.
How to make chicken and barley soup
Stir in the fresh thyme and rosemary and continue to cook for another minute.
Next, add the pearl barley and stir to combine with the vegetables and herbs.
Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and barley, and add the bay leaves.
Pour in the chicken stock, and stir gently.
Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, covered, for about 45-50 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the chicken is cooked through.
Remove the chicken breasts from the pot and shred them into bite-sized pieces using two forks.
Return the shredded chicken to the pot, and stir in the fresh parsley.
Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Taste the soup and add salt and freshly ground black pepper if you like.
Can I make this soup in a slow cooker or Instant Pot?
For a slow cooker, simply add all the ingredients and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.
For an Instant Pot, use the sauté function for the initial steps (like cooking the veggies) and then switch to pressure cook mode, cooking the soup for about 20-25 minutes on high pressure, followed by a natural pressure release.
Leftovers and storage
- Chicken barley soup can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Make sure to let the soup cool down to room temperature before storing it.
- You can reheat the soup gently on the stovetop or in the microwave. Add a splash of broth if it looks too thick (the pearl barley will continue to soak up the liquid).
- The soup can be frozen for up to 3 months. To reheat, thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then reheat on the stovetop over low heat, stirring occasionally, until warmed through.
Recipe notes and tips
- Consider adding bell peppers, zucchini, kale, spinach, peas, corn, or green beans to increase the soup's nutritional value and vary the flavors and textures.
- You can easily make a vegetarian version of chicken barley soup by substituting the chicken with vegetables like mushrooms or hearty beans, such as chickpeas or white beans, and using vegetable broth instead of chicken stock.
- If you need a gluten-free alternative, consider swapping the pearl barley with a gluten-free grain like brown rice, quinoa, or even gluten-free pasta.
If you liked this chicken barley soup recipe, you might also like some of my other easy recipes with chicken:
- Bacon and Chicken Risotto
- Creamy Chicken Gnocchi
- Lemon Artichoke Chicken Soup
- Creamy Mustard Chicken
- Green Chili Chicken Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium onion diced
- 1 medium carrot, diced
- 2-3 celery stalks, diced
- 1 medium leek (white and light green parts only), sliced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
- 1 cup (175 g) pearl barley, rinsed
- 2 chicken breasts (about 1 lb / 450 g total)
- 2 bay leaves
- 6 cups (1.5 liters) chicken stock
- 1 handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and leek, and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are tender.
- Stir in the fresh thyme and rosemary and continue to cook for another minute.
- Next, add the pearl barley and stir to combine with the vegetables and herbs.
- Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and barley, and add the bay leaves.
- Pour in the chicken stock, and stir gently.
- Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and let it simmer, covered, for about 45-50 minutes, or until the barley is tender and the chicken is cooked through.
- Remove the chicken breasts from the pot and shred them into bite-sized pieces using two forks.
- Return the shredded chicken to the pot, and stir in the fresh parsley.
- Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Taste the soup and add salt and freshly ground black pepper if you like.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 228Total Fat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 5gCholesterol: 41mgSodium: 351mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 2gSugar: 6gProtein: 20g
Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator.