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How to Cook Barley: a Guide to Cooking Pearl and Pot Barley

If you don’t know how to cook barley, you are not alone. Many people think it’s difficult because barley takes a long time to cook. In reality, cooking perfect barley is much easier than you think because barley is quite forgiving and turns out well most of the time.

In this post, I am sharing with you my tips and trick as well as the basic principles of cooking barley on the stovetop, in the oven, and the Instant Pot.

Cooked pot barley in a bowl.

What is Barley?

Barley is a cereal grain high in fiber and protein. It’s often added to soups and stews or used to make bread.

Barley is budget-friendly, delicious, and readily available in most grocery stores. Although it has been around forever, it’s not as popular as, for example, quinoa or rice.

What is the Glycemic Index of Barley?

The Glycemic index of barley ranges from 20 to 37. The glycemic load of barley ranges from 9 to 12. (Source: GlycemicIndex.com).

Is Barley Gluten-Free?

No, barley is not gluten-free.

How Does Barley Taste?

Barley has a unique chewy texture and a mild taste. It’s often described as having a “nutty flavor”.

How Do You Serve Barley?

Barley is very versatile. Since it has a pretty mild flavor, it can be combined with almost anything.

The most popular way to use barley in cooking is by adding it to soups and stews, which helps to make them creamy and filling.

When making soup, you can add uncooked barley to the soup and cook it together with the other ingredients. In this case, barley will keep expanding when you store the soup.

If you prefer chewy barley, you can cook it separately and then add it to the soup when serving.

Barley also makes a delicious side dish and can be used in salads as it tastes good cold. It’s also very popular as a base for veggie and grain bowls.

You can even serve it as a breakfast cereal.

Cooked pot barley on a silver spoon.

What’s the Difference Between Pearl and Pot Barley?

The most popular types of barley sold in grocery stores and online are pearl and pot barley.

Pearl barley is more processed than pot barley. Pearl barley is also polished, resulting in grains that are uniform and smooth.

When compared side by side, pearl barley appears more white, and pot barley appears slightly tan.

Pearl barley grains on the left and pot barley grains on the left.

Uncooked pot and pearl barley grains are quite hard to tell apart. Interestingly, the difference between pearl and pot barley becomes more prominent when the grain is cooked, with pearl barley appearing lighter and pot barley appearing darker.

Cooked pearl barley on the left and cooked pot barley on the right.

Even though pearl barley is considered a processed grain, it’s still pretty nutritious.

Pearl and pot barley taste pretty much the same and can be used interchangeably in almost any recipe. The only important difference is that pot barley takes longer to cook, so make sure to adjust the cooking time when making a substitution.

How Long Does it Take to Cook Barley?

The time required to cook barley varies depending on what type of barley you are cooking and the method you are using.

Pot barley takes longer to cook than pearl barley. It takes about 50 minutes to cook pot barley on the stovetop and in the oven or 25 minutes to cook it in the Instant Pot.

Pearl barley cooks faster than pot barley. It takes about 35 minutes to cook pearl barley on the stovetop and in the oven or 20 minutes in the Instant Pot.

Do You Have to Soak Barley Before Cooking?

You don’t have to soak barley before cooking it to prepare a batch of delicious fluffy barley. In fact, I prefer barley that was cooked from dry because it’s chewier.

However, many people still prefer to presoak barley to make it easier to digest.

If you soak barley overnight, keep in mind that it will absorb some of the water, so you will need less liquid to cook it. I find that reducing the amount of cooking liquid by about 15% works quite well. For example, if the instructions call for 3 cups of water, add 2.5 cups of water instead.

The cooking time should also be reduced by about 10 minutes.

Cooked barley in a bowl.

3 Tips for Cooking Barley

Barley is very easy to cook, and even if you have never cooked it before, your first batch of barley will most likely turn out just fine.

But there are still a few tips that will help you cook the best barley possible and successfully incorporate it into your diet:

  1. Wash barley before cooking it. It’s recommended to wash barley before cooking to get rid of dust and debris. You will find the detailed instructions on how to clean and prep barley for cooking below.
  2. Flavor the barley. In this post, I am sharing with you the basic methods of cooking pot and pearl barley. To take your barley to the next level, you can flavor it by cooking in vegetable or chicken broth or seasoning with herbs and spices. You can even cook barley together with dried mushrooms to give it some umami flavor.
  3. Freeze the cooked barley. Barley is the perfect grain for a meal-prep because it freezes quite well. Cook barley on the weekend, freeze it in portions and then defrost as needed to add to salads, soups, and side dishes.

How to Clean and Prep Barley For Cooking

As with any grains, it’s usually recommended to rinse barley before cooking it, especially if you purchased it in balk.

To wash barley, place it into a bowl and add enough water to cover the grain by 1 to 2 inches. Rub it with your fingers, drain the water, and repeat a few times. Transfer the grain into a mesh strainer and rinse under running water. Shake to remove the excess water.

Washed pot barley in a mesh strainers.

How to Cook Barley for Side Dishes, Salads, and Soups

There are a few methods you can use to cook pearl and pot barley. In this post, I am showing you how to cook barley on the stovetop using two methods – the absorption method and the pilaf method.

You can also use your Instant Pot for cooking pearl and pot barley. There are two ways to cook barley in the Instant Pot – you can make fluffy barely or creamy barley.

And last but not least, you can cook pearl or pot barley in the oven.

How to Cook Barley on the Stove-Top

The most popular way of preparing grains is simply cooking them on the stovetop. It’s pretty easy and doesn’t require any special pots or equipment.

Barley tends to foam and spill over the stove, so make sure to watch it closely.

Stove Top Method # 1 – The Absorption Method

The absorption method is the most popular method of cooking grains.

The absorption method means that the grain is cooked in a certain amount of liquid such as stock or water, which should be fully absorbed by the end of cooking.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

Method:

  1. To cook barely using the absorption method, first rinse the barley until the water runs clear. Transfer the barley into a saucepan. Add the water and a pinch of salt. (You will be able to adjust the salt content later in the cooking process).
  2. Over medium-high heat, bring it to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook.
  3. Make sure to check on it a few times during cooking. Barley tends to foam and can easily spill over. So you might have to adjust the heat or move the lid to the side to let the steam out.
  4. Cook pearl barley for around 35 minutes and pot barley for around 50 minutes. Barley is done when the grain has absorbed all or almost all the water, expanded in size, and is soft but chewy.
  5. When barley is cooked, you might still have a small amount of liquid left at the bottom of the saucepan. To make sure the liquid is fully absorbed, turn off the heat, stir the barley, cover the saucepan and let it stand for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Stove Top Method # 2 – The Pilaf Method

The pilaf method is another very popular method of cooking grains.

To cook barley using the pilaf method, first lightly toast it in oil with aromatics such as vegetables, herbs, and spices and then simmer in water or stock.

To prepare a fragrant pilaf, you can use carrots, celery, green peas, fennel, onion, shallots, garlic, ginger, fennel, bay leaves, cumin, rosemary, thyme, dried mushrooms, etc.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 2 fresh thyme or rosemary sprigs or 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

Method:

  1. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, occasionally stirring, until the onion is translucent, for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant for about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the barley and toast it until the grains are well coated in oil, for about 2 minutes. Make sure to constantly stir.
  3. Add the herbs if using. Add the water or stock and a pinch of salt.
  4. Over medium-high heat, bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and cook.
  5. Make sure to check on it a few times during cooking. Barley tends to foam and can easily spill over. So you might have to adjust the heat or move the lid to the side to let the steam out.
  6. Cook pearl barley for approximately 35 minutes, and pot barley for about 50 minutes. Barley is done when the grain has absorbed all or almost all the water, expanded in size, and is soft but chewy.
  7. When barley is cooked, you might still have a small amount of liquid left at the bottom of the saucepan. To make sure the liquid is fully absorbed, turn off the heat, stir the barley, cover the saucepan and let it stand for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Pot barley in a pot with a wooden spoon.

How to Cook Barley in the Oven

Baking barley in the oven is just like cooking it on the stovetop using the absorption method. It results in nice fluffy barley.

Keep in mind that just like on the stovetop, barley can foam in the oven and spillover, so choose a baking dish with a high rim.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups hot water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. To cook barley in the oven, first, rinse the barley until the water runs clear. Transfer the barley into a baking dish with a high rim. Add the hot water or stock and a pinch of salt. (You will be able to adjust the salt content later in the cooking process).
  3. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and carefully place it in the oven. (Remember you have hot water in the baking dish!)
  4. Bake the pearl barley for 35 minutes and pot barley for 50 minutes. Barley is done when the grain has absorbed all or almost all the water, expanded in size, and is soft but chewy.
  5. Take the baking dish out of the oven. Remove the foil, stir the barley, and taste it for seasoning.
  6. Turn off the oven. Cover the barley again with the foil and put it back into the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes to allow the water to absorb fully.

Oven-baked pot barley in a baking dish with a wooden spoon.

How to Cook Barley in the Instant Pot

Although I wouldn’t recommend buying an Instant Pot just for cooking barley, I have to admit that it’s very convenient. If you already own the popular kitchen appliance, I highly recommend using it for cooking barley.

Barley tends to foam and spill all over your stove when cooked on the stovetop. You have to keep a close eye on it, which can be annoying considering that barley takes a long time to cook.

All of that can be avoided when cooking barley in the Instant Pot. There is no mess, and you can set and forget it until the Instant Pot notifies you that the cooking is done.

Instant Pot Method # 1 – Fluffy Barley

This method requires less water and less cooking time and results in nice fluffy barley.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 2.5 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

Method:

  1. Add the rinsed pearl or pot barley, water, and salt into the Instant Pot. You will be cooking it on high pressure, so make sure that the sealing ring is in place. Close the lid shut. Turn the nob to the sealing position.
  2. Cook pearl barley on high pressure for 20 minutes, or cook pot barley on high pressure for 25 minutes.
  3. Quick-release according to the safety instruction of the manual.
  4. Carefully open the lid. You will have a lot of condensation on the lid. Make sure that this water doesn’t get into the barley and dump it into the sink. Stir the barley. Close the lid again and let it sit for about 5 to 10 minutes.

Instant Pot Method # 2 – Creamy Barley

This method requires slightly more water. It also takes longer, which ensures that all liquid is absorbed by the grain resulting in creamy barley.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

Method:

  1. Add the rinsed pearl or pot barley, water, and salt into the Instant Pot. You will be cooking it on high pressure, so make sure the sealing ring is in place. Close the lid shut. Turn the nob to the sealing position. Turn on the Keep Warm function.
  2. Cook pearl barley on high pressure for 20 minutes, or cook pot barley on high pressure for 25 minutes.
  3. Natural pressure release until pin drops (takes about 25 minutes).
  4. Carefully open the lid. You will have a lot of condensation on the lid. Make sure that this water doesn’t get into the barley and dump it into the sink. Stir the barley and taste it for seasoning. Close the lid and let it sit for another 5 to 10 minutes.

Cooked barley in an Instant Pot.

Now It’s Your Turn!

Barley is not as sexy and popular as quinoa or black rice. But cooking pearl and pot barley is still an important skill to have and can be very helpful.

What about you? Do you like barley? What is your favorite cooking method? Please share it with us in the comments below. And if you found this guide helpful, please give this blog post a 5-star rating!

How to Cook  Pot and Pearl Barley

How to Cook Pot and Pearl Barley

Yield: 4 portions
Prep Time: 3 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 38 minutes

Learn how to cook perfect pot and pearl barley to use in soups, salads, and side dishes. Here you will find everything you need to know about cooking barley on the stove-top, in the oven and the Instant Pot.

Ingredients

For the Stovetop Absorption Method

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

For the Stovetop Pilaf Method

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 2 thyme sprigs or 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

For the Oven Baked Barley

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups hot water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

For the Instant Pot Fluffy Barley

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 2.5 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

For the Instant Pot Creamy Barley

  • 1 cup pearl or pot barley, rinsed and drained
  • 3 cups water or stock
  • pinch of salt (or to taste)

Instructions

Stovetop Absorption Method


1. Place the barley into a saucepan. Add the water and a pinch of salt.
2. Over medium-high heat, bring the water to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook.
3. Cooking time for pearl barley is around 35 minutes and for pot barley around 50 minutes.
4. Turn off the heat, stir the barley, cover the saucepan and let it stand for another 5 to 10 minutes.


Stovetop Pilaf Method


1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook stirring ocasionally until onion is translucent for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant for about 30 seconds.
2. Add the barley and stir until the grains are coated with oil and warmed up, for about 2 minutes.
3. Add the herbs, water or stock and season with salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and cook.
4. Cooking time for pearl barley is around 35 minutes and for pot barley around 50 minutes.
5. Turn off the heat, stir the barley, cover the saucepan and let it stand for another 5 to 10 minutes.


Oven-Baked Barley


1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
2. Place the barley into a baking dish with a high rim. Add the hot water or stock and a pinch of salt.
3. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and place it in the oven. Bake the pearl barley for 35 minutes and pot barley for 50 minutes. 
4. Take the baking dish out of the oven. Remove the foil and stir the barley. 
5. Turn off the oven. Place the foil back on the baking dish and put it into the oven for another 5 to 10 minutes.


Instant Pot Fluffy Barley


1. Place the barley, water, and salt into the Instant Pot. Make sure the sealing ring is in place. Close the lid shut. Turn the nob to the sealing position.
2. Cook pearl barley on high pressure for 20 minutes or cook pot barley on high pressure for 25 minutes.
3. Quick-release according to the safety instruction of the manual.
4. Carefully open the lid. Dump the condensation water that accumulated on the lid into the sink. Stir the barley. Close the lid again and let it sit for about 5 to 10 more minutes.


Instant Pot Creamy Barley


1. Add the barley, water, and salt into the Instant Pot. Make sure the sealing ring is in place. Close the lid shut. Turn the nob to the sealing position. Turn on the Keep Warm function.
2. Cook pearl barley on high pressure for 20 minutes or cook pot barley on high pressure for 25 minutes.
3. Natural pressure release until pin drops (takes about 25 minutes).
4. Carefully open the lid. Dump the condensation water that accumulated on the lid into the sink. Stir the barley. Close the lid and let it sit for another 5 to 10 minutes. 

Notes

1. Barley is done when it has absorbed all or almost all the water, expanded in size and is soft but chewy.

2. What to keep in mind when cooking barley:

  • Barley tends to foam and can easily spill over. So, make sure to check on it often when cooking on the stovetop and in the oven. Also, keep this in mind when using quick pressure release on the Instant Pot (consult the user manual for safety instructions).

3. Cooked barley keeps well in the fridge for up to 3 days. It can also be frozen for up to 3 months.

4. The nutrition information was calculated for pearl barley cooked in water with a pinch of salt.

Nutrition Information
Yield 4 servings Serving Size 1/4 of recipes
Amount Per Serving Calories 176Total Fat 0.6gSaturated Fat 0.1gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 0.5gCholesterol 0mgSodium 43.3mgCarbohydrates 38.6gFiber 7.8gSugar 0.7gProtein 5g

Nutrition facts provided on this website are an estimate and not guaranteed to be accurate. Please see a qualified health care provider for personalized diet advice and make sure that each of the ingredients is allowed in your diet.

Did you make this recipe?

If you tried this recipe, please give it a 5-star rating! To do this, click on the stars above. You can also leave a review or comment below. And don't forget to tag me @mariaushakova.blog if you share a picture on Instagram!

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April

Friday 24th of September 2021

I use pearl barley instead of Arborio rice for risotto. It works wonderfully. It takes a bit longer to cook but it can be toasted more than rice, so it has a much nuttier flavour and the best part is that you don’t need to worry about it overcooking and becoming mushy like rice if you add that one last bit of stock you shouldn’t have. I can’t wait to try cooking it in the oven.

Maria

Saturday 25th of September 2021

@April, this is such a great idea! Thank you so much for sharing :)

Deb

Sunday 15th of August 2021

The stove top method worked perfectly. Thanks for the tutorial. I use it in soups and cabbage rolls (My Grandmothers add-in). Won't be using the oven though. I don't have a wall oven and you do have to watch it to make sure its not spilling water out of the pot. I make a batch when I am in the kitchen for awhile. Will try pilaf method next time. Interested in it as a side dish. Once again thanks.

Maria

Tuesday 17th of August 2021

@Deb, Glad you found the article useful. It's a great idea to add barley to cabbage rolls. Thank you for taking the time to write the comment :)

Gail

Sunday 25th of July 2021

My review should have said 3 cups of water not two, sorry for the typo.

Review: oven method barley I made some this morning for the first time, I have had it in stews and soups but never cooked it myself. Well, I followed the recipe exactly and after one hour the water was absorbed and the barley was "tough chewy" like the texture of undone brown rice, so I added another cup and a half of water stirred it and covered it and put it back in the oven for 45 minutes, it's better it did absorb all the water but it still is too chewy and now starchy although edible and it tastes ok. I guess I had pictured it turning out like the way it is in soup or stews softer almost pasta like I am probably wrong as I know it is supposed to have some chewiness to it, I am going to give it 3 stars because the 2 cups of water to one cup barley was a real no go, I have been trying different grains lately so guess it's on to the next.

mimi

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

What an excellent tutorial! I have cooked with barley in soups for many years but never once have I considered cooking it separately in the oven. Thank you for opening my eyes and giving me options!

Maria

Tuesday 27th of April 2021

@mimi, You are so welcome! I am so glad you found this article helpful :)

Laura

Thursday 18th of March 2021

Thank you for your comprehensive cooking instructions. My mom cooked it for us when we were children. I never learnt the cooking technique before she passed on. Many thanks for sharing your cooking instructions. Made it today in a pressure pot and it was absolutely delicious. From sunny SA.

Maria

Friday 19th of March 2021

@Laura, So glad this article was helpful! Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment :)

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