How to Cook Barley on the Stove

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Cooking barley on the stove is a simple and satisfying process. Barley is a versatile grain, rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, making it a nutritious addition to a variety of meals. Here’s an in-depth recipe on how to cook barley on the stove, focusing on the most commonly used type for cooking, pearl barley. Pearl barley has been processed to remove some or all of the outer bran layer, resulting in a quicker cooking time compared to hulled barley.



  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 3 cups water or broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef for added flavor)
  • Salt (to taste)


Optional Ingredients for Flavoring

  • 1 bay leaf (optional)
  • ½ onion, finely diced (optional)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced (optional)
  • Fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary (optional)



  • Medium-sized pot with a lid
  • Fine mesh strainer
  • Measuring cup
  • Spoon for stirring



1. Rinse the Barley

  • Place the pearl barley in a fine mesh strainer.
  • Rinse under cold running water to remove any dust or impurities.
  • Shake off the excess water.

2. Toast the Barley (Optional)

  • For added depth of flavor, toast the barley before cooking.
  • Heat the pot over medium heat. Add the barley and toast for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently until it becomes fragrant. This step is optional but can enhance the nutty flavor of the barley.

3. Cook the Barley

  • After toasting, add the 3 cups of water or broth to the pot. If you’re using water, add a pinch of salt.
  • Add any optional flavorings like bay leaf, onion, garlic, or herbs.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat.

4. Reduce Heat and Simmer

  • Once boiling, reduce the heat to low. Cover the pot with a lid.
  • Let the barley simmer for about 25-30 minutes. The cooking time can vary depending on the desired tenderness and the specific type of barley. Pearl barley usually cooks faster than hulled barley.
  • Stir occasionally to prevent sticking and ensure even cooking.

5. Check the Texture

  • After 25 minutes, check the barley for doneness. It should be tender but still chewy. If it’s too hard, continue cooking, checking every 5 minutes. If the mixture becomes too dry before the barley is cooked, add a little more water or broth.

6. Drain Excess Liquid

  • If there’s any excess liquid after the barley is cooked, drain it using the fine mesh strainer. This step ensures the grains are not too wet.

7. Rest and Fluff

  • Transfer the cooked barley back to the pot (off the heat) and let it sit covered for 5 minutes. This allows the grains to absorb any residual moisture and become fluffy.
  • Fluff the barley with a fork before serving.


Serving Suggestions

Barley is incredibly versatile. Serve it as a side dish, add it to soups or salads, or use it as a base for bowls with your favorite proteins and vegetables. It’s also excellent in pilafs or as a healthier alternative to risotto.



Cooked barley can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to a month. To reheat, add a little water or broth and warm it on the stove or in the microwave.

Enjoy your deliciously cooked barley, a nutritious grain that adds heartiness and texture to any meal!



What is the ratio of water to barley?

The standard ratio of water (or broth) to pearl barley is 3:1, meaning you would use 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of pearl barley. This ratio ensures that the barley cooks thoroughly and becomes tender, absorbing the liquid as it simmers.

For hulled barley, which retains the bran and is less processed than pearl barley, you might need to adjust the ratio slightly higher, as it tends to absorb more water. A good starting point for hulled barley is a 3.5:1 or 4:1 ratio of water to barley, adjusting as necessary based on your desired texture.

Do you add salt when cooking barley?

Yes, adding salt when cooking barley is common practice and recommended for flavor enhancement. If you’re cooking the barley in water, add a pinch of salt to the water before bringing it to a boil.

The salt seasons the barley from within as it cooks, providing a more flavorful result than if salted after cooking. However, the amount of salt added can be adjusted according to personal taste preferences. If you’re using broth, especially if it’s already seasoned or contains sodium, you might want to reduce the amount of added salt or omit it altogether to avoid over-seasoning.


Read More

How to Cook Barley in the Instant Pot


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