How to Cook Barley (Instant Pot + Stovetop)

Barley is a versatile grain with a deliciously nutty flavour that adds texture to salads, soups and stews. Try the foolproof Instant Pot barley recipe for hulled or pearled barley in the recipe card. Or see the post for stovetop instructions.

I love the nutty flavour and toothsome, chewy texture of perfectly cooked barley. And the Instant Pot makes perfectly cooked barley every time.

Barley is my go-to grain for salads, buddha bowls, and meal-prepped work lunches. It also freezes well, which is why I always make more than I need. You can add frozen cooked barley directly to soups and stews to bulk them up.

The recipe card has concise instructions for cooking barley in an instant pot. Or keep reading for more information on the different types of barley as well as stovetop instructions.

Cooked barley in a ceramic bowl on a concrete surface with a fork in the background.

Pearled barley vs hulled barley

Pearled barley (or pearl barley) has the outer husk (or outer hull) and the outer bran layers of the barley kernels removed before it is polished. And hulled barley only has the indigestible outer hull removed.

Hulled barley is considered a whole grain, and pearled barley is not.

There is also quick barley (quick-cooking barley) which is already partially cooked. And hull-less barley is a different variety of barley that does not have a tightly attached hull. The hull is easier to remove with minimum bran loss.

A cup of uncooked pearl barley on a light concrete background viewed from above.

Barley to water ratio

There are two methods to cook barley. And the method determines the best ratio of water to barley for your cook.

  • Barley cooking method 1: Add the perfect amount of water and cook until the barley absorbs all of the water. It requires two cups of water per cup of pearl barley in the Instant Pot.
  • Barley cooking method 2: Add more water than needed and drain excess water after cooking. In this case, add four cups of water per cup of pearl barley.

Both methods have their advantages. With the first, you don’t need to dirty a colander or a sieve. And with the second, there is a reduced risk of burning or creating overcooked, mushy barley.

I prefer the first method when I use the Instant Pot and the second method when I use the stove. The benefit of the Instant Pot method is simply setting and forgetting. But stovetop cooking allows you to taste as you go.

The type of barley will also influence the amount of water. Hulled barley requires more water, so it is best to use 2 ½ cups of water to one cup of barley in the Instant Pot.

How to cook barley in an Instant Pot

I love to cook a large batch of barley in the Instant Pot. It is a set-and-forget type of cooking that requires less time than stovetop cooking (especially when using hulled barley). I use the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 (Amazon affiliate link).

Shop-bought barley can have a powdery coating. I like to rinse this off before I cook the barley to ensure individual barley grains.

Ingredients:

  • Barley: Use a cup of pearl barley or hulled barley.
  • Water: Use two cups for pearl barley or two and a half cups for hulled barley.
  • Olive oil: A bit of olive oil helps to keep the pressure release valve from getting clogged when cooking starchy grains. The extra flavour is a bonus! You can also use another fat like butter.
  • Salt: I always salt grains during cooking. But if you don’t, you can omit the salt.
Unccoked pearl barley with water and olive oil in the Instant Pot insert.

Steps to cook barley in an instant pot:

  • Add the barley, cold water, olive oil and salt to the instant pot insert. Mix to combine.
  • Lock the lid in place and set the vent to sealing.
  • Set the Instant Pot to high pressure for twenty minutes.
  • Use natural pressure release for 10 minutes before using a wooden spoon to turn the valve to quick pressure release.
  • Remove the lid and fluff the cooked barley with a fork.

See the recipe card for full instructions.

How to cook barley on the stove

If you don’t have an Instant Pot (or similar electric pressure cooker), it is just as easy to cook barley on the stove.

Stovetop barley has the benefit of tasting as you go. So, the easiest way to cook perfect barley on the stove is to boil the barley in ample salted water and drain it once it reaches your preferred texture.

It is also the perfect method if you are unsure whether you have hulled or pearled barley.

Prepare the ingredients

Give your barley a quick rinse. And measure four cups of water for every cup of barley. Add everything to a large pot with a teaspoon of sea salt (or kosher salt). Barley tends to foam at first, so use a large enough pot.

Bring it to a boil

Place the pot of barley on medium-high heat and bring it to a boil. Keep an eye on the barley.

Simmer the barley

Once the water is boiling, lower the heat, cover, and allow it to simmer. Start checking on your pearl barley after 20 minutes. For hulled barley, start checking after 40 minutes. Check the barley every five minutes until it is tender but retains a chewy bite.

Drain the cooked barley

Use a sieve and drain the cooked barley over the sink. If you plan to use the barley in a cold salad, you can also rinse the grains for perfectly cooked loose kernels. They will also cool down quicker this way.

Bowl of cooked barley viewed from above.

Barley cooking tips and tricks

  • You can rinse barley before or after cooking to ensure that the grains don’t clump together.
  • Replace the water with vegetable or chicken stock for extra flavour.
  • You can also cook barley with other flavouring ingredients like this barley pilaf with harissa, tomatoes and olives recipe.

How to use cooked barley

  • Herbed barley: For a quick barley side dish, stir chopped spring onions and green herbs (like flat-leaf parsley, coriander and mint) into cooked barley. Serve with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.
  • Barley salad: Replace quinoa or bulgur wheat in grain salads, like this kale quinoa salad with chickpeas or this bulgur wheat salad with green tahini.
  • Grain bowls: Top cooked barley with veggies, nuts and seeds for a quick lunch bowl.
  • Add to soup: You can add cooked barley to soup from frozen, which is why I always have a few airtight containers of barley in the freezer.
  • Alternative to rice: Barley is a virtuous alternative to white or brown rice. Serve it with stew, as I do in this Persian aubergine stew recipe.
  • Egg fried barley: Yes, I know. Uncle Roger will be unhappy about this. But as with risotto and pilaf, replacing white rice with a healthy grain like hulled barley amps up the fibre and nutritional value of any meal.
  • Barley with pesto: Stir through a tablespoon of your favourite pesto per cup of cooked barley. Serve hot or cold.
Close-up of cooked barley with pesto.

How to store cooked barley

Allow leftover barley to cool to room temperature before sealing and refrigerating for three to four days.

You can also freeze cooked barley in an airtight container for up to two months. Defrost and reheat it to serve as a rice alternative. Or you can add it to soups and stews while still frozen.

Cooked barley in a ceramic bowl on a concrete surface with a fork in the background.

Instant Pot Barley Recipe

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5 from 2 votes
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Cooking barley in the instant pot is the perfect meal prep time saver. Use cooked barley as a healthy substitute for white rice, or make delicious grain salads, barley buddha bowls, or egg-fried barley. It is also a tasty addition to vegetable soups and stews!
This recipe yields roughly three cups of cooked barley.
Recipe byAdri
Servings: 6 people
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes

Equipment

  • Instant Pot (or alternative electric pressure cooker)

Ingredients
 

  • 1 cup pearled barley* (200 grams)
  • 2 cups water, or vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, or unsalted butter
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • Rinse the barley to remove any starchy powder.
  • Mix the pearled barley, water, olive oil and salt in the instant pot insert.
  • Lock the lid in place and set the vent to sealing.
  • Pressure cook on high for 20 minutes.
  • Allow natural release for 10 minutes before switching it to quick release.
  • Remove the lid and fluff the cooked barley with a fork.

Notes

  • This recipe is for pearled barley. With hulled barley, increase the cooking time to 30 minutes and use 2 ½ cups of water.
  • Drain the cooked barley through a fine-mesh sieve if there is excess moisture in the bottom of the pot.
  • Allow leftover barley to cool to room temperature before sealing and refrigerating for three days. Or freeze it in an airtight container for up to two months.
  • See the post for stovetop instructions.
  • I use the Instant Pot Duo 7-in-1 (Amazon affiliate link).

Try one of these recipes with your cooked barley:

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