Deliciously healthy and hearty, this southwestern chicken barley chili has been a family favorite for years! I’ve updated the recipe with Instant Pot and slow cooker directions to make it even easier.

Southwestern Barley Chicken Chili

When you (and by you, I mean, I) make a chili over and over and over again and continue to love it more than ever, it definitely deserves another chance in the spotlight.

I posted this southwestern chicken barley chili over five years ago, but it continues to be a solid family favorite, especially now that I can throw it in the Instant Pot for a hands-off dinner that is ready in a flash.

I wanted to highlight this simple and delicious recipe again so you could take a peek at the updated directions (the original was written for the stovetop, which still works beautifully; I’ve included notes on how to adapt for the Instant Pot or slow cooker since that’s the way I seem to make it these days).

Southwestern Barley Chicken Chili

If you’ve never tossed pearled barley into chili before, you are missing out. The tender, hearty grain adds a tasty, wholesome dimension to the flavorful chili.

It’s no surprise that this really is one of my favorite chilis of all time. I make this at least monthly in the cooler months (and sometimes even in the summer, too).

Like many other really great chilis, this southwestern barley chicken chili tastes great the day it’s made but even better the next day when all the flavors have had a chance to get friendly and fall in love.

Thanks to the barley, it will thicken up considerably as it cools (and especially if it’s refrigerated). We usually dig in without thinning the leftovers, but you can definitely add a splash or three of broth or water to thin it out a bit if you make it in advance.

Have you made this recipe? I’d love to know your thoughts if you have.

Southwestern Barley Chicken Chili

What To ServeA really, great dinner roll (for homemade, I’d suggest French Bread Rolls or Buttery Cornmeal Crescents) or this tasty cornbread
Fresh fruit or a light fruit salad like this Honey Lime Fruit Salad
Sliced cheddar cheese

One Year Ago: BBQ Chicken Braid
Two Years Ago: Asian Lettuce Wraps
Three Years Ago: My Favorite Cheesecake

Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

Yield: Serves 6-8

Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

UPDATE: I posted this recipe nearly six years ago and updated it today (1/2017) with new photos + directions for using an Instant Pot or slow cooker since over the years, I've found I usually make it in either one of those. Please note that I've kept the stovetop directions the same since I know many of you still make it that way, but for the Instant Pot and slow cooker directions, I add the beans with the other ingredients and leave the chicken whole (so it doesn't dry out while cooking); I shred the chicken at the end and stir it back into the soup with the corn to heat through.

Also, this chili takes very well to eliminating the chicken altogether for a meatless endeavor OR cooking it all up without uncooked chicken and adding chopped, cooked chicken (a rotisserie chicken would be great here) at the end with the corn to heat through.


  • 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 16-ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 3/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup medium pearled barley (not quick cooking)
  • 4 cups water or additional low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • dash cayenne pepper (more or less to taste)
  • 2-3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into bite-size pieces (leave whole if using an Instant Pot/pressure cooker or slow cooker)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels
  • Shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, sliced green onions, tortilla chips or other toppings


  1. Stovetop: In a large pot (about 6 quarts), combine the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, barley, water, chili powder, cumin, dried oregano and cayenne (if using). Stir well.
  2. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat and add the chicken. Stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer the chili for 40 minutes, until the barley is tender and chewy and the chicken is no longer pink. Stir occasionally, while it simmers to prevent sticking and to make sure it stays at a steady simmer.
  3. After 40 minutes, add the beans and corn. Stir to combine and simmer for five more minutes. Serve the chili with toppings, if desired.
  4. The chili will thicken considerably upon cooling. Add chicken broth or water as needed to achieve a desirable consistency (especially if reheating the leftovers).
  5. Instant Pot {Pressure Cooker}: In the insert of a 6-quart or larger electric pressure cooker (like the Instant Pot) combine the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, barley, water, chili powder, cumin, dried oregano, cayenne (if using), and beans. Stir well.
  6. Nestle the chicken into the mixture. Secure the lid and cook on high pressure for 18 minutes (for the Instant Pot, select Manual, then dial down or up to the correct time; it will start automatically).
  7. Let the pressure cooker naturally release pressure for 10 minutes then quick release the remaining pressure (if liquid sputters through the valve, cover with a damp cloth while releasing pressure or wait a few minutes before releasing the rest of the pressure).
  8. Remove the chicken to a cutting board or plate and shred or cut into bite-size pieces. Stir the chicken and corn back into the pot. Heat through. Serve the chili with toppings, if desired.
  9. The chili will thicken considerably upon cooling. Add chicken broth or water as needed to achieve a desirable consistency (especially if reheating the leftovers).
  10. Slow Cooker: In the insert of a 6-quart or larger slow cooker combine the diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, barley, water, chili powder, cumin, dried oregano, cayenne (if using), and beans. Stir well.
  11. Nestle the chicken into the mixture. Cook on low for 7-8 hours or high for 4-5 hours.
  12. Remove the chicken to a cutting board or plate and shred or cut into bite-size pieces. Stir the chicken and corn back into the slow cooker. Heat through. Serve the chili with toppings, if desired.
  13. The chili will thicken considerably upon cooling. Add chicken broth or water as needed to achieve a desirable consistency (especially if reheating the leftovers).

Recipe Source: adapted from the back of the Quaker Medium Barley box

Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

103 Responses to Southwestern Chicken Barley Chili

  1. Julie says:

    By the way, I used all chicken broth and seasoned at the end.

  2. Julie says:

    I have made this twice already. We loved it.

  3. Gicela says:

    My barley didn’t say if it was quick cooking or not and since I’ve never used barley before, I wasn’t sure. There was only one kind available at my grocery store, so I used that. I followed the recipe to a T and everything turned out well expect the flavour! I was disappointed because it looked and smelled heavenly, but was very bland. If I make it again I would use all chicken broth and no water. I think that may have played a role? Since the recipe already had broth in it and called for additional broth OR water, I used water assuming it wouldn’t make a difference. But I think it did. I love your blog and recipes and was sad this didn’t turn out well for flavour. Maybe you are sad too, lol! If I got the wrong kind of barley, do you think that would have made a difference with flavour? I’m guessing not, but trying to figure this out since so many commented with rave reviews! I used my IP for this. I would love some feedback.

    • Mel says:

      You could definitely try using all chicken broth – that might help. Make sure you add salt and pepper to taste at the end. It’s amazing the difference that makes.

  4. Janet says:

    I have some leftover cooked chicken to use up. Could you tell me about how many cups I would need for this recipe? Thank you! This looks delicious!

  5. Kim D. says:

    Mel-so, so good. Thank you for posting!! It’s just my husband and I so we were eating and loving leftovers for days!! I will make this for years to come!!

  6. Juli says:

    This has been a hit recipe at our house…and it has been used many, many times! I don’t have an InstantPot but have always used the stove top version with good success. I had never used barley before I tried this recipe and couldn’t believe how delicious it was! And biggest surprise was that the children wolfed it down with no complaints! We always eat it with sour cream, shredded cheese and corn chips on top. This recipe will continue to see many reappearances if I have anything to say! Thank you, thank you!

  7. Shannon C. says:

    I could only find the quick cooking barley and cut the 4 cups water or additional low-sodium chicken broth down to 3. I made it in a slow cooker and just added the barley for the last 10 minutes (at the same time I tossed in the corn and shredded the chicken) and it was perfect! We all loved it, including my little 10 month old. Thanks again!

  8. Kari says:

    This was great! I made the stovetop version but I added the chicken breasts whole. After about 20 mins, I took them out, shredded them & tossed with salt, pepper and garlic powder, and then added them back in at the end.
    Thanks for another great recipe! I don’t know how you churn out so many good ones!!

  9. Julie says:

    This was delicious! I used chicken breaststroke and thighs. Crockpot version.

  10. Alissa says:

    I made this in my Instant Pot tonight and I only had Quick Barley. I just cooked it as directed and it was fine. The barley may be a little mushier than otherwise, but it really worked fine. For some reason, my Walmart only had quick-cooking.

  11. Sarah says:

    Made this with your cornbread– delicious! It was so easy, I couldn’t believe it. Thanks for another winning recipe!

  12. DeDe says:

    Hi, Mel. I’m doing Weight Watchers and would love to find out how many Points Plus this recipe has….
    Can you tell me the number of servings and approx. serving size?? Thanks!

  13. Rosie says:

    I made this tonight in my crock pot. It had a lot of liquid. Your picture looks like it should be thicker. Any idea what I did wrong? Mine was more soup then chili.

  14. Cathy Bennett says:

    Made it tonight in my new Instant Pot and it really, really good! Thanks for including the Instant Pot directions. I’m new with it and a little tentative, so having the directions in your recipes is really helpful.

  15. Jennie P says:

    I made this recipe this morning for tonight’s dinner. I’ve been tasting spoonfuls of it throughout the day so I can already attest to its deliciousness. Another amazing recipe from Mel!!
    And I made this recipe as my inaugural run for my new Instant Pot. So easy!! Thank you for sharing the Instant Pot directions for this and all the other recipes I look forward to making.

  16. Chris Hansen says:

    One of the great advantages of the Instant Pot is cooking dried beans in the chili for less sodium and lots more flavor. Would you look into a version that uses dried beans instead of canned?

  17. Kat says:

    This has become a staple in our home since you first posted it. I make a full batch, even though there aren’t a lot of us. I eat leftovers happily for a few days, then freeze the rest in pint jars for quick lunches down the road. Yum! I will say, I’ve only made it with chicken once. It was good, but I much prefer it with ground beef. I just brown it and throw it in with the corn. It’s definitely in my top 5 favorite meals.

  18. Katie says:

    I’ve made this countless times…excited to try it in my instant pot!! I always throw in rotisserie chicken at the end. It’s my oldest daughter’s favorite and is always served on Halloween with Fritos and cheese!

  19. Janet says:

    i need to bring a gluten free dinner to a family tomorrow. I am not familiar with gluten free cooking. Would this fit the bill? Thanks anyone who can answer.

    • Brianna says:

      Barley does have gluten! You could still do beans, just check packages of spices and other things to make sure they weren’t processed in a place that also processes wheat. Also, pre grated cheese sometimes has gluten in it too, so beware.

    • Mel says:

      Hi Janet, I believe others have commented but barley isn’t gluten free but some others have used rice for a good gluten-free substitute. 🙂

  20. Josie R says:

    Mel, this looks great. I just bought myself an Instant Pot (thanks to you!) on Black Friday and so I am so excited to start putting it to good use! I’ll definitely try this in the Instant Pot! Thanks!!

  21. Sarah W. says:

    I made this tonight using the stove top directions and substituted rice for barley since I have Celiac Disease and can’t eat barley. It was delicious! My 10-year-old told me I should make it “lots of times” and my other kids and husband all loved it too. Thank you! It’s definitely going to be a keeper in this house.

  22. Jacqui says:

    Can’t wait to try this, Mel! I used my Instant Pot for the first time last week, and I don’t mind admitting I was terrified to do so. 🙂 But it is so easy to use and such a great appliance that now I am hooked! Thanks for the great pressure cooking recipes. I’ll be trying them all!

  23. Kristi says:

    This looks so good! Do the leftovers freeze well? I’ve never frozen a recipe with barley in it, but we love stashing leftover chili in the freezer for a “free” meal on a busy night.

  24. Melissa says:

    I’ve made this multiple times in the crockpot and love it more each time!!!

  25. chelsea says:

    Oh good, you can use frozen chicken in the instant pot? I got one for christmas but I’m so overwhelmed with it, that i haven’t used it yet and I need to! For some reason I was assuming it would be tough if you put frozen chicken in it. Maybe we need a step by step tutorial for first time instant potters! :))

    • Mel says:

      I was thinking of doing a FB live for Instant Pot beginners…but yes, I use frozen chicken all the time.

      • chelsea says:

        that would be amazing! and even more amazing if you posted it here too 🙂 how about you post one here, FB, IG…maybe you’ll break the internet.

    • AndreaW says:

      Don’t be scared!! I just got one for Christmas and I picked a recipe to start with (ribs) abs I was so impressed that I have cooked something in it almost EVERY day! You could also just start with rice or “boiled” eggs (which are actually steamed). Easy.
      I’m making this soup tonite! I love that I can toss the frozen chicken in too!

  26. Tiffany S says:

    When cooking in the instantpot, have you tried using dry beans?

  27. Melissa S says:

    I apologize for asking the same question–but according to your instastory (I think. Maybe I am crazy) you made this in your instant pot. I’d love directions if you have them.

    • Mel says:

      Yep! This is the one! I added everything to the Instant Pot (used frozen chicken so it didn’t overcook) and did 18 minutes high pressure, natural release. I’ll be updating the recipe soon with those details plus a few more but that should be a good start!

  28. Kellie says:

    How would I adapt this to the instant pot?

  29. Carrie says:

    We enjoyed this for dinner last night–perfect for a cold, snowy evening! My only recommendation would be waiting to add the chicken until about 20 minutes into the cooking time, or simply add cooked chicken at the end. Or cut your chicken into larger-than-bite-size pieces… they simply cooked too quickly! Otherwise, great recipe and I look forward to eating it for lunch today!

  30. Kristen says:

    I followed the recipe exactly, but it turned out quite bland. Nice and easy to make, but desperately in need of flavor.

  31. Katie says:

    I love this stuff. I make a full batch, even though there are only two of us. I hoard all the leftovers and don’t share any with my husband. My favorite way to eat it is with a handful of tortilla chips crushed into the bottom of the bowl. mmm. I have also made it very successfully with ground beef instead of chicken. I just brown it separately and stir it in with the beans and corn. I think this might be my favorite meal ever. No joke.

  32. Jeanne says:

    Yum! Made this tonight! I could barely get through one small bowl-full because I got full soooo fast! Delicious. And all 3 of my kids devoured it. Even the one that cried the whole time it was cooking in the pot, saying she hated chili and tomatoes! We of course added the appropriate dairy toppings that made it even better! I’d curious to know the calories of this. Pretty darn healthy stuff! :0) Thanks Mel!

  33. Mel says:

    Jamie – thank you! I adapted the recipe from the Quaker Medium Barley box so that’s great they have a quick barley version. Would you mind leaving the adaptations for quick barley in the comments in case someone else is using quick barley? Thank you!

  34. Jamie says:

    Hey Mel! Im making this right now… And I had to buy the Quaker Quick cooking Barley as well. I was just looking at the back of the box and what do you know… A recipe for “Chicken Barley Chili” and it’s the exact same recipe as yours! It does list slightly less cumin and water but everything else is exactly what yours is. Let me know if you’d like me to email you this one so you can tell people how to do it with Quick Barley (since this is written for the quick kind). 🙂

  35. Noturavggurl says:

    Yummy! I used quinoa instead of barley…still good, glad I took a chance!

  36. […] Southwestern Chicken & Barley […]

  37. Tiffany says:

    I love this soup!! We make soup weekly and it is a keeper. It also freezes great so I always make extra for those hectic days!

  38. Helen says:

    Put everything in the crockpot…. 6 hours later … Delicious!!!! So easy!!!

  39. teresa says:

    just sent this into the pinter-sphere 🙂 i have everything i need to make it! i appreciate you helping me not have to make another trip to the store yet, and it looks delish!

  40. Katie says:

    Looks yummy and I have barley left over from your delicious pea soup. Do you think if I add preccoked and shredded chicken near the end it would take away from the flavor of cooking the chicken in it? Would I still need to simmer 40 minutes to enhance the flavor? Can’t wait to try it…sure it’s a winner like everything else we’ve tried!

  41. […] It: Southwestern Chicken Chili Posted on April 11, 2011 by Amy My sister recommended Mel’s Kitchen’s Southwest Chicken Barley Chili recipe to me a couple weeks ago.  It’s now one of our family favorite recipes – you […]

  42. Zoe says:

    Mmmmmm! This is one of my favorite recipes from your site–second to the best chocolate chip cookies 🙂 I’ve tried this with the addition of two sweet potatoes, and it was still awesome. Thanks for sharing so many great recipes!

  43. Natalie says:

    I tried this tonight and it was super easy and yummy. I tried some with sour cream but then also tried topping with a little half and half and it was amazing. I think I might also add green chiles to kick it up a knotch. I’ve won the ward chili cook-off the last two years and I think I might do something like this for this year! Thanks for getting me started. I love all your recipes!!!

  44. Deb says:

    I love how healthy this is and so full of flavor. I served with all the garnishes you listed plus some lime wedges and I think that little sour kick was a great addition. Also, I used leftover Thanksgiving turkey I had in the freezer…it was great 🙂

  45. Alycia says:

    Just threw it in the crockpot (minus the beans and corn)!! Can’t wait for dinner!

  46. Southwestern Chicken & Barley Chili « Mimi's Fit Foods says:

    […] Southwestern Chicken & Barley Chili Adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Café […]

  47. Brett A says:

    This is another excellent Mel meal. I know I’m a little late to the party with this review, but I just made this tonight, followed the directions precisely, and it turned out outstanding. So easy, and a one pot meal is always a bonus. This will go in my list of great chilis to make for football season! Thanks Mel!

  48. Melissa says:

    We had this for dinner tonight. It was very good! I did need to add some salt and pepper though.

  49. Camille says:

    Thank you for a wonderful recipe! Our oven is unavailable while we are doing kitchen flooring, so I was looking for a crockpot recipe for tonight and this was perfect. I put everything in together in my slow cooker and cooked on high for 4 hours – turned out great! The addition of cheese and tortilla chips was fabulous, and next time I think I’ll add some green onions. My husband said that I could make this every week – now that’s a keeper of a recipe! Thanks, Mel!

  50. Dana says:

    I don’t know if anyone else has posted this already, but if you are following the new Points Plus Plan (gotta love the alliteration), this soup is 5 points for 1 cup. I just made a huge pot and I’m going to portion it out for some yummy lunches for the week. I also add chopped mushrooms for some added veg.

    Mel, I would follow you.

  51. Darci says:

    This was very easy to make and it was VERY good.

  52. Stacie Aho says:

    I made this today and it was so delicious! I’ve never cooked with barley before, but I was pleasantly surprised! It was like giant brown rice kernels. So yummy. So easy but wonderful flavor.

    I also made your Tuscan Garlic Chicken last night along with the Heath Bar cookies, but of which encouraged a nice run today, and they were fabulous! Thanks for some yummy recipes. (I added some fresh basil to the chicken sauce too, I love fresh basil).

  53. Jaimee says:

    I made this last night, it was so good! So nice to have some recipes with barley…I love it! Thank you!!

  54. Dana says:

    Lovely soup–family loved it and the barley was delicious! Not scary at all. Thanks!! 🙂

  55. Emily Deibel says:

    Thank you for the two barley recipes. They came right after I bought my first bag of pearled barley and stood there wondering what to do with it. Three of my four kids ate this chili, which is the best I can do at dinner around here. Unless dinner is pizza. Or macaroni and cheese. As a closet weight watcher, I also appreciated this low point dinner–a definite repeat for a Saturday night when I want to pig out on dessert instead!

  56. Erin says:

    Mel, this was great! (not that I’ve ever made anything from your site that wasn’t…). I usually use the “flatlander chili” from allrecipes with a few modifications, but this one will definitely be in the rotation.

  57. Angela says:

    Made it with some leftover beef (diced up some pot roast) and it worked just fine. Added the juice from a lime wedge to my bowl and it really brightened the flavors. Very tasty! Thanks for the twist on chili.

  58. Allyson says:

    Made this tonight and it was SO tasty and healthy!! Thanks so much for posting it!

  59. Kate says:

    I made this tonight. I had all of the ingredients on hand (barley from the pea soup) which was nice. It was very easy and good. My husband, 4-year-old & I all liked it. It was best when eaten with tortilla chips & of course cheese and sour cream. I liked that the barley added chunkiness and heartiness and stretched the chicken. I only used two chicken breasts because I am trying to make our meat go farther around here. We all only needed one bowl because it was so hearty. 3 hours later I am still very full. Thanks for the recipe.

  60. Amy says:

    I love barley! I will be adding this and the “other one” to my list of things to try. This recipe is one that we love.

  61. Alison says:

    I bought all the ingredients yesterday to make this tonight. The one problem is my store only sold quick barley. Any ideas on how to make it work for this recipe?

    • Mel says:

      Alison – to be honest, I’ve never used quick cooking barley. My guess is you would need to reduce the liquid in this recipe by half and then add the quick cooking barley at the end of the simmering (based on the instructions on the box). Good luck!

  62. grace says:

    i don’t mind the barley–i like the little chew it provides. a fine addition to your chili, mel!

  63. Cecilia says:

    Another great way to use barley! Thanks for the recipe!

  64. Linda says:

    I made this tonight and it was yum! I was surprised to see that there wasn’t any onions or garlic. I did need to add about a tsp. of salt. Loved the Barley in it. Thanks Mel!

  65. sara says:

    This looks delicious and I can’t wait to try it. My experience with barley in the crock pot (just FYI) is that it absorbs A LOT of liquid and gets HUGE! So I would wait to add it til at least half way through…

  66. britt-marie says:

    Yum, that does sound good, thanks. I want to figure out how to make this in the crockpot.

  67. Angela says:

    Mel’s. It’s what’s for dinner. (ps — no joke — we’re going to give this a whirl for dinner tonight. And good timing, because I was out of ideas!)

  68. Kari says:

    Looks so yummy, going to get barley to make it tomorrow. Love the new look of your blog!

  69. calamityjane says:

    just wanted to say how much i love your blog and food pictures. i made your brown butter brownies a couple weeks ago, and WOW. amazing!!

  70. Tasha says:

    This is definitely going on the menu for next week! Always looking for a way to get more whole grains in there. The split pea soup is on the menu for tomorrow night! Thanks for sharing.

  71. ashley says:

    oh yeah, and i meant to tell you, your coconut curry soup is amazing! my husband and i may even have fought over the leftovers…

  72. Kim in MD says:

    I love barley in soup, but never thought to use it in chili! Great idea! It looks incredible, Mel! 🙂

  73. StephenC says:

    As it happens I bought barley on a whim yesterday. I have loved it for years. Now that I’m moved to DC I need to find a Mexican market and stock up on some dried chiles. Yum.

  74. Monica says:

    I’ve never done a southwestern recipe; I’m not a fan of spicy foods. But love barley and I may have to give this recipe a try!

  75. Brittany C. says:

    I for one am a big barley fan, have been since the 1st grade when it was my job to bring the barley to put in the Stone Soup we were making at school. It’s so yummy! and Both of your barley soups have looked awesome. I’m hoping it cools off again here so I can make them.
    On another note, I made your crispy chicken wraps for dinner the other night, man those are yummy! We all, picky 2 yr old included, gobbled them down.

  76. Kim says:

    More Yum! Thanks for sharing!

  77. ashley says:

    yum! I make this all the time, it’s so healthy and easy, my family loves it.

  78. Nancy says:

    I will be trying this for sure – always looking for ways to eat more whole grains.

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