Slow Cooker Italian Barley & Sausage

Slow Cooker Italian Barley & Sausage - A healthy, no-fuss meal made with whole grains, lean turkey sausage and spinach! |

I think I use my slow cooker in a backwards manner. I don’t mean that it’s physically turned around on the countertop, although it has a really short electrical cord, so sometimes. I mean that I think I use it at the wrong time of year. I know a lot of people rave about using their slow cookers in the summer, as it’s a great way to make a hot meal without heating up the house with the oven. That totally makes sense, but that’s what we use our grill for.

For me, prime slow cooker season seems to be January, when it’s frigid cold outside. I love the hearty, comforting meals that come from my slow cooker, even if it doesn’t help warm up the house at all. Other people seem to agree with me, as the Slow Cooker Chicken Parmesan Soup recipe I posted last January went on to become my most popular recipe (by FAR) of all time.

Slow Cooker Italian Barley & Sausage - A healthy, no-fuss meal made with whole grains, lean turkey sausage and spinach! |

For this simple Slow Cooker Italian Barley & Sausage, just combine the barley with garlic, onion, marinara sauce, chicken stock and sundried tomatoes. Then, toward the end of cooking time, stir in smoked turkey sausage and spinach, and garnish with fresh basil and Parmesan cheese. This was my first time cooking with smoked turkey sausage, and I was surprised with how much it tasted like traditional smoked sausage, but with less fat and fewer calories.

Here’s to a Happy and Healthy 2015!

Slow Cooker Italian Barley & Sausage - A healthy, no-fuss meal made with whole grains, lean turkey sausage and spinach! |

Slow Cooker Italian Barley & Sausage

Yield: 6 servings

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 2-1/2 hours


  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 jar (14 ounces) marinara sauce
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 3 cups chicken stock, divided
  • 1-1/4 cups pearl barley, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced sundried tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 package (13 ounces) fully cooked smoked turkey sausage, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups packed baby spinach
  • Chopped fresh basil and grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish (optional)


  1. In bowl of slow cooker, stir together garlic, marinara sauce, onion, 2 cups chicken stock, barley, sundried tomatoes, oil, salt and pepper. Cover and cook on low 2 to 2-1/2 hours or until barley is tender and most liquid is absorbed.
  2. Stir in sausage, spinach and remaining 1 cup stock; cover and cook on low 10 minutes longer or until sausage is warmed through and spinach is wilted.
  3. Serve barley and sausage mixture garnished with basil and cheese, if desired.

This recipe originally appeared here on the NatureBox blog.

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  1. This looks savory and delicious. I definitely wanna try making this. Do you think it would work with rice instead of barley?

    • Hi T.R.! I mentioned this on Facebook, but not sure if you saw. I’ve never tried rice in the slow cooker, but I think it could work. You may just need to adjust liquid amounts / cooking time.

  2. Yummo!!! I have really wanted to start using more barley in my routine…good to know it can be delicious in the slow cooker!

  3. This just reminds me that I don’t eat enough barley. I did growing up but not so much now. Nor do I utilize my slow-cooker. I need to fix these things. 

  4. What a comforting and hearty dish this is! A perfect excuse for me to pull out and use my slow cooker too.. thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Be still my sausage loving heart and tummy! Nice to see a lighter version that looks like it is full of flavor and hearty too.

    • Thanks Renee! If you haven’t tried turkey smoked sausage yet, I would definitely recommend it. I am so NOT a fan of turkey bacon, but this sausage I can get on board with.

  6. I totally agree with you.  I don’t use the slow cooker much in the summer but always do in the winter.  This recipe looks fabulous.  Can’t wait to try it.

  7. Comfort foods from  a slow-cooker are the best! I love everything in here, so together is a WOW!

  8. I have not cooked with barley yet. I  need to remedy that by making this dish. I love that it is a slow cooker recipe!!

  9. Ohh how I love the crockpot! Love the flavors here, I’d definitely attempt a vegetarian version

  10. This sounds fantastic and I also love the chicken parm soup, MUST try that!

  11. I just bought my slow cooker a month ago so I can’t say whether I’m only using it during the cold months, but it looks like that might be the trend! I’d love it for this recipe, I bet. Sometimes it’s just too darn cold outside to want to move around the kitchen though, right? 🙂 love your blog, by the way–so cheery! Glad to be spending the turn of 2015 here!

    • Congrats on the new slow cooker, Ala! New kitchen toys are always fun, and you definitely got it at the right time of year! Thanks so much for stopping by.

  12. I love all the flavors and textures in this dish and it’s all the better because it’s made in the slow cooker! Can’t wait to try it! 

  13. I think they are perfect for January because that’s when people feel too lethargic to take the time to cook! Yay for doing things backwards…they seem to be working pretty well for you anyway.

  14. I love slow cooking meal in January! Adding barley to slow cooker sounds very interesting, never tried this before but it does sound delicious.

  15. How hearty!! I can’t wait to try this

  16. I was just talking to hubby about how I needed to find some more slow cooker recipe! So happy to have found this one!

    • I hear ya, Angie! I always feel like I want to make more things in my slow cooker, but never know which recipes to trust!

  17. I love how hearty this is without adding inches to the waistline! We so need that this time of year, it’s COLD!! Thanks for posting!

  18. This recipe was awesome . . .  It was so hearty I had no idea that it was pretty much good for you.  I guess you are doing a good job supporting my New Years resolution to become a little healthier without me even knowing it.  Nice.  

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