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This is our favorite recipe for the Thanksgiving staple: cranberry sauce. Made from 5 ingredients, this easy sauce is ready after 15 minutes on the stove. Flavored with fresh orange juice, brown sugar, and a dash of vanilla– my secret– it’s a cut above the rest.

cranberry sauce

I’ve been making this cranberry sauce for years. It’s our family’s favorite recipe and whenever I first taste it on Thanksgiving, I always wonder why I wait for the holiday season to make it?! Honestly, this stuff deserves to be a year-round habit.

I’ve never really thought to publish the recipe on my website because it’s not (1) a large side dish, (2) dessert, or (3) baking related. But this year I’ve gotten many requests for a delicious cranberry sauce recipe. And, luckily, this one is my very best.


Why This is My Best Cranberry Sauce

  • Quickonly 15 minutes on the stove
  • Easyno boiling the water and sugar together first
  • Convenient just 5 simple ingredients (including water!)
  • Flavorfulmade with fresh orange juice & zest
  • Texturemoderately thick with whole cranberries swirled in
  • Make-aheadmake it a few days in advance so it’s ready!
  • Unlike the restI use brown sugar & vanilla

cranberry sauce with cornbread


Cranberry Sauce Video Tutorial

I didn’t think there was a way to mess this recipe up, but when I was filming the video, I spaced out and over-boiled the cranberries on high heat. I was literally standing over the pot and before I knew it, the cranberries shriveled up and the sauce thinned out. So, make sure you cook on a lower heat and keep a watchful eye on it. 🙂

Also, don’t be like Chandler Bing and rinse your cranberries with dish soap.


2 images of cranberry side dish ingredients

Cranberry Sauce Ingredients

No cornstarch or other thickeners needed!

  • Cranberries: Use fresh or frozen cranberries. Do not use dried.
  • Water: The cranberries cook in liquid, so we’re using a combination of water and orange juice. I find using all orange juice overpowers the cranberry flavor.
  • Fresh Orange Juice: Squeeze 1/4 cup of juice from a fresh orange. You need the orange zest anyway, so why not use the juices inside? Orange and cranberry are a natural pairing. Have you tried my orange cranberry bread yet?
  • Brown Sugar: Why use regular white granulated sugar when there’s brown sugar?! That’s my motto and it definitely applies to cranberry sauce. I usually use only 3/4 cup, but if you want a very sweet cranberry sauce, increase to 1 cup.
  • Orange Zest: Before you juice the orange, grate some zest off. Add the zest after the sauce comes off heat. Why? When I cook the cranberry sauce with the zest, the end result tastes a little bitter.
  • Vanilla Extract: I don’t see a lot of cranberry sauce recipes use this ingredient, but I swear by it. A dash of vanilla extract tastes unbelievable with the orange, brown sugar, and cranberry flavors. (And bonus! Smells great too.)

cranberry sauce

Here’s how to make it: Set 1/2 cup of cranberries aside. We’ll stir those in at the very end, adding even more texture. Put most of the ingredients into a pot and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in orange zest and vanilla extract. That’s it, you’re done. Though I don’t recommend it, you could probably make this with your eyes closed.

If you need to bring a dish to Thanksgiving, bring this cranberry sauce. It’s low maintenance and you can make it ahead of time. You can also freeze the cranberry sauce for up to 3 months. Easy!

cranberry sauce in a bowl

Uses for Cranberry Sauce

cranberry sauce with turkey

Print
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cranberry sauce in a bowl

Our Favorite Cranberry Sauce Recipe

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: American

Description

Made from 5 ingredients, this easy sauce is ready after 15 minutes on the stove. It thickens as it cools. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries. See notes.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 12 ounce bag cranberries, rinsed*
  • 3/4 cup (150g) water
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) fresh orange juice (about 1/2 large orange)
  • 3/4 cup (150g) packed light or dark brown sugar*
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Read before you begin: You need fresh orange juice and orange zest. I recommend zesting the orange first, setting the zest aside, then cutting the orange for the juice. (Harder to zest a cut orange!) You need about half of a large orange for 1/4 cup juice. Juice the other half of the orange if you need more to yield 1/4 cup.
  2. After rinsing the cranberries, set 1/2 cup cranberries aside. You will stir these in at the end for extra texture.
  3. Combine the remaining cranberries, water, orange juice, and brown sugar together in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir occasionally as the mixture comes to a simmer. Once simmering, reduce heat to low-medium. While stirring occasionally, continue to cook until liquid has reduced and cranberries have burst and thickened, about 10 more minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup reserved cranberries, orange zest, and vanilla extract. Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
  5. Sauce is excellent served warm or at room temperature. Cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Notes

  1. Make Ahead & Freezing Instructions: You can prepare the sauce 3 days ahead of time. Cool completely, cover tightly, then refrigerate until ready to use. Bring to room temperature or warm on the stove/in the microwave, if desired, before serving. To freeze, cool sauce completely. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator, then bring to room temperature or warm on the stove/in the microwave before serving.
  2. Cranberries: One 12 ounce bag is usually between 3 and 4 cups. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries. No need to fully thaw. Rinse the cranberries with water in a colander before using. No need to pat dry– some water droplets are fine.
  3. Brown Sugar: I usually use 3/4 cup brown sugar, which makes a moderately sweet cranberry sauce. You can increase to 1 cup (200g) if you prefer your cranberry sauce extra sweet.
  4. Special Tools (affiliate links): Zester & Citrus Juicer

Keywords: cranberries, Thanksgiving, side dish

More Thanksgiving Side Dishes

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. I don’t normally comment on things, and I don’t normally like cranberry sauce. Figured I’d try this recipe though because you’ve never let me down. I’m officially converted to a cranberry sauce lover! Sally, all your recipes are absolutely amazing. Every time I make something from this sight it’s the best version of that thing I’ve ever had! Keep doing what your doing 🙂

      1. Hi Adam, after the sauce has been prepared as written, we don’t see why you couldn’t use an immersion blender to smooth it out even more. Let us know what you try.

    1. Hi Antonia,
      Your message to Sally was so nice. I feel the same about Sally, her recipes and her high level skillset in the baking department.
      I must say Antonia, your message certainly resonated with me.

  2. This is bar far the best cranberry sauce I’ve ever made. It was easy to do and so flavorful. A HUGE hit! Thank you.

  3. Made this for Thanksgiving! Never made cranberry sauce because it seemed intimidating! It was very easy and delicious. Thank you.

  4. This was delicious! Do you think the leftover could be used in a cranberry orange scone recipe?

    1. Hi Jen, I’m so glad you enjoyed this cranberry sauce. I wouldn’t work more liquid into a scone dough than is called for. If you try it, I would slightly reduce the liquid (usually cream or buttermilk) in the scone recipe.

  5. We absolutely love this recipe. I made my own vanilla using Jim Beam Vanilla instead of vodka . The flavor complements the cranberries.

    1. Hi Rani, no, you’ll need fresh or frozen cranberries here. Let us know if you give it a try!

    1. Hi Jamie, We haven’t tested it but you could certainly replace some of the cranberries with cherries. Enjoy!

  6. Fresh cranberries are in the grocery stores now, and I had to try this recipe. My dad loved everything cranberry, and he always made his own sauce to have with toast, add to his sandwiches, or just as a side. Cranberry sauce brings back so many sweet memories for me. Your recipe is the best!! I love how you take such a simple dish and send it over the top!!! Thank you, Sally!!!

  7. So so good! I always hated canned cranberry sauce, so decided to make this one from scratch last year for Thanksgiving to see if it was better. And OMG – this is so good! I am going to make a double batch this year, since last year it was almost all eaten up at the Thanksgiving dinner. The tiny bit I had left was quickly used up as an accompaniment to cheese and crackers or slathered on grilled cheese sandwiches. Shoot, you could even use this to replace jam on your toast in the morning. Anyway, planning to have plenty leftover this year. I made one small change when I made it last year – I only had satsumas (a small citrus kind of like clementines, but sweeter) on hand instead of oranges, so I added the juice of about two satsumas instead of half an orange. Cut back on the sugar to a rounded 1/2 cup to account for the sweeter taste of the citrus I was using, and it still turned out great!

    1. Hi Elizabeth! This recipe yields about 2 cups, so the amount of people it will feed will depend on the serving sizes.

  8. I love this recipe-so easy, breezy and just delicious. I also love your cranberry orange bread. It is a winner too – moist and so flavorful . Thanks Sally.

  9. Sally-I need to thank you for being my go to site for everything, all that I have made from your recipes turn out perfect! Haven’t tried these recently posted, but I definitely will!

  10. Hi Sally…I normally make my cranberry sauce with fresh cranberries and blueberries. Do you think this would be ok with the orange zest an orange juice?

    1. Hi Christine, You should be able to replace some of the cranberries with blueberries with no other changes. It would be delicious with the orange!

  11. I just finished making this recipe. Have not yet tasted it, but I did plop a reserved cranberry in my mouth. I found it so tart and bitter. Do they become sweeter when added to the sauce? I’m thinking of not adding them.

    1. Hi Susan! The cranberries themselves are quite tart, but the sugar in the sauce balances them out.

  12. I flat out hate cranberry sauce. I made it anyway so I’d have some for any weird guests who like it. I can not believe how great it is! Now I wish I would have doubled it. This is THE recipe to make. You won’t be sorry!

  13. Love it! Not too sweet and so balanced. Next batch I am going to add a little bit of some leftover ginger simple syrup I made. Not because this recipe needs anything, but just for fun:)

  14. The 1/4 t of vanilla ruined the entire thing. I’m not sure I can save it. It might be ok in a cake or muffin but it’s dreadful as cranberry sauce.

  15. BEST CRANBERRY SAUCE EVER!!! This is unbelievably SPECTACULAR!!! Will be using it on everything from cheesecake to crêpes and oatmeal to chicken!!! TO DIE FOR!!! Thank You! Thank You! Thank You! Made three times the recipe because EVERYONE wanted to take this home with them!!! Sally, you are AMAZING!!!

  16. I am planning to make this for Thanksgiving dinner today but I just realized that I forgot to buy an orange! I DO have a bag clementines, though.. Do you think that would work?

      1. Good morning! Did a double take when I saw time and date stamp on your reply to your reader. Incredibly impressive!! Thank you for your lovely recipes and always being so responsive to all of us. Hope you and your family have a truly lovely Thanksgiving, take care.

  17. You are absolutely correct! This is the best cranberry sauce -ever. I’ve made a lot of re pies and eaten a lot of other people’s and there’s no comparison. This is the one.

  18. we have a citrus/pineapple allergy in the house- What does the orange do, that we could sub something else in?

  19. Can the cranberry sauce be canned so it doesn’t need to be refrigerated. I want to include them in gift baskets .

    1. Hi Rose! It won’t ruin it, but the orange flavor may not be as bright. Enjoy!

  20. Hi Sally, I am planning on trying this recipe tomorrow, it sounds delicious! The notes say frozen cranberries do not have to be fully thawed. Should they be partially thawed or is it okay straight from the freezer? Thanks so much!

    1. Hi Veronica, it’s fine to use these straight from the freezer. Enjoy!

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