Our Favorite Cranberry Sauce Recipe

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


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.


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

Uses for Cranberry Sauce

cranberry sauce with turkey

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cranberry sauce

Our Favorite Cranberry Sauce Recipe

  • Author: Sally
  • Prep Time: 5 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 2 cups
  • 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

  • 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*
  • 2 teaspoons 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

74 Comments

  1. Two grandsons and I decided we’d try this today (no school today). We normally do one quite a bit different. I was thinking, Im not sure they’ll like this. Great fun doing this together-followed exactly. Rave reviews from all three of us! Taking it to a family dinner tomorrow. Two proud grandsons and a converted grandmother. Now our go to recipe! Thank you.

  2. My favorite use for leftover cranberry sauce is…wait for it…pot roast! I have a slow-cooker recipe that uses a combination of cranberry sauce, tomato sauce and mustard, poured over a brisket or other tough cut of beef. It sounds weird but it is A.MA.ZING and absolutely trumps traditional, potatoes-and-carrots pot roast. Serve it over polenta and it’s even better as you have something to soak up all the marvelous juices.

    Off to try this recipe – I think we still have a navel orange or two in the fridge.

  3. This is by far the best cranberry sauce recipe I’ve ever attempted! Easy and delicious. Much better than the one I tried last year with cinnamon. Orange juice, zest and vanilla! Yum!

  4. I made this today. Thank you, it was delicious. I never ate the canned stuff, but this is so good. Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I am thankful for your blog!

  5. Simply wonderful and was a big hit at Thanksgiving this year along with the Pumpkin Praline Pie. Thank you for making this year’s meal so special. I think next year we will do an entire meal of Sally’s recipes.

  6. Another winning Sally recipe for my household! The brown sugar & vanilla were a fun change of pace. So quick and easy – thank you for sharing. I`ll finish off the remainder as a dollop atop Turkey salad crostini appetizers

  7. Incredibly simple to make! You literally just put the ingredients in the pan and wait for it to get thick! I just left it on the stove and stirred it occasionally while I made the Pecan Praline Pumpkin Pie! It tastes so much better homemade.

  8. Best cranberry sauce ever! The vanilla adds amazing flavor.
    I added one apple and cinnamon stick. Family went nuts over.
    HIGHLY RECOMMEND

  9. OMG, thank you for posting these Thanksgiving recipes. I actually made this one and your sweet potato casserole. Both amazing! I personally don’t like cranberry sauce so made this more for the family. However, I am now a fan because this recipe rocks for simplicity and depth of flavor. I will make this every year from now on.

  10. I grabbed a bag of cranberries on impulse at the grocery store with the intent of trying something new. This recipe was incredibly quick and easy to make, I’ll be going back to the store to buy several more bags of cranberries to freeze for use throughout the year. I can imagine how the tart/sweet flavor of this dish would compliment many other main courses in addition to turkey. My husband couldn’t believe how delicious it tasted for how quickly it came together. It’s even beautiful to look at with the vibrant jewel-tone color! Also, I took your advice to serve it slightly warm/room temperature (usually we have cranberry sauce cold) and it was perfect. Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe. (Can’t wait to try it in a turkey sandwich.)

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