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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 with cornbread

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 I figured if something is this easy AND this delicious… why not?! And, luckily, this recipe is one of my very best.

Why This is My Best Cranberry Sauce

  • Quick—only 15 minutes on the stove
  • Easy—no boiling the water and sugar together first
  • Convenient—just 5 simple ingredients, including water
  • Flavorful—made with fresh orange juice & zest
  • Texture—moderately thick with whole cranberries swirled in
  • Make-ahead—make it a few days in advance so it’s ready!
  • Unlike the rest—I use brown sugar & vanilla
cranberry sauce in a bowl

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

Grab These 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

How to Make Quick Cranberry Sauce

It couldn’t be easier.

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 (and bring cranberry cake for brunch or dessert!). 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!

Uses for Cranberry Sauce

More Thanksgiving Side Dishes

And, of course, you can’t miss this creamy, flaky, buttery turkey pot pie!

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cranberry sauce in a bowl

Easy 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


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.


  • 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


  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.


  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

Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Gotta say, it’s the best cranberry sauce ever. Love, love, love the added dash of vanilla (I restrained myself and did not add too much vanilla, as I am guilty of doing in so many recipes.) I made this sauce two days in advance of Thanksgiving, and it might be gone by then! I’m going to have to go back to the store for more cranberries…

  2. I love this! The touch of (homemade) vanilla really adds depth to the flavor profile. I had to make a second batch, because I kept tasting the first, and wanted some for Thanksgiving dinner.

  3. This turned out so beautifully. I was a bit nervous about the brown sugar ( I don’t know why) but I followed this exactly EXCEPT for the addition of a little fresh grated ginger. This will be my go to recipe from now on.

  4. This is delicious. Best one I’ve tried in 10 yrs. The vanila extract & brown sugar smooth out the bitterness. I also added a pinch of salt. Already saved the recipe to my cookbook!

  5. Love this stuff! So much I triple the recipe. Why buy it when it’s so easy to make.

  6. Excellent recipe; cut the recipe in half for our small family !
    Thanks for another easy recipe.

  7. So yummy!! Will definitely be making it again (and not just for the holidays!)

  8. Great recipe!!! Added a bit of depth with a bit with pumpkin pie spice, an anise pod and a tablespoon each of grand Marnier, bourbon & maple syrup (took down the brown sugar a bit to account for extra sweetness) . I saw another commenter added a bit of grated ginger and I’ll def try that next time!

  9. This is amazing and so easy. I made a double batch and am going to try freezing some of it.

  10. Wow-eeee! Im embarrassed to say it’s my first time ever having homemade cranberry sauce in all my 30 years of life. I was in charge of a few things this thanksgiving and cranberry sauce was one of them. I refused to settle for that gelatinous canned mess. I found this recipe and I’m so glad I chose this one. I made it for tomorrow but I couldn’t help to eat a little with my grilled cheese. Thank you Sally. This sauce is divine. Although next time I may do half the orange zest 10/10!

  11. THE best cranberry sauce I have ever tasted! I made it for tomorrow but some of it got eaten tonight, ha. Couldn’t resist. Thanks for this superb recipe! How come there are only 5 stars when this is a ten? 🙂

  12. This was such a big hit with family! Even those who were not cranberry fans loved it!

  13. Everyone at my brother in law’s Thanksgiving (he is the cook in the family) loved this cranberry dish, which I brought. It was even mentioned as a favorite dish of the whole evening, and of course, that’s all down to you and this great recipe. I’m amazed at the effect that the vanilla has! This is a new staple for us, I think!

  14. My third year making this (as well as the Great Pumpkin Pie – another perfect SBA recipe!) and I just went out for more cranberries to make another two batches. We can’t stop eating it!! So easy compared to other recipes and always turns out perfectly!

  15. The family raved about this cranberry sauce and my niece said it was the best part of our Thanksgiving Day meal.

  16. First time making cranberry sauce, and it will not be the last. Love the fresh zingy taste and the visual appeal. Great that it can be made in advance, and comes together so easily. Half went on our Thanksgiving table, the other half is in the freezer to be used in Sally’s Cranberry Brie Puff Pastry Tarts.
    Thank you, Sally!

  17. This was a hit at Thanksgiving. We loved the cranberry + orange flavor combo. Everyone who attended asked for the recipe after!

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