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.
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
- 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 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 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.)
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!
Uses for Cranberry Sauce
- With a traditional Thanksgiving meal
- On biscuits, pancakes, or pound cake
- Swirl 3/4 cup into cheesecake batter before baking
- Serve with cornbread
- On buttermilk waffles
- Swirl 1/2 cup into cranberry orange muffins batter (you can skip the whole cranberries in that recipe)
- Swap BBQ sauce for cranberry sauce on BBQ chicken pizza (I swear it’s good)
- Swirl into yogurt or cottage cheese
- Swap the fresh fruit for a spoonful of cranberry sauce on my goat cheese crostini
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
- 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.
- After rinsing the cranberries, set 1/2 cup cranberries aside. You will stir these in at the end for extra texture.
- 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.
- Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup reserved cranberries, orange zest, and vanilla extract. Sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
- Sauce is excellent served warm or at room temperature. Cover and store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Zester & Citrus Juicer
Keywords: cranberries, Thanksgiving, side dish
More Thanksgiving Side Dishes
- Herbed Sausage & Apple Stuffing
- Candied Sweet Potatoes
- Green Bean Casserole (from scratch!)
- Cornbread Stuffing
- Mac & Cheese
- Sweet Potato Casserole (with crunchy pecan topping)