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 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

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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
  • 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

More Thanksgiving Side Dishes


  1. This looks so good, Sally! I’ve never even tasted (let alone made!) homemade cranberry sauce before, only storebought, so I can’t wait to try this one!

    1. It’s truly delicious! I hope you’ll try it, Gemma 🙂

    2. Made this recipe today, as I love all your recipes. Nothing better than homemade cranberry sauce. I doubled the recipe, but in place of water I used Gewurztraminer wine, which is sweet. I used the same amount of brown sugar as you would for a single recipe. I’m really happy with how it turned out!

  2. Charlotte Moore says:

    There is no comparison to homemade and canned. Homemade is the best. Orange adds so much and I am curious about the vanilla.

    Thank you for ALL your hard work!

    1. Homemade is best! 🙂 Thank you so much Charlotte!

  3. Catherine Smith says:

    I make almost this exact same recipe but I add one apple in as well. I dice it up to where the apples are the size of the cranberries, and oh my GOD (in CHandler’s voice) does it add amazing texture and flavor too!

    1. Sounds incredible! I’ll have to try that sometime 🙂

  4. Is there a way to make this smooth without the chunks of cranberries, the gel kind?

    1. Hi Kayla! I haven’t tried any other methods with this recipe, so I would search for a jellied cranberry sauce recipe instead.

      1. I make large batches of a jellied cranberry sauce that I can every fall. This recipe could easily be adjusted to make a smooth jellied sauce. First, cook the cranberries in the water and orange juice until the skins burst and then run that mixture through a Foley food mill. Then you would add the other ingredients and thicken the sauce. This recipe sounds delicious and I plan on trying it this Thanksgiving!!

  5. Karen C Cutler says:

    I just made this so I could taste test it before Thanksgiving. The only change I made was I used all orange juice in place of the water. It is truly fabulous! Thank you so much for the recipe, Sally.

    1. You are so speedy! Thrilled you loved this recipe, Karen 🙂 Thanks for your positive feedback!

  6. In the sauce I’ve made, I added a little ginger to it.

    1. I need to try that! Great suggestion!

  7. My sis in law has a cranberry farm so we always make all kinds of cranberry dishes. Never made with vanilla so going to try that. Another use for leftover sauce? Stir in your morning oatmeal or spoon on ice cream. Yum!

    1. Oh my gosh yes, it’s incredible in a warm bowl of oatmeal!

  8. Divine!! Fresh is best. Also works well with baked chicken. Yummm. And on toast for breakfast.

    1. So many delicious ways to enjoy it!!

  9. This recipe is really great. I added a 1/2 cup of blueberries for a little extra interest.

    1. That sounds incredible!

  10. Hi Sally!
    I noticed in the ingredient list it only says 3/4 brown sugar. In your recipe notes it says cups. Just wanted to let you know! The cranberry sauce looks awesome. I love cranberries. Yum! Thanks Sally, for another great recipe.

    1. Hi Kayla! I use 3/4 cup brown sugar, but mention in the notes that you can add 1 full cup if you want it sweeter. 🙂

      1. Thanks! I noticed the recipe got fixed. The sauce is finished now. So good! Thanks for the quick reply.

  11. I already posted a comment but that was before I got to taste this. My hubby only likes regular cranberry sauce but I always have to try something a little different, and this is positively fabulous. My all time fav has blueberries and vanilla added, but the addition of the orange juice and zest is so yummy. I cannot say enough about using brown sugar instead of white which just puts the whole thing over the top. I do a ton of baking for my church and so much of it comes from your recipes, Sally. Thanks so much for the great recipes and Happy Thanksgiving to you.

    1. I’m so happy this sauce was a hit with your family! Thanks for your positive feedback and happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  12. Hi Sally! My family loves my homemade cranberry sauce that is similar to your recipe, except that mine uses lemon instead of orange and has no vanilla. I have a husband and teenage boys who do not take well to recipe changes (sigh!) but I would like to try your recipe. Do you think the vanilla would work with the lemon as well? That may be a small enough change for them. Thanks!

    1. Yes you can use lemon with the vanilla! Let me know how they like it!

  13. I made this yesterday as a taste test for Thanksgiving dinner and it is fabulous. I subbed OJ for the water and used my homemade vanilla from Sally’s recipe. Thank you so much!

    1. YUM! I need to try that!

  14. Parimala Stephens says:

    I just made this recipe last night because I had extra cranberries and oranges from when I made your cranberry orange muffins over the weekend! Threw it in the freezer so it’s ready to go for Thanksgiving next week! I’m not a huge cranberry sauce fan, but I am so excited to have this with my meal this year!!

    1. Yay! A delicious way to use up leftover cranberries and oranges 🙂

  15. Looks yummy! I always add a cinnamon stick or 2 to mine, but I never thought if the addition of vanilla. Can’t wait to try it!

    1. Hope you love it, Laura!

  16. Would This Work With Half Raspberries And/or Blackberries? I Know Those Are Softer Fruits So Im Wondering If They’ll Cook To The Right Consistency. Thanks Sally!

    1. I haven’t tried it but it should work. It might take a few minutes longer to cook since they have a higher water content. Let me know if you try it!

    2. This is a WONDERFUL recipe! I used half raspberries and it turned out perfectly. So good as a sauce for Thanksgiving, and wonderful slathered on a turkey sandwich.

  17. Debra Faucheux says:

    I’ve always hated cranberry sauce in a can. My DIL made cranberry sauce using whole berries and I loved it! I try to make often during the year now. Adding orange sounds delicious and I’ll do that for Thanksgiving this year. I’m sure it will be a winner coming from you! Thanks, Sally! Have a wonderful blessed Thanksgiving!

    1. I hope you’ll try it with the orange- it really adds something extra! 🙂 Happy Thanksgiving to you, too!

  18. Thank you for posting! My electronic grocery list auto corrected to “crab sauce,” and therefore, I failed to pick up a can of it at the store since I was confused while there. lo and behold, I decided, “ I can surely make it this year,” and since I always turn to you first for recipes, I was delighted to see your recipe posted. I’ve got everything on hand and can’t wait to try this Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving!!

    1. Oh no!! I’m glad you’ll be giving this recipe a try- would love to know what you think if you do! Happy Thanksgiving, Gwyneth!

  19. Teah Lambright says:

    Love this recipe! I double it and use the juice and zest from 2 oranges (about 1 cup of juice) I add 2 cinnamon sticks, and 1 cup of crushed pineapple (for a little more liquid, pulp, and sweetness) I finish it with a splash of brandy and let it sit in the fridge over night……soooooooo goooood!

    1. Teah Lambright says:

      With my changes I don’t use any water.

    2. Sounds delicious, Teah! Thanks so much for your positive feedback 🙂

  20. Carol Benassi says:

    Do you prefer light brown sugar or dark brown sugar with this recipe? I know you said either but curious which you prefer.

    1. Brown sugar, definitely!

      1. Carol Benassi says:

        Haha. Still didn’t pick one – light or dark?

      2. I misread that! I like light brown sugar.

  21. If I double the recipe do I withhold a cup of cranberries and literally double all ingredients including the sugar?

    1. Hi Chandra! You could, yes, but if you don’t want that many whole cranberries in the sauce, you can only set aside 1/2 or 3/4 cup. Yes, double all of the ingredients. The sauce may take longer to simmer and thicken since there’s added volume.

      1. Thank you so much

  22. Chris Zamastil says:

    I have to have Cranberry Sauce at Thanksgiving. I’ve never tried it with brown sugar or vanilla but I love all of Sally’s recipes so I went for it. After a day in refrigerator all I can say is YUM!! The hint of vanilla brings out the flavor of the cranberry and orange. You are brilliant. I’ve also been putting a couple of tablespoons in my oatmeal in the morning. And for this Thanksgiving I’m adding 3/4 Cup to your plain cheesecake base as one dessert option. I can’t wait to try it!

    1. I’m so happy you love this recipe, Chris! Thanks so much for your positive feedback 🙂

  23. Just finished making it this morning. I had some corn bread in the freezer so I tried some together as you recommended. I would never have thought to eat these together but it was scrumptious. Thanks for the recipe and suggestion.

  24. Now it says it yields 2 cups. Do you know approximately how many people that’d be good for? As of now we have a total of 14 people coming and might feed more (military family/community lol) should I double the batch?

    1. Hi Sarah! Assuming everyone eats 1/8 – 1/4 cup of cranberry sauce, you’ll want to double the recipe.

  25. Hi, looks delicious! Have you tried adding a cinnamon stick to this, do you think it would add to it or mess with the flavor?

    1. Hi Liz! I personally haven’t, but I know some readers have– add it to the mix when you add the water/OJ/sugar/cranberries. Let it cook, then remove it before adding the vanilla.

  26. I tried this recipe and it was better than mine! So I will promptly be replacing it with yours. I did one little experiment that time…I added cinnamon to it. Oh boy, was it ever tasty! Thank you for sharing your fabulous recipe!

  27. You’re right about the vanilla. It does give it an incredible aroma and taste! We all loved it. I had to make a 2nd batch for thanksgiving because everyone had to sample it today.

  28. OMG I just made the cranberry sauce for tomorrow (thanksgiving). I’m glad I don’t have any cheesecake, that would be amazing on a piece of cheesecake. I made it exactly as the recipe states. Throw the cans away, this is so good.Happy Thanksgiving!

    1. Love reading this, thank you so much Denise! Happy Thanksgiving 🙂

  29. melissa martinez says:

    I added the zest during cooking – oh no is it ruined?!

    1. Not at all! Enjoy!

  30. Made this tonight w/my 6yr old daughter(so super easy) & we had to stop eating it so it made it to Thanksgiving lol. We made it smooth by straining the sauce after removed from heat.

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