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. 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.

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

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!!

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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.

  10. 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!

  11. 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.

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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!

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

    1. My friend told me about Sally years ago and I alway find her baked items FABULOUS. Please send me the brisket recipe using Sally’s cranberry sauce. BTW, I have told so many people about Sally.

  19. 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!

  20. 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!

  21. Earl C Williams says:

    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.

  22. 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

  23. 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.

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

  25. 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.

  26. 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.)

  27. The sauce tasted amazing until I added the vanilla and orange zest (both of which I put less than what the recipe called for) and now it tastes like vanilla orange zest, completely overwhelming the sauce Is there anyway to save it or is it a toss and start over?

    1. Hi Caitlin, you can return it to low heat and add 1/2 cup more cranberries. Simmer for a few minutes to help break down the cranberries.

      1. Love this recipe! This is my second thanksgiving making this — even my husband who isn’t a cranberry sauce fan ate it! I made it as-is last year, think this year I will add a pinch of nutmeg.

  28. Don’t forget my favorite thing to do with leftover cranberry sauce: on crackers with brie!

    Can’t wait to try this recipe.

  29. I never leave recipe reviews but had to for this one. It was sooo good that when I gave my one year old the spoon to try he literally cried when I took it away from him! Also love how easy it was!

  30. Yes I agree with a review I read. The amount of orange juice/zest over powers the cranberry taste.

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