This is our favorite recipe for the Thanksgiving staple: cranberry sauce. Made from 5 ingredients, this easy sauce is ready after 20 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 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 20 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
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.
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.)
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 20 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
- 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 (it really is good)
- Swirl into yogurt or cottage cheese
- Swap the fresh fruit for a spoonful of cranberry sauce on my goat cheese crostini
- Inside these cranberry brie puff pastry tarts
More Thanksgiving Side Dishes
- Candied Sweet Potatoes
- Green Bean Casserole (from scratch!)
- Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
- Sweet Potato Casserole (with crunchy pecan topping)
- Mushroom Puff Pastry Tarts
- Sausage & Herb Stuffing
Made from 5 ingredients, this easy sauce is ready after 20 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 15 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.
- Special Tools (affiliate links): Zester | Citrus Juicer | Saucepan | Wooden Spoon
- 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.
Keywords: cranberries, Thanksgiving, side dish