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. Very good! I’m excited to have this with some turkey

  2. Antonia Bellamy-Talbot says:

    I don’t normally comment on things, and I don’t normally like cranberry sauce. Figured I’d try this recipe though because you’ve never let me down. I’m officially converted to a cranberry sauce lover! Sally, all your recipes are absolutely amazing. Every time I make something from this sight it’s the best version of that thing I’ve ever had! Keep doing what your doing 🙂

  3. This is bar far the best cranberry sauce I’ve ever made. It was easy to do and so flavorful. A HUGE hit! Thank you.

  4. Made this for Thanksgiving! Never made cranberry sauce because it seemed intimidating! It was very easy and delicious. Thank you.

  5. This was delicious! Do you think the leftover could be used in a cranberry orange scone recipe?

    1. Hi Jen, I’m so glad you enjoyed this cranberry sauce. I wouldn’t work more liquid into a scone dough than is called for. If you try it, I would slightly reduce the liquid (usually cream or buttermilk) in the scone recipe.

  6. Anna Ouverson says:

    We absolutely love this recipe. I made my own vanilla using Jim Beam Vanilla instead of vodka . The flavor complements the cranberries.

  7. Can we use dried Cranberries too?

    1. Lexi @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Rani, no, you’ll need fresh or frozen cranberries here. Let us know if you give it a try!

  8. Could you also add cherries to this recipe?

    1. Stephanie @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Jamie, We haven’t tested it but you could certainly replace some of the cranberries with cherries. Enjoy!

  9. Sally Akavickas says:

    Fresh cranberries are in the grocery stores now, and I had to try this recipe. My dad loved everything cranberry, and he always made his own sauce to have with toast, add to his sandwiches, or just as a side. Cranberry sauce brings back so many sweet memories for me. Your recipe is the best!! I love how you take such a simple dish and send it over the top!!! Thank you, Sally!!!

    1. Michelle @ Sally's Baking Addiction says:

      Hi Sally, we love to hear this! Glad you enjoyed it!

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