Whether you want to make homemade cranberry sauce with fresh or frozen cranberries, this easy recipe will help you have the best Thanksgiving ever. There are so many recipes out there, but this one takes just a few minutes and use ingredients that you probably already have in your kitchen! So why not give them a try this year? You might even find yourself making them all the time!
This post contains helpful tips and tricks! If you're in a rush, please use the "Jump to Recipe" below!
⭐ Origin Story
Cranberry sauce is a Thanksgiving tradition in North America. According to food historians, Native Americans made cranberry sauce using cranberries, water, and sugar. Fast forward to today, and not much has changed. Sure, there are now recipes for cranberry sauce with orange juice, ginger, and even port wine, but at its core, it’s still the same old-fashioned dish!
💭 Why you'll love this recipe
Cranberry sauce is one of those holiday dishes that you either love or hate. There’s no in-between! You either scoop a healthy portion onto your plate or you avoid it like the plague. But even if you’re not a fan, there are three good reasons to give this cranberry sauce recipe a try this holiday season!
- Make it with fresh or frozen cranberries! My favorite way to make this is with fresh cranberries, but I learned when I moved to Italy that most cranberries are only grown in the US! So, if you can't find fresh ones (only available starting late October in the US), you can make it with frozen cranberries (which are available year-round).
- It's super versatile: I use orange zest and orange juice, but you can totally customize this recipe to your liking. Add warm spices, or even a bit of cognac for more depth of flavor to these simple ingredients.
- Great for leftovers: Cranberry sauce isn’t just a side for turkey— although my vegan turkey roast tastes amazing with this recipe! But you can make everything from cranberry sauce muffins to great cocktails with leftovers.
📋 Ingredients and notes
To make this easy homemade cranberry sauce recipe, you'll need fresh or frozen cranberries, sugar, orange juice, water and orange zest.
Notes and Variations
- Make cranberry sauce with dried cranberries or elevate canned cranberry sauce: check out these versions instead!
- Adjust the orange flavor: I use orange juice and orange zest in this recipe, but depending on how sweet your cranberries are, you can adjust this up or down to fit your taste profile (for instance, by adding this orange extract instead of just orange zest). You can also swap it with lemon zest in a pinch!
- Swap sugar with brown sugar: You can totally swap the white sugar with brown sugar in this recipe. I've also had friends use pure maple syrup!
- Add other complementary flavors: I've made maple cranberry sauce, rosemary and gingersnap cranberry sauce, or just added a cinnamon stick to this recipe to add more warm flavors to the sweet-tart sauce! You can also add a pinch of salt to the sauce if you want to take down the sweetness a bit.
- Add alcohol: Adding port wine, orange liqueur, cognac, or brandy to cranberry sauce might sound strange, but trust me, it works! They add a deep richness of flavor to the finished dish that is absolutely delicious.
📖 Make the best homemade cranberry sauce!
To a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, add white sugar, orange juice, and water. Bring to a gentle boil to dissolve sugar for 2 to 3 minutes. If using fresh cranberries, rinse and drain while other ingredients are cooking.
Add whole cranberries and orange zest, simmer for 8 to 12 minutes until cranberries have burst (typically on medium heat).
Mash with the flat edge of a spoon. For a more classic cranberry sauce, leave some of the cranberries just burst but not fully smashed, or if you want a more smooth cranberry sauce, you can even use a potato masher.
Let it cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate. Enjoy the best cranberry sauce recipe ever!
👩🏽🍳Top tips to make homemade cranberry sauce!
Here are my top tips to make the best homemade cranberry sauce!
- Use fresh cranberries, if possible: Fresh cranberries will pop and release their juice more easily than frozen or dried cranberries, resulting in a sauce that's both tart and sweet. That said, it's totally possible to make a delicious cranberry sauce with frozen or dried cranberries or cranberry jelly, or even the canned stuff!
- Don't forego the zing with orange juice and zest: Cranberry sauce is pretty tart on its own, so adding a little bit of orange juice and zest can really help to balance out the flavors. I like to use fresh orange juice for the best flavor, but you can also use store-bought if you're in a pinch.
- Don't be afraid to experiment with other flavors: A little bit of grated ginger or ground cinnamon can really elevate your sauce to the next level. And if you want to get really adventurous, try adding a splash of port or brandy!
- Let it simmer slowly: Cranberries cook quickly but allowing your sauce to slowly simmer will help blend the flavors and give it a smoother texture.
- Let it cool completely: Once your sauce is finished cooking, resist the urge to dive right in! Allowing your sauce to cool completely will give it time to thicken and develop deeper flavors. Once it's cooled, transfer to an airtight container and store it in the fridge for up to a week!
Cranberry sauce can be made ahead of time and actually tastes better when given a chance to sit! You can make it up to a week ahead of time, but I suggest not making it more than two days in advance to prevent it getting too thick when you're serving it at the Thanksgiving table.
Cranberry relish is typically uncooked, while cranberry sauce is cooked and often a bit sweeter than relish.
Yes, absolutely! In fact, check out my recipe for making homemade cranberry sauce with dried cranberries here.
I typically love adding orange zest, as well as warming spices (cinnamon or even ginger) to elevate canned cranberry sauce. Make sure to check out my cranberry sauce from canned cranberry sauce as well!
🍴 Serving and storage suggestions
You can make the cranberry sauce anywhere from 2 days to a whole week in advance in an airtight container in the fridge! Homemade cranberry sauce (whether made with fresh or frozen cranberries will last a week in the fridge.
Cranberry sauce can also be frozen for up to two months. When it's frozen, it can be thawed in the refrigerator or at room temperature, or reheated in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Have leftover cranberry sauce? Check out these awesome recipe:
- Delicious thumbprint cookies that are like buttery shortbread cookies with a jammy center!
- Easy holiday leftovers breakfast casserole (that also uses up leftover dinner rolls, what a winner!)
- Easy cranberry hand pies that can be made with simple pie crust!
- Leftover cranberry orange bread, which is one of my favorites!
Check out 15+ more leftover cranberry sauce recipes as well!
If you like this recipe, check out my other Thanksgiving recipes:
Homemade Cranberry Sauce (Fresh or Frozen!)
- 1 cup sugar
- ¾ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup water
- 2 teaspoons orange zest, optional
- 4 cups fresh or frozen cranberries , one 12-oz package
- If using fresh cranberries, rinse and drain.
- To a large pot over medium-low heat, add 1 cup of sugar, ¾ cup of orange juice, and ¼ cup of water. Bring to a gentle boil to dissolve the sugar for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add 12 oz of cranberries and 2 teaspoons of orange zest and simmer for 8 to 12 minutes until cranberries have burst. Mash with the flat edge of a spoon.
- Let it cool to room temperature, then transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate. Enjoy!
- Adjust level of flavor: Increase or decrease the amount of orange juice (compared to water) to make the cranberry sauce more zesty!