I Tried a Dozen Different Types of Cranberry Sauce — Here Are My Top Picks for Thanksgiving
With so many dishes to wrangle on Thanksgiving, there’s no shame in resorting to grocery store shortcuts to take some of the load off. As easy as cranberry sauce is to make, it’s one of those simple must-haves that can easily come out of a can (and no one will question it).
Like every other dish on the Thanksgiving table, people tend to have strong cranberry sauce preferences. Most of those fall in to two camps: those who prefer theirs to be chunky and freeform, and others who require it to be jellied, smooth, and sliced into rounds. (Which side are you on?)
No matter your preference, you’ll find quite a few brands to choose from when it comes to this garnet-red staple. Which one is the best? I was wondering that too, so I hit several stores in my area to source almost every brand available, including a local chain that specializes in organic and artisan products.
How I Tested the Cranberry Sauces
I found nearly a dozen different cans and jars, although most of the options were for the saucy, un-jellied variety. I cooked up some turkey breast cutlets, cracked open all the cans and jars, and gathered my tasters (my family in my household) to find out which brands really delivered on real cranberry flavor.
Even though all the options I found are made with the same two main ingredients — cranberries and some form of sugar — there were some big differences in flavor and texture. Some of the saucy varieties had a tendency to skew overly sweet and watery, while the pitfalls among the jellied versions included a grainy texture and dull color. But three were downright delicious on their own, and most important, tasted fantastic with turkey. Here are the winners:
Best Jellied Cranberry Sauce: Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce
The Ocean Spray brand is pretty much synonymous with all things cranberry, so it’s not really a surprise that they have their cranberry sauce dialed in. While my tasting team found the whole berry sauce slightly too watery and sweet, Ocean Spray hit the mark perfectly with their jellied version that slides right out of the can. The color is a beautiful dark red (no overcooked brown tones), and the texture is jelly-firm yet smooth, with none of the graininess we detected in other brands. Although it is quite sweet, the pleasing tart-bitterness of the cranberry fruit still shines through.
Buy: Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberry Sauce, $1.99 for 14 ounces at Target
Best Plain Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce: Trader Joe’s Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
To keep the playing field even, I skipped over TJ’s refrigerated cranberry sauce and fresh relish, and opted for the shelf-stable jar. The color was darker than the other brands and the texture was a bit more dense and firm, but the resulting taste was outstanding. This brand offered the most tart cranberry flavor, and avoided the pitfall of covering it up with too much sweetness. That boldness was an excellent pairing with the turkey (and didn’t make it taste like dessert). If you love deep cranberry flavor, this is a great option. And it’s a bargain too!
Read more: Trader Joe’s Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, $1.99 for 12 ounces
Best “Fancy” Cranberry Sauce: Stonewall Kitchen New England Cranberry Relish
While it may say “relish,” this is a cooked, whole berry cranberry sauce — and it tastes just like homemade. If you love “fancy” cranberry sauce but don’t want to make it, opt for this one. The color is gorgeous and festive while the texture is soft and saucy. It’s not overly sweetened, so the tartness of the cranberry really shines. But best of all it’s made with orange juice, orange peel, and spices (the clove is easily detectable), which gives it a more complex, spiced flavor that’s truly holiday worthy.
Buy: Stonewall Kitchen New England Cranberry Relish, $7.25 for 12 ounces at Stonewall Kitchen
What kind of cranberry sauce do you serve on Thanksgiving? Tell us in the comments below!