Cranberry Sauce

published Nov 14, 2023

This 3-ingredient cranberry sauce will be the crown jewel of your holiday table.

Makes2 cups

Jump to Recipe
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

Cranberry sauce is the jewel of the Thanksgiving table and often the only spot of brightness on a table full of brown, orange, and tan dishes. While canned cranberry sauce is available year-round, you have to wait until October for fresh cranberries to come to market. Once the ruby-red fruits arrive, it’s your cue to make this sweet and tangy sauce for your Thanksgiving celebration. 

How to Make Cranberry Sauce

Making homemade cranberry sauce is an easy four-step process.

  1. Zest and juice oranges: Use Valencia or navel oranges for their fresh citrus flavor.
  2. Simmer with sugar: Add the orange zest, juice, and sugar to a pot. Cook on medium-high heat, until the sugar dissolves.
  3. Cook the cranberries until they burst: Add the cranberries, then simmer for at least 10 minutes or until they burst to release their full gelling power.
  4. Let cool and serve: For a looser cranberry sauce, the sauce can be served warm. If you prefer a thicker (canned-like) consistency, cover and refrigerate overnight.
Credit: Photo: Vicky Wasik ; Food Stylist: Brett Regot

How to Thicken Cranberry Sauce

Calling this dish a “sauce” is a bit of a misnomer, as cranberry sauce is actually a simple fruit jam. Cranberries are naturally high in pectin (a naturally occuring gel). When cranberries are cooked with sugar and acid (such as orange or lemon juice), the pectin is released and gels the fruit. The sugar and citrus help transform fresh cranberries into a sauce with body and texture.

How to Serve Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is a favorite at Thanksgiving, as it’s a sweet-tart foil to a table filled with buttery and rich dishes. Making this simple three-ingredient sauce also gives you control over the sweetness, tartness, and consistency. 

  • Serve warm: Cranberry sauce can be served warm, straight from the stovetop with a looser, more pourable consistency.
  • Serve cold: Chilled cranberry sauce has a more spoonable and jam-like consistency. When given time to cool in the refrigerator, the natural gel from the cranberries thickens and the flavors have time to mellow and sweeten. 

Can You Make Cranberry Sauce in Advance?

Cranberry sauce is one of the first things I make ahead for holiday celebrations. Cranberry sauce can be made up to two weeks in advance and refrigerated, or you can freeze the sauce for up to 1 month. 

What to Make with Leftover Cranberry Sauce

Ways to Jazz Up Cranberry Sauce

Once you know how to make cranberry sauce, the possibilities to customize are endless. 

  • Replace some of the sugar with brown or maple sugar.
  • Add a vanilla bean while boiling or a teaspoon of vanilla extract at the end.
  • Boil whole spices, like cinnamon, anise, or cardamom, with the sugar and orange juice. Remember to remove before serving.
  • Finely chop a jalapeño and add at the end of cooking for a savory finish.
  • Add a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger with the cranberries.
  • Stir in a tablespoon of rum, brandy, or whiskey to the finished cranberry sauce.

Cranberry Sauce Recipe

This 3-ingredient cranberry sauce will be the crown jewel of your holiday table.

Makes 2 cups

Nutritional Info


  • 2

    large Valencia or navel oranges

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 12 ounces

    fresh or frozen cranberries


  • Vegetable peeler

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Juicer or reamer

  • Small saucepan


  1. Zest and juice the oranges. Use a vegetable peeler to remove a 1-inch-thick strip of orange peel from 1 large Valencia or navel orange. Juice 2 oranges into a measuring cup. Remove any seeds from the juice. There should be about 1 cup of juice. If you do not have enough juice, add enough water to get to 1 cup.

  2. Simmer the juice and sugar. Place the orange juice, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and orange peel in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

  3. Simmer the cranberries. Add 12 ounces cranberries and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered until the cranberries are tender and pop open and appear glossy, 11 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard the orange peel. Transfer the sauce into a bowl.

  4. Cool and serve. For a looser cranberry sauce, the sauce can be served warm. If you prefer a thicker consistency, cover and refrigerate overnight.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: Cranberry sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator before serving.