With its tangy-sweet flavor and bright red color, Cranberry Sauce is a must-have for any holiday meal. With only four ingredients, this recipe is quick, easy, and can be made ahead.
As far as Thanksgiving side dishes go, cranberry sauce is a staple, but doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It's hard to compete with juicy Roasted Turkey, and classic side dishes like creamy mashed potatoes, and light and buttery dinner rolls. But I would argue that cranberry sauce is an essential addition. The sweet-tart flavor just brightens the entire plate of savory dishes. It helps the show-stoppers to shine and it is, by far, the easiest Thanksgiving recipe to make from scratch. It can also be made ahead up to 14 days before the holiday.
How to Make Cranberry Sauce
- Combine all ingredients in a large saucepan. Cranberries (fresh or frozen), orange juice, water, and sugar.
- Bring to a boil. Heat everything over medium-high until the sauce is bubbling.
- Simmer on low. Reduce the heat so that the sauce continues to bubble gently (low or low-medium, depending on your stove).
- Cook until thick. Let the sauce simmer, stirring often, until it thickens to your liking, 12 to 20 minutes.
- Let cool. Let the sauce cool completely before storing in the refrigerator for up to 14 days.
Cranberry Relish vs Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry relish is a dish using fresh cranberries that are finely chopped, combined with sugar, and served raw. Cranberry sauce is simmered until it reaches a thick, jammy consistency. The basic ingredients are the same - cranberries, sugar, and citrus.
This recipe for cranberry relish would be a great one to try!
How long to refrigerate or freeze
Cranberry sauce has a high level of acidity and sugar, so it can easily be stored in the refrigerator for up to 14 days. It can be frozen in well-sealed containers for 4 months. Defrost it in the refrigerator before use.
How to thicken cranberry sauce
Just like most jam and jelly recipes, you can easily thicken cranberry sauce by simmering it for longer. The liquids will cook off and the sauce will thicken.
How to thin cranberry sauce
If you finish your sauce and notice that it is more thick than you would like, simply simmer it on the stovetop with additional water. Continue simmering until it reaches your desired consistency
What to do with leftovers
In addition to serving it with any of your Thanksgiving or Christmas leftovers, try adding cranberry sauce to turkey sandwiches. And if you need some variety, try serving cranberry sauce with pork chops, roast chicken, or as a glaze for salmon.
You can also use leftover cranberry sauce like a jam and spread it on rolls or biscuits with butter.
- Cranberries - Fresh or frozen will work. If using fresh cranberries, look for berries that are a vibrant red and firm to the touch. Discard any berries that are brown or blemished.
- Orange Juice - Orange juice’s sweet citrus flavor is a great complement to tart cranberries.
- Ginger - Ginger’s warm spice adds a unique hint of flavor. Use freshly grated ginger for the best flavor. Feel free to skip this you prefer a more classic flavor.
- Sugar - Sweetens naturally tart cranberries.
- Water - Boiling the cranberries in a mixture of orange juice and water helps to soften them.
- Make it sweet and zesty - Adding vanilla and orange zest is a popular variation on this traditional Thanksgiving side dish.
- Add fall spices - Cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice complement cranberry-orange flavors.
The longer you simmer the sauce, the thicker it will become. Simmer the sauce for 12 minutes for a more loose sauce or 20 minutes for a thicker, chunkier sauce.
If stored in a well-sealed container in the refrigerator, cranberry sauce will last and taste fresh for up to 2 weeks.
Yes. Freeze it in a well-sealed container for up to 6 months.
Absolutely. You can use fresh or frozen cranberries to make cranberry sauce. You do not need to defrost them first.
Cranberry sauce is great served at any temperature. When serving it with a warm holiday meal, it's a good idea to let it come to room temperature before serving. Leftovers are great used cold just like jelly or jam.
More Classic Thanksgiving Sides
- Overnight Sausage and Sage Stuffing
- Homemade Green Bean Casserole with Bacon
- Creamy Butternut Squash and Spinach Casserole
- Focaccia and Bacon Stuffing
- Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce Recipe
- 1 cup Orange Juice (use the kind with no pulp for the best texture)
- ¾ cup Sugar
- ¼ cup Water
- 4 cups Cranberries (fresh or frozen; see note)
- ½ teaspoon grated Fresh Ginger (optional; see note)
- Combine orange juice, sugar, water, and cranberries in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring often.
- When sauce begins to boil, reduce heat to a low-medium. Simmer until the cranberries have all burst, and the sauce has reached your desired thickness, 12 to 20 minutes. (Note: Cooking the sauce for longer will result in a thicker, more chunky sauce.)
- Move the sauce off of the heat and stir in fresh ginger, if using.
- Allow cranberry sauce to cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.