Homemade Cranberry Sauce

4.91 from 30 votes
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The best homemade cranberry sauce recipe for your Thanksgiving or holiday feast! Make this easy three-ingredient condiment ready in just 15 minutes. Make the cranberry sauce ahead to grab and serve with your stunning turkey.

Homemade cranberry sauce in a blue porcelain bowl.

A gorgeous roast turkey is not complete without some sweet and tangy cranberry sauce. Do you use canned or freshly made? For me, the answer is clear. My fresh cranberry sauce recipe wins out every time. Once you make it from scratch, it’ll be easy to see why.

In just 15 minutes and only three ingredients, the cooked healthy berries magically transform into a thickened, sweet, tangy, and addicting sauce. Be the first to raise your hand to make this incredibly easy condiment when the holidays roll around. It’s quick, effortless, and impressive! You can even make the cranberry sauce up to a week in advance to save time.

Cranberries in a clear glass jar.

Cranberry selection

Grocery stores typically sell fresh cranberries between October and December. They come in pre-measured 12-ounce bags in the refrigerator section. This will yield about 3 ½ cups of berries, making 1 ½ cups of cranberry sauce. Look for round, ruby-colored berries that lack wrinkles on the surface, signaling their older age.

Wash and clean the berries, removing any that have burst or are broken. Fresh or frozen cranberries can be used to make the sauce. Add a few minutes to the cooking time for frozen—no need to defrost the berries before use.

Sweeteners to use

This is a must! Cranberries pack a mean sour punch and must be balanced with a sweetener. Liquid sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, or agave syrup add dimension to the sauce’s flavor. Granulated sugar, brown sugar, or coconut sugar are tasty alternatives. I recommend adding ¾ to 1 cup of liquid to replace the moisture absent from the dry sweetener.

If you are looking for a sugar-free and keto option, try this low-carb cranberry sauce. I prefer my sauce not to be overly sweet. Feel free to add more sweetener to your liking, increasing from ½ cup to 1 cup.

Liquid options

Water, juice, or even alcohol like wine helps the berries gell up once they have popped open. It allows the natural pectin inside the fruit to dissolve in the liquid. This creates a thickened consistency once the sauce cools.

Fresh orange juice, apple juice, apple cider vinegar, cranberry juice, or pomegranate juice are delicious swaps to plain water.

Pan cooking cranberry sauce on the stove top.

Add extra flavoring

There are endless ways to customize the taste of cranberry sauce. Try these delicious variations:

  • Vanilla: Pure vanilla extract rounds out the sweet notes of the sauce. Whole vanilla beans or vanilla bean paste are great substitutes.
  • Spices: Place a whole cinnamon stick in the sauce, juniper berries, or star anise as it simmers for intense sweet aromatics, and make your home smell amazing!
  • Citrus: Grate some fresh orange zest and add 1 teaspoon to the sauce; I do this for my orange cranberry version. Lemon zest works great too!
  • Herbs: If you like an herbaceous sauce, chop 1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, thyme, or sage, or add a mixture.
  • Ginger: For pungency, 1 tablespoon freshly grated or minced ginger or ¼ teaspoon dried.
  • Fruit: For a fruitier taste, add 1 cup of diced fruit like apples or pears and simmer with the cranberries. My family loves my apple cranberry sauce! Dried fruit like apricots, figs, pineapples, or raisins adds a concentrated fruity flavor.
  • Hot Peppers: Add 1 to 3 teaspoons of minced jalapenos or whole dried red peppers to make a spicy cranberry sauce with some heat.
  • Alcohol: Replace water with red or white wine. Add 1 to 4 tablespoons of bourbon whiskey or dark rum for an oaky, spiced flavor—Grand Marnier for sweet citrus notes.
Metal spoon lifting up a scoop of freshly made cranberry sauce.

How to make cranberry sauce

Add the cranberries, liquid, and sweetener to a medium pan. Stir to dissolve the sweetener and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Once bubbles form along the edges of the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low to simmer the sauce. You will hear a symphony of pops as the cranberries cook in the sweetened liquid.

Once the cranberries burst and cook down to a thickened, jammy consistency, the vibrant and juicy sauce is ready. The process takes 15 minutes or less! Serve it warm or cool to room temperature. When the cranberry sauce cools down, the pectin will become more rigid and set, thickening it up even more.

How to store cranberry sauce

Cranberry sauce that has come to room temperature can be transferred to an airtight container and refrigerated for up to one week. This makes it a great made-ahead condiment for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It can even be placed in a releasable plastic bag and frozen for up to three months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight or at least 4 hours before serving.

Serve this with

Ways to use leftover cranberry sauce

Frequently asked questions

Why is my homemade cranberry sauce watery?

Too much liquid is added to the sauce. Start with ½ cup liquid, then increase to 1 cup if you like a thinner consistency. Simmer the sauce until you see the texture thicken up.

Does cranberry sauce need a thickener?

No! The natural pectin in the whole cranberries will thicken the sauce. Cranberry sauce requires the pectin to be dissolved in the berries’ liquid, sugar, and acids. Once the pectin is heated, it will swell and expand, turning into a firmer gel once cooled.

Do I have to make the cranberry sauce on the stovetop?

No! Other options include making the cranberry sauce in a slow cooker or Instant pot. Choose the method based on time.

A Thanksgiving holiday feast is not complete unless there is homemade cranberry sauce on the table.

Recipe Science

How to make a smoother sauce

Once the cranberry sauce reaches the desired consistency, serve it as is for a more chunky whole-berry texture. However, you can further process the sauce, like canned products, if you’re a fan of the more smooth jelly consistency. Use a hand immersion blender to carefully puree the sauce directly in a pan. Alternatively, transfer to a blender or food processor to quickly break down the skins and tiny seeds.

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

A Thanksgiving holiday feast is not complete unless there is homemade cranberry sauce on the table! Make this easy four-ingredient condiment ready in under 30 minutes.
4.91 from 30 votes
Prep Time5 minutes
Cook Time20 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Servings 16 servings
Course Condiment
Cuisine American

Ingredients 
 

  • 12 ounces cranberries, washed
  • ½ cup maple syrup, or honey
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract, optional

Instructions 

  • Prepare Ingredients – Add the cranberries to a colander and wash with cool running water, set aside. 
  • Combine Ingredients – In a medium pan, add cranberries, maple syrup, and water, stir to combine.
  • Simmer Sauce – Bring sauce to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens to a jam consistency, about 12 to 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and add more sweetener if desired.
  • Add Vanilla (Optional) – Turn off the heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • To Serve – Serve warm or cool the sauce before serving.

Recipe Video

YouTube video

Equipment

Notes

  • Recipe Yield: About 1 ½ cups
  • Serving Size: 1 tablespoon
  • Sweetener: Granulated sugar or brown sugar can be used. Add an extra ¼ cup of water to the recipe. For a sweeter sauce, add an additional ¼ to ½ cup of sweetener. 
  • Liquid: Apple juice, apple cider, orange juice, cranberry, pomegranate, or grape juice can be substituted for water.
  • Thinner Sauce: Add 1 cup of water instead of ½ cup.
  • Storing: Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days. Freeze for up to 3 months; defrost before use. 

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 16 servings
Calories 32kcal (2%)Carbohydrates 8g (3%)Sodium 0.2mgFiber 0.4g (2%)Sugar 7g (8%)Vitamin C 1.7mg (2%)Calcium 10mg (1%)Iron 0.2mg (1%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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9 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Marissa Meyers says

    Just tried this cranberry sauce recipe and it was so delicious! I’ve always followed the package instructions in the past but this method is way better. Love the consistency and of course the taste – couldn’t stop eating it. Another winner for Thanksgiving!

  2. Laura Casey says

    I love a good cranberry sauce…..I’ll be making mine Thanksgiving week….will add orange juice as my liquid…….and packing for my trip to see family in New Mexico! Thanks! And Happy Thanksgiving to you and family.

  3. Christine says

    Since I had agave syrup in my pantry I ended up using that along with the vanilla extract and it was really good! I love the hint of vanilla with the cranberry. Thanks!

  4. C S Bebko says

    I like the idea of adding vanilla as a balancer, but I always understood that pure vanilla “cooked off” during any sort of heat treatment. Would it be better to add it, or a lesser amount off heat? Thanks, and we enjoy your recipes!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Great point! I like your thoughts on this, the vanilla is added for aromatics which is volatile and can be sensitive to heat. I am going to update the recipe to incorporate your comments. You are a budding culinary scientist!