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Skip the can and make this easy, fresh Homemade Cranberry Sauce with a hint of cinnamon and orange for your Thanksgiving or holiday dinner. It's so much better than store bought and only takes about 10 minutes to make.
We love when fresh cranberries are in season and stock up on bags to throw in the freezer so we can enjoy them year round! Check out these other reader favorite cranberry recipes like Cranberry Salsa, Cranberry Orange Bread, and Cranberry Fluff Salad.
This recipe was originally published in October 2018, but has been updated for content.
When I was a kid, my favorite Thanksgiving job in the kitchen was to be the one to use the can opener to open up the jellied cranberry sauce, unmold it, and slice it in to perfectly even discs, guided by the ridges from the can. It was always so fun and satisfying to me!
But the stuff out of the can doesn't taste that much like actual fresh cranberry sauce, which is definitely the best. I have since come to appreciate this unique, delightful fruit and easy recipe in all it's simple, sweet-tart glory.
Why We Love This Recipe
- You can control the level of sweetness. If you prefer it less sweet and more tart, go ahead and cut back on the sugar 2-3 tablespoons.
- It actually has the fruity, fresh flavor of real cranberries instead of the canned cranberry flavor. I'm not trying to knock on the Ocean Spray kind that comes in a can, but this recipe has a deeper, more interesting and complex flavor thanks to the addition of orange juice and a cinnamon stick that make it so much better.
- This recipe only takes a few ingredients and ten minutes of your time. I recommend making a double batch so you have plenty of extra to use in a cranberry jello salad!
How to Make This Recipe
It's so simple to make this recipe! In a large saucepan or skillet, combine sugar, water, and orange juice. Once that comes to a boil, add the fresh or frozen cranberries (no need to thaw first if using frozen), along with a cinnamon stick, orange zest (if using), and a pinch of salt.
Bring everything to a simmer, then let the cranberries cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until most of them have burst, then stir in the vanilla and cool completely before serving.
Yes! You can freeze cranberry sauce packed in airtight containers or freezer-safe plastic bags for 2-3 months, then thaw in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for a few hours. If it seems watery, just put it in a pan on the stove and simmer for about 5 minutes and it will thicken up again.
I don't recommend it, at least not with this recipe. They won't hydrate fully and you just won't get the same results as if you use fresh or frozen cranberries.
This recipe can be made 7-10 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve cold or at room temperature.
If you love the smooth, jellied cranberry sauce from a can, you can achieve that by cooking the cranberries an extra 10 minutes (so about 20 minutes total). Mash until the sauce is very thick and press through a fine-mesh sieve to remove solids. Transfer the gel into a medium-size bowl, jar, or even mini loaf pans that are lined with plastic wrap and sprayed with cooking spray. Refrigerate for 3 hours until thoroughly chilled, then unmold to serve.
- If you like whole berry cranberry sauce, just hold some of the cranberries in reserve and add them in during the last minute of cooking time. I love the extra burst of tartness those bites of whole cranberries add!
- If you prefer jellied cranberry sauce, simmer all the cranberries a bit longer until they are completely broken down, then pour it into a mold and chill well before unmolding and serving.
- Amp up the citrus factor with orange zest in addition to the orange juice called for in the recipe below, or leave it out if you don't have an orange on hand.
- For a beautiful presentation, you can garnish with extra orange zest sprinkled on top or plate with rosemary sprigs or sugared cranberries around the bowl.
Ways to Use Leftover Cranberry Sauce
If you have leftovers, here are some ideas for how to use it. You may just want to make a double batch while you're at it just so you have some on hand to try these recipes!
- Cranberry Jello Salad (seriously so yummy and one of the recipes I look forward to every year!)
- Turkey sandwiches made with cranberry mayo (just mix equal parts cranberry sauce and mayo for an easy aioli!)
- Cranberry sauce muffins (love this idea for a post-Thanksgiving breakfast!)
- Cranberry baked brie (makes an awesome Thanksgiving appetizer!)
More Thanksgiving Recipes
- Green Beans with Bacon & Pine Nuts
- How to Make a Brined and Smoked Turkey
- Easy Homemade Pumpkin Pie
- Easy Southern Cornbread Dressing
Fresh Cranberry Sauce
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup orange juice
- 1 (12-ounce) bag fresh or frozen cranberries, (about 3 cups)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Zest of 1 orange, optional
- pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Combine the sugar, water, and orange juice in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.
- Add the whole cranberries (no need to thaw first if using frozen berries; see note below about holding some in reserve for whole cranberry sauce), cinnamon stick, orange zest, if using, and salt. Bring to a boil for 1 minute before reducing the heat to medium low and simmering for 10 minutes, or until the cranberries have burst.
- Remove the pan from heat, take out the cinnamon stick, and stir in the vanilla extract. Let the sauce cool to room temperature before transferring to a container to chill in the fridge until ready to serve. Garnish with orange zest, if desired.
- Make-ahead instructions: This recipe can be made 7-10 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve cold or at room temperature.
- Freezing instructions: You can freeze cranberry sauce for 2-3 months. Be sure to let it thaw on the counter for a few hours or overnight in the fridge before serving.
- Substitutions: Do not use dried cranberries to make this recipe. You won't get the same results.
- Jellied cranberry sauce: You can cook the berries an additional 10 minutes and mash them well, then press through a fine mesh sieve for more of a jellied version. Pour the gel into a bowl, jar, or mini loaf pan lined with plastic wrap sprayed with cooking spray and chill for 3 hours to mold into a sliceable shape.
- Whole cranberry sauce: You can reserve ¼ of the cranberries to add at the end if you would like more of a whole berry approach for texture and bursts of tartness.