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Skip the canned stuff and make this easy homemade cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries, sugar, and just a hint of cinnamon and orange. Fresh cranberry sauce is so much better than store bought and only takes about 10 minutes to make.

a hand holding a spoon in a bowl of cranberry sauce

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Confession time:  when it came to Thanksgiving food prep, my favorite job growing up was always 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. I loved that job!

But the jellied cranberry sauce out of the can doesn’t taste all that much like actual cranberries to me and I have since come to appreciate homemade cranberry sauce in all it’s simple, easy, sweet-tart glory.

I love that you can control the level of sweetness and that homemade cranberry sauce has more of the actual taste of cranberry and deeper, complex flavor thanks to the addition of orange juice and a cinnamon stick to the whole cranberries simmering on the stove.

This easy cranberry sauce recipe only takes a few ingredients and ten minutes of your time, and you can make it well in advance so it’s one less thing to prep for your Thanksgiving feast on the big day. I recommend making a double batch so you have plenty of extra for a cranberry jello salad!

How to Make Homemade Cranberry Sauce

It’s so simple to make homemade cranberry sauce that you will wonder why you ever bothered with the canned stuff. Just combine sugar, water, orange juice, cranberries (fresh or frozen – either work although I tend to use fresh cranberries if they are available), a pinch of salt and a cinnamon stick in a large saucepan and bring them to a simmer. Let the cranberries cook down for 10 minutes until most of them have burst, then stir in the vanilla and cool completely before serving.

An image of a pan full of whole fresh cranberries in water, orange juice and sugar for making easy cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving.
An image of a saucepan with homemade cranberry sauce made from fresh cranberries for Thanksgiving dinner.

Tips for Homemade Cranberry Sauce

  • 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 by making your cranberry sauce with orange zest in addition to the orange juice called for in the recipe below. I recommend the zest of 1 orange.
An image of a bowl of whole cranberry sauce with orange zest on top in a white serving bowl.

Make-Ahead Cranberry Sauce

Even though this cranberry sauce recipe only takes 10-15 minutes to make, those are precious minutes on Thanksgiving Day when so many other things are going on and you are trying to get many traditional Thanksgiving dishes ready at the same time.

So it’s a great idea to make this easy cranberry sauce in advance, up to 3 days before the actual meal. Making it early has the added bonus of allowing the flavors to really develop.

Ways to Use Leftover Cranberry Sauce

This might be slightly oxymoronic but if you have leftover cranberry sauce (and that’s a big IF), here are some ideas for how to use it. You may just want to make a double batch of this homemade cranberry sauce while you’re at it just so you have some on hand to try these!

Can you freeze cranberry sauce?

Absolutely! You can freeze cranberry sauce packed in airtight containers or freezer-safe plastic bags for 1-2 months, then defrost in the refrigerator overnight to thaw. It will be runnier than when freshly made, but if you put it in a pan on the stove and simmer for about 5 minutes, it will thicken up again.

How do you make jellied cranberry sauce?

If you prefer jellied cranberry sauce, it only takes an extra 5 minutes of time simmering on the stove for the cranberries to break down completely.

To make jellied cranberry sauce, line a loaf pan or medium-size bowl with plastic wrap and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Make the cranberry sauce recipe as written below, except cooking for an extra 15 minutes and stir, mashing the berries against the pan until the sauce is very thick. Pour into a fine-mesh sieve and press against the sides, then transfer the gel into the prepared pan or bowl and then refrigerate for 3 hours, or until completely chilled.

Unmold the cranberry sauce by inverting the pan or bowl onto a serving plate and peeling off the plastic wrap, then garnish with orange peel, fresh whole cranberries and rosemary sprigs.

An image of a bowl of whole berry cranberry sauce in a white serving bowl, garnished with whole fresh cranberries and sprigs of rosemary.

More Thanksgiving Recipes For Your Table

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a hand sticking a spoon into a bowl of homemade cranberry sauce
Yield: 8 servings

Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Skip the canned stuff and make this easy homemade cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries, sugar, and just a hint of cinnamon and orange.  Fresh cranberry sauce is so much better than store bought and only takes about 10 minutes to make.

Prep Time 2 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 12 minutes


  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Combine the sugar, water, and orange juice in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  
  2. Add the cranberries, cinnamon stick, and salt and boil for 1 minute before reducing the heat to medium low and simmering for 10 minutes, or until the cranberries have burst.  You can reserve 1/4 of the cranberries to add at the end if you would like whole berry cranberry sauce.
  3. Remove from heat, take out the cinnamon stick, and stir in the vanilla extract.  Let the cranberry sauce cool to room temperature before transferring to a container to chill in the fridge until ready to serve.  

Nutrition Information:



Serving Size:


Amount Per Serving: Calories: 124Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 18mgCarbohydrates: 32gFiber: 2gSugar: 28gProtein: 0g

All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods and portion sizes per household.