When it comes to this sweet cranberry holiday classic, skip the canned stuff and make this deliciously fresh and easy Homemade Cranberry Sauce recipe. Loaded with fresh cranberries, mixed with cinnamon, orange, and a hint of vanilla, it is the perfect combination of sweet, citrus, and spice for a warming holiday treat.

This is the best cranberry sauce recipe, and it only takes about 10 minutes to make! It's the perfect accompaniment for your Thanksgiving or festive holiday dinner, and it's so much better than any store-bought variety.

A hand holding a spoon in a bowl of homemade whole cranberry sauce.
Table of Contents
  1. Why We Love This Recipe
  2. What You'll Need
  3. How to Make Fresh Cranberry Sauce
  4. Recipe FAQ's
  5. Tips for Success
  6. Substitutions and Variations
  7. Ways to Use Leftover Cranberry Sauce
  8. More Thanksgiving Recipes
  9. Fresh Cranberry Sauce Recipe

When I was a kid, my favorite job in the kitchen when helping out with Thanksgiving dinner was to be the one to open up the cranberry jelly can, unmold it, and slice it into perfectly even discs, guided by the ridges from the can. It was always so fun and satisfying!

Since starting to make dishes for my own holiday table, I have discovered a lot! A can of cranberry sauce may seem convenient, but it is full of preservatives and is nothing in comparison to fresh cranberry sauce. This easy recipe will make your fresh berries pop with fall flavors and be the perfect complement to your holiday season meals!

We love it when these berries are in season in North America, and try to stock up on bags of cranberries we can throw in the freezer to enjoy them all year round! Other than this delicious homemade cranberry sauce, there are lots of ways we love to use fresh and frozen cranberries, like this Cranberry SalsaCranberry Orange Bread, and this Cranberry Fluff Salad.

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 by 2-3 tablespoons.
  • Using real cranberries makes the sauce have a fresh and fruity flavor. Orange juice and the cinnamon stick give this homemade cranberry sauce a rich depth of flavor that is more interesting and complex than the Ocean Spray canned kind.
  • You only need a few ingredients and just 10 minutes to make this sauce. I recommend making a double batch so you have plenty of extra to use in a cranberry jello salad!

What You'll Need

Scroll down to the recipe card below this post for ingredient quantities and full instructions.

  • Granulated Sugar - This thickens the fruit into a sauce and makes it deliciously sweet.
  • Orange Juice - Fresh orange juice is always best but use what you have.
  • Bag of Cranberries (fresh or frozen) - One of those 12-ounce bags will do.
  • Cinnamon Stick - Gives the sauce a rich spiced flavor.
  • Vanilla Extract - Adds a warm sweetness to the sauce.
  • Salt - To slightly intensify the flavors.
  • Orange Zest - Use mixed into the sauce and also to garnish.

How to Make Fresh Cranberry Sauce

Boil ingredients. Combine the sugar, water, and orange juice In a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. Once it 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.

Top view of a pan filled with fresh cranberries in water, orange juice and sugar.

Burst berries and cool. Bring everything to a simmer, then let the cranberries cook uncovered for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. When most of them have burst, stir in the vanilla and cool completely to room temperature. Store in an airtight container, or covered in plastic wrap in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Top view of cranberries in a saucepan that have cooked down and burst into a jellied sauce.

Garnish and serve. Garnish with orange zest, for an extra special finish, and serve.

A white bowl filled with cranberry sauce with orange zest in it, next to a bowl of cranberries, a spoon and an orange on a festive table.

Recipe FAQ's

Can you freeze cranberry sauce?

Yes! You can freeze this homemade cranberry sauce by packing it into airtight containers or freezer-safe plastic bags for 2-3 months. Just thaw in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for a few hours before you need it. If it seems watery, just put it in a pan on the stove and simmer for about 5 minutes for it to thicken up again.

Can I use dried cranberries to make cranberry sauce?

Personally, I don't recommend it, at least not with this recipe. They won't fully hydrate and you just won't get the same results as if you had used fresh or frozen cranberries.

How far can cranberry sauce be made ahead?

This recipe can be made 7-10 days ahead of time and stored in an airtight container in the fridge until ready to serve. Serve it cold or at room temperature.

How do you make molded, jellied cranberry sauce?

If you love the consistency of the classic smooth, jellied, and canned cranberry sauce, you can achieve this by cooking the cranberries for an extra 10 minutes (about 20 minutes total). Next, use a potato masher to mash the cranberries until you have a thick, smooth sauce, and press it through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the solids. Then, 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.

Tips for Success

  • If you like whole berries in your cranberry sauce, just reserve some cranberries and add them in during the last minute of cooking time. I love the extra burst of tartness in those whole-cranberry bites!
  • You can use fresh or frozen cranberries for this recipe, and you don't need to thaw frozen ones before making using them!
  • 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.

If your sauce is appearing too watery, let it boil for a bit longer. It will thicken as it cools. After cooling and refrigerating it, or after thawing it from the freezer, you can reboil it and cool it again to thicken it. Alternatively, a quick fix would be to use a small mixture of cornstarch and water or juice to thicken it!

Substitutions and Variations

  • Use more cinnamon sticks if you want a more intense cinnamon flavor.
  • You can use ½ teaspoon of ground cinnamon if you don't have cinnamon sticks.
  • Adding orange zest to the sauce is optional if you want a more citrusy sauce. You can also garnish the sauce with orange zest. Use lemon zest in a pinch.
  • Substitute white sugar for brown sugar or pure maple syrup.

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!)
  • Leftover Turkey Sandwiches made with cranberry mayo (just mix equal parts cranberry sauce and mayo for an easy aioli!)
  • Simple Cranberry Sauce Muffins (love this idea for a post-Thanksgiving breakfast!)
  • Cranberry Baked Brie (makes an awesome Thanksgiving appetizer!)
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

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Let me know what you thought with a comment and rating below. You can also take a picture and tag me on Instagram @houseofnasheats or share it on the Pinterest pin so I can see.

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Fresh Cranberry Sauce

5 from 15 votes
Amy Nash
Prep Time 2 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Total Time 12 mins
Course Side Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings
Skip the canned stuff and make this deliciously fresh and easy Homemade Cranberry Sauce recipe. Loaded with fresh cranberries, mixed with cinnamon, orange, and a hint of vanilla, it is the perfect combination of sweet, citrus, and spice for a warming holiday treat.

Ingredients
  

  • 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

Instructions
 

  • 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.

Notes

  • Make-ahead instructions: This recipe can be made 7-10 days ahead of time 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.

Nutrition

Calories: 125kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 1g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 1g | Sodium: 2mg | Potassium: 70mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 28g | Vitamin A: 58IU | Vitamin C: 13mg | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg
Tried this recipe? Show me on Instagram!Mention @HouseOfNashEats or tag #houseofnasheats!

This post was originally published in October, 2018. The photos and content were updated in November, 2021.

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About the author

Hi, I'm Amy

I enjoy exploring the world through food, culture, and travel and sharing the adventure with mostly from-scratch, family friendly recipes that I think of as modern comfort cooking.

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Reader questions and reviews

  1. 5 stars
    Oh yum this looks like a delicious cranberry sauce! I love the addition of the orange juice and cinnamon sticks!

  2. My mom e-mailed me this morning to ask if I had a homemade cranberry sauce to recommend and then BAM! this arrives in my feed. Perfect! Easy and sounds sooo delicious.

  3. Hi! This sounds lovely! Do you know how long this recipe will last unopened and opened if it is jarred? Thankyou!

  4. Hi! Thanks for sharing this great cranberry sauce recipe, can I send this sauce via courier without getting spoiled?

  5. Thanks For Sharing this amazing recipe. My family loved it. I will be sharing this recipe with my friends. Hope the will like it.

  6. 5 stars
    I wanted to try making Cranberry sauce for the first time on Thanksgiving. This recipe was absolutely amazing! So simple. It turned out amazing and my family loved it! I'll definitely be making this for any holiday from now on!

  7. 5 stars
    This cranberry sauce was a huge hit at our Thanksgiving dinner!
    My Mom is the one who takes care of the cranberry sauce every year and it’s usually canned. I wanted to make homemade cranberry sauce this year and it was so worth it! The orange zest and added vanilla really elevated the flavors. There’s not much left over but we will definitely are using it up on some sourdough toast in the mornings. 😋
    I made this cranberry sauce for the November Fall Flavors Challenge.
    Thank you!

  8. 5 stars
    Have now made this along with your cranberry jello recipe within five days time two batches! Two jellos! Lol. It’s fantastic! Thank you!

  9. 5 stars
    Love that you can freeze this sauce as homemade cranberry sauce tastes so much better than a store-bought one. Adding the orange took it to another level!