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Cranberry Orange Sauce

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Skip the canned cranberry sauce and try my fresh & effortless cranberry orange sauce made with only 4 ingredients in 20 minutes - perfect for Thanksgiving!

  • Author: Yumna Jawad
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Cranberry Orange Sauce

Thanksgiving for my family is about recipes from scratch. It’s the essence of this food holiday for us! So when it comes to cranberry sauce, we prefer to skip the canned kind and opt for the homemade kind. My mom started out making the traditional cranberry sauce you’d find on the back of an ocean spray cranberries bag when we moved here in the early 90s. One year she made it with orange juice and we were instantly hooked.

This Cranberry Orange Sauce is very traditional but with a zing from the orange juice and the orange zest. The sweet citrus compliments the tartness of cranberries. I love adding the orange juice and orange zest to it because it really brightens up the flavor. It pairs so well with turkey and mashed potatoes. Mmm…I’m getting so excited for Thanksgiving dinner!

Final cranberry orange sauce in a bowl with orange zest and fresh thyme

How do you make Cranberry Orange Sauce?

Besides defrosting corn in the microwave, this might be the easiest Thanksgiving side dish recipe ever. It’s literally 3 ingredients + water and 20 minutes of your time, most of which is pretty inactive. It’s literally the ultimate make-ahead side dish for the holidays!

The star ingredient here is the cranberries, obvi. I love starting with fresh cranberries for Thanksgiving because they are fresh and seasonal this time of year. There’s an abundance of cranberries all over the grocery stores. By the time Christmas rolls around though, I usually have a couple frozen bags of cranberries in my freezer so I’ll use them in the sauce that time of the year. 

Small saucepan with fresh cranberries without and with cane sugar

Next, I zest an orange right over the cranberries into the small saucepan. You can use a cheese grater, vegetable peeler or a microplane, which is what I used below. Just be sure not to get any of the white pith when you’re zesting. That’s the bitter part we don’t want in our sauce. We only want the orange peel. After zesting the full orange, cut it in half and juice it in a measuring cup. You’ll get about half a cup of orange juice.

Whatever orange juice amount you get, add that to the saucepan, and add enough water to equal 1 cup of total liquids. So if you got half a cup of orange juice, you’ll want to add another half cup of water. I promise that’s the end of the math for this recipe haha! Oh, and I also add the granulated sugar here….our 3rd, errr 4th ingredient.

Some people prefer to start with half the cranberries and then add the other half later on so that the cranberry orange sauce has whole berries. To make it easier, I just throw everything in a saucepan together. In the end, there are still some whole cranberries in the sauce, albeit slightly smushy cranberries. But that’s how my family prefers it.

Collage of two images showing a saucepan with cranberries, sugar and orange zest on one side, and the added water and orange juice on the other side

Once you start cooking the cranberries, the mixture will start to bubble. And you can see the cranberries start to burst. The fun part is actually hearing the burst process. It’s a fully sensory experience in the kitchen, I tell ya! You’ll want to continue cooking the cranberry orange sauce until most of the cranberries burst, most of the liquid is absorbed and the sauce thickens, almost like jam!

Once it thickens, transfer it to a heat-resistant glass bowl and let is set on the counter until it cools down. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.

It’s then ready to be served or ready to be stored  in the fridge until your feast. You can serve it cold, warm or at room temperature. I like serving it at room temperature, along with the other hot foods on my traditional Thanksgiving plate.

Collage of two images showing the cranberry orange sauce mid-way cooking and when it's done cooking

Can you make ahead and freeze Cranberry Orange Sauce?

There are two parts to this question. First, yes, for sure you can make this cranberry sauce ahead of time. I would recommend making it up to 3 days in advance. But honestly, you can even make it up to 1 week in advance. When it sits for 3-7 days, the flavors really settle in and it truly tastes even better compared to the first day. Just try to resist the temptation to add it on toast and over oatmeal if you’re saving it for Thanksgiving!

The second part of the question is also a yes, but with an asterisk. You can definitely freeze this cranberry orange sauce, but I’ve actually never done it. I’ve read that you can freeze it for up to one month. But it’s not recommended because it can result is a watery texture when you thaw it. It seems from some bad experiences from others that freezing it is not the best option. However, you can totally freeze the fresh whole cranberries for up to one year and then use those to make a fresh batch of cranberry orange sauce.

If you end up with leftover cranberry sauce, feel free to freeze it to use in recipes later on. You can also add it to this baked brie bread bowl (link coming soon), add it on top of toast (it’s pretty much like jam, right?!) or mix it in overnight oats or oatmeal.

How can I change up this Cranberry Orange Sauce Recipe?

There are loads of ways to personalize this cranberry sauce recipe. Here are a few popular suggestions that work really well with a seasonal fall menu, and especially for Thanksgiving:

  • Add warm spices: Cinnamon complements cranberry sauce so well. My mom usually adds a whole stick or two of cinnamon into the sauce while it’s cooking and then removes it before serving. If you don’t have fresh cinnamon sticks, you can add substitute about 1/8-1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon. Freel free to play around with other similar warm spices like cloves, nutmeg, cardamom and ginger (fresh grated or crystallized ginger). They’ll give this sauce an extra depth of flavor.
  • Change up the sweetener: If you’re not a fan of granulated sugar, you can make this with honey or agave syrup. You can get away with as little as 1/4 cup of hone or agave syrup and still get the same level of sweetness as you would with regular sugar.
  • Sweeten with fruit: You can reduce the sugar to 1/4 cup and instead add pureed or diced fruit to the cranberry sauce. Some fruits that work well include apples, pears, persimmons and pineapple.
  • Make it spicy: I never knew this was a thing until I met my insta-friend MyHungryBites. Her family makes cranberry sauce with jalapenos! I think she even adds some cilantro to the mix so it almost because like a cranberry salsa! I need to try it soon!
  • Go nuts: If you’d like a little crunch in your cranberry sauce, you should try adding walnuts or pecans. If you can find them candied, that sweet nutty crunch would be so satisfying in this recipe!
Close-up shot of the cranberry orange sauce with a spoon in the bowl for scooping

If you make this healthy-ish feelgood Cranberry Orange Sauce recipe, please be sure to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating! I would love to hear about your experience making it. And if you snapped some shots of it, share it with me on Instagram so I can repost on my stories!

By the way, for a completely new take on cranberry sauce I tried last year, check out this baked cranberry sauce/relish. Yup, it’s basically cooked in the oven – hands-free and fuss-free!

More Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipes:

5 from 2 votes
Final cranberry orange sauce in a bowl with orange zest and fresh thyme
Cranberry Orange Sauce
Prep Time
2 mins
Cook Time
20 mins
Total Time
22 mins

Skip the canned cranberry sauce and try my fresh & effortless cranberry orange sauce made with only 4 ingredients in 20 minutes - perfect for Thanksgiving!

Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Cranberry Sauce, easy recipe, Holidays, Side Dishes, thanksgiving
Servings: 8 servings
Calories: 67 kcal
  • 12 oz fresh cranberries
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Zest and juice one orange
  • ½ cup water
  1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine.
  2. Bring to a boil. When you see the berries start to burst, reduce to a simmer. Simmer until most berries are popped and soft and sauce begins to thicken, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a storage container and allow to cool. Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Storage: Store any leftovers in an airtight container. They will last about 7 days in the fridge or up to one month in the freezer. To thaw from the freezer, just simmer on the stovetop for a few minutes to reduce any extra water from freezing.

Make Ahead: You can make the cranberry sauce up to 7 days ahead of time, although I recommend 3 days in advance for best freshness and flavor. When ready to serve, you can serve it hot, cold or at room temperature. 

Substitutes: For best results, follow the recipe as is. However you can substitute the cane sugar for regular granulated sugar or an alternative sweetener like honey or agave syrup if you wish. See my tips in the body of the post for some common variations of the recipe.

Nutrition Facts
Cranberry Orange Sauce
Amount Per Serving
Calories 67
% Daily Value*
Sodium 1mg 0%
Potassium 36mg 1%
Total Carbohydrates 17g 6%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Sugars 14g
Vitamin A 0.5%
Vitamin C 6.9%
Calcium 0.3%
Iron 0.6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

1 Comment

  • Reply
    November 14, 2018 at 9:00 am

    Love everything from scratch. Good recipe to follow. Can’t wait for thanksgiving

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