This easy, classic homemade cranberry sauce recipe is ready in less than thirty minutes, easily done ahead of time, and made without refined sugar!
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Ok. QUESTION. When it comes to Thanksgiving sides – CRANBERRY SAUCE: ultra-essential, or a bit overrated?
I’ll confess I used to fall into the “overrated”camp. I don’t remember ever really caring about cranberry sauce before we started hosting Thanksgiving.
But DESPITE my cranberry apathy, I started making this homemade sauce every Thanksgiving, mostly because “it’s TRADITIONAL” and “some people LIKE it” and blah blah blah.
But you know what? It turns out I LOVE IT. Who knew?!
Cranberry sauce gives the perfect pop of brightness to otherwise heavy meals (looking at you, turkey + potatoes + gravy + rolls) and – GOOD NEWS – it’s almost absurdly easy to make.
All you need are fresh cranberries, an orange slice (use more or less orange if you like!) and a few pantry staples. Plus, my version is processed-sugar-free!
We’re just working with a bit of maple syrup and honey for some natural sweetness without refined sugar.
This cranberry sauce is good hot or cold – serve it immediately or make it in advance and take it straight from the fridge to your table! It has a hint of sweetness from the honey and maple syrup, but you still get a nice pop of tartness from the fresh cranberries.
This recipe is also EXCEPTIONALLY forgiving, which means 1) it’s really, really hard to mess it up and 2) you can tweak and adjust things! Add more or less of anything and feel free to play with it until you find YOUR perfect combination.
I make my fresh cranberry sauce with orange, natural sweeteners, and a bit of cinnamon, but this recipe is also great when you add a bit of ginger, a splash of whisk(e)y, a fresh rosemary sprig, or even a dash of vanilla extract.
In a pinch, you can even just use fresh cranberries and a bit of sweetness (from honey, maple syrup, or plain ol’ sugar). The most important flavor in cranberry sauce is, after all, the cranberries.
This sauce can also be easily frozen – just keep it in an airtight container in the freezer for a few months until you’re ready to use it! It will last up to a year in the freezer in a good, airtight container, but it will taste the freshest within 3 months or so.
I tend to make this cranberry sauce for turkey every Thanksgiving, but it’s also great with pork, chicken, or salmon! I love it as a part of a large, festive holiday dinner or slathered across a piece of toast with some butter and salt.
How to make homemade cranberry sauce (video!)
An easy homemade cranberry sauce with no refined sugar – perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas!
- 12 oz. fresh cranberries (reserve a few for garnish if you like)
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup water
- pinch of salt
- 1 orange slice (see recipe notes)
- 1/2 cinnamon stick
- Fresh orange zest (optional), for garnish
- Stir cranberries, maple syrup, honey, water, and salt together in a small saucepan.
- Squeeze the juice from your orange slice into the pot, then tuck the orange rind and cinnamon stick into the cranberries. Turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes until cranberries have burst and sauce has thickened.
- Top sauce with extra orange zest and reserved fresh cranberries (optional). Serve immediately or let cool and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.
Use as large or as small of an orange slice as you like. I like to slice off a 1/2-inch-thick piece from the side of an orange (see photos in the post above) so I get a Tablespoon or two of orange juice plus the flavor from the rind. I like just enough orange-y flavor to bring out the tartness in the berries, but add as much or as little as you like! If you don’t have a fresh orange, you can add a few tablespoons of store-bought orange juice or substitute a splash of lemon juice or apple cider vinegar.
This recipe makes a chunky cranberry sauce. If you like a smoother sauce, give it a few zaps with an immersion blender or pulse it a few times in a blender to smooth it out.
To make this vegan, omit the honey and use all maple syrup instead.
I like the depth of flavor I get from a mix of both honey and maple syrup here, but you can certainly use all one or the other! You can also substitute 1/3 cup of white or brown sugar for the natural sweeteners if you like.
- A pinch of ground ginger, grated ginger root, or a knob of fresh ginger
- A splash of whisk(e)y
- Extra orange juice or orange zest
- Sprig of rosemary
- Dash of vanilla
To make this recipe ahead of time, follow the recipe as written and let cranberry sauce cool completely. Store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week or store in the freezer until you’re ready to use it. Let frozen cranberry sauce defrost for a day or two in the fridge, or place frozen cranberry sauce in a slow cooker or saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat until warm. Serve cranberry sauce at any temperature you like: hot, cold and straight from the fridge, or at room temperature.
How much cranberry sauce should I make per person? It depends on your guests, but planning for 1/8 to 1/4 cup per person is usually plenty for everyone to take a small scoop and have some leftover (some people won’t eat it at all, some people will eat more). If you want plenty of leftovers or if you know your guests love a ton of cranberry sauce, you can make 1/3 cup per person. This recipe makes about 2 cups – usually enough for our group of 8 plus some leftovers. If you’re cooking for 10-20 people, double or even triple this recipe. Cranberry sauce is one thing I never mind having lots of leftovers of – it freezes well it’s easy to repurpose into cranberry mayonnaise or a marinade, and it’s amazing on crostini and sandwiches (like this brie + cranberry sauce grilled cheese!)
To make this recipe in the slow cooker or Crock Pot, combine all ingredients in your slow cooker and cover. Cook over low heat for 6-8 hours until berries have burst and sauce has thickened. If the sauce is too runny, remove the slow cooker lid and cook for another hour or so to thicken it up. (Honestly, I prefer making this on the stovetop – it actually feels like a little less work to me than using a slow cooker. The exception is if I’m out of stovetop space and haven’t had time to make it in advance!)
What should I do with leftover cranberry sauce? I love making this cranberry mayonnaise (it makes the BEST turkey sandwiches!) You can also check out this video for some ideas of what to do with cranberry sauce leftovers.
Can I freeze cranberry sauce? Yes! Cranberry sauce freezes excellently. You can store it in an airtight container (I like using my Stasher Bags or small mason jars) in the freezer for up to a year, although I recommend eating it within 3 months or so for maximum freshness.