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This 3-ingredient cranberry orange sauce is an easy, make ahead side dish for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner! The perfect balance of sweet and tart, with a touch of fresh citrus flavor, this homemade cranberry sauce is ready in just 20 minutes. Serve it alongside your holiday turkey, glazed ham, or chicken and stuffing casserole.

Overhead image of cranberry sauce with oj in a white bowl

A holiday feast just wouldn’t be complete without all of the classic sides, and this is truly the best cranberry sauce recipe that you will ever taste! Best of all, you can stir it together on the stovetop in less than 30 minutes, and then let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days before your feast. It’s convenient, easy, and the perfect sweet companion for your favorite savory dishes.

Pouring orange juice into a pot

Why You’ll Love This Homemade Cranberry Sauce

  • I’ve taken the popular Ocean Spray cranberry sauce recipe, and I’ve made it even better. My mom always served cranberry orange sauce for Thanksgiving dinner, so that’s what I do, too!
  • The addition of sweet, citrusy orange juice balances the tartness of the cranberries.
  • This homemade cranberry sauce is sweet, but not too sweet, thanks to less added sugar.
  • The make-ahead recipe can be prepared at least 3 days in advance for a less-stressful holiday meal.

Adding fresh cranberries to a pot

Ingredients

This is just a quick overview of the simple ingredients that you’ll need for a batch of fresh cranberry sauce. As always, specific measurements and complete cooking instructions are included in the printable recipe box at the bottom of the post.

  • Orange juice: freshly-squeezed or store-bought oj — either will work!
  • Sugar: just enough for a sweet homemade cranberry sauce, without making it too sweet. You can adjust the sugar to suit your taste, too!
  • Salt: I don’t necessarily count this kitchen staple in my list of “3 ingredients,” but a pinch of salt helps to balance the sweetness of the sauce and add complexity to the dish. It doesn’t make your cranberry sauce taste salty.
  • Fresh cranberries: use a bag of fresh cranberries, or substitute with a bag of whole frozen cranberries.

Ladling the best cranberry sauce recipe from a white bowl

How to Make Cranberry Orange Sauce

This easy cranberry sauce comes together quickly, so have all of your ingredients prepped and ready to go!

  1. Bring orange juice, sugar and salt to a boil.
  2. Add the cranberries; return to a boil.
  3. Simmer, uncovered, until the berries burst and the sauce starts to thicken, about 7-8 minutes.
  4. Cool to room temperature and serve, or refrigerate until ready to enjoy.

Close overhead shot of a spoon in a bowl of homemade cranberry sauce

Is cranberry sauce served warm or cold?

That’s totally up to you! Cranberry sauce can be served cold, at room temperature, or slightly warm. It’s just a matter of personal preference, but I think it’s best at room temperature.

Pull it out of the refrigerator at least 1 hour before you plan to enjoy it!

What to Serve with Fresh Cranberry Sauce

This easy cranberry sauce is a staple on our holiday tables, but it’s also a quick side dish that you can enjoy year-round with a variety of meals. Here are some good dinner options to try:

Side shot of a bowl of cranberry orange sauce with a serving spoon in a white bowl

Storage

Fresh cranberry sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Make it ahead to avoid any last-minute stress at a holiday meal!

Can cranberry sauce be frozen?

I do not recommend freezing the homemade cranberry orange sauce, since freezing and thawing can yield a watery texture.

You can, however, freeze whole raw cranberries in the bag for up to 1 year. I often do this since cranberries are seasonal and can be hard to find in the grocery store year-round. That way I always have a stash of fresh berries on hand whenever a craving strikes for this homemade cranberry sauce. The canned stuff just can’t compete!

Recipe Variations

  • For a bigger batch, double all of the ingredients.
  • Use frozen whole cranberries instead of fresh cranberries.
  • Garnish with orange zest from fresh oranges so that your guests know exactly what’s in the sauce. When zesting the orange, make sure that you only scrape off the very outer layer of the peel (where all of the flavorful essential oils are found), but don’t get any of the white pith, which has a bitter taste.
  • For a sweeter whole cranberry sauce, increase the sugar to ¾ cup. Similarly, you can decrease the sugar to ¼ cup for a very tart taste.
  • Use brown sugar instead of granulated sugar for a slightly different flavor with a bit of molasses in the background.
  • Add warm spices to the sauce. Good options include cinnamon, ginger and cloves.

Square image of easy cranberry sauce on a table with oranges

Tips for the Best Cranberry Sauce Recipe

  • Cook the cranberries just until they burst and start to thicken. You know the sauce is done when the pectin in the cranberries thickens the sauce to an almost jam-like consistency. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools, so you don’t want to cook it for too long or you’ll end up with very thick sauce.
  • Whole cranberry sauce has the best texture, so stop cooking once almost all of the cranberries have burst. Leaving some berries whole gives it that great homemade, rustic taste and texture.
  • Stir regularly as the sauce simmers. This will help the berries cook evenly, and will prevent any scorching or burning on the bottom of the pot.
  • Give the sauce time to cool to room temperature before serving, or before packing and storing in the refrigerator.

Side shot of a bowl of cranberry orange sauce on a table

More Cranberry Recipes to Try this Season

Overhead image of cranberry sauce with oj in a white bowl

Cranberry Orange Sauce

5 from 3 votes
Prep: 5 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Cooling Time 20 minutes
Total: 40 minutes
Servings 9 people (Yield = 2 ¼ cups total)
Calories 72 kcal
This 3-ingredient Cranberry Orange Sauce is an easy, make ahead side dish for your Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner!

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup orange juice (fresh-squeezed or bottled is fine)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 (12 ounce) bag fresh cranberries
  • Optional garnish: zest from 1 large orange

Instructions

  • In a medium saucepan, bring juice, sugar and salt to a boil. Whisk frequently to help the sugar dissolve.
  • Add cranberries; return to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until berries burst and sauce thickens (about 7-8 minutes), stirring frequently.
  • Cool to room temperature and serve, or refrigerate until ready to use.

Notes

  • For a bigger batch, double all of the ingredients.
  • Use frozen whole cranberries instead of fresh cranberries.
  • Garnish with orange zest from fresh oranges so that your guests know exactly what's in the sauce. When zesting the orange, make sure that you only scrape off the very outer layer of the peel (where all of the flavorful essential oils are found), but don't get any of the white pith, which has a bitter taste.
  • For a sweeter whole cranberry sauce, increase the sugar to ¾ cup. Similarly, you can decrease the sugar to ¼ cup for a very tart taste.
  • Use brown sugar instead of granulated sugar for a slightly different flavor with a bit of molasses in the background.
  • Add warm spices to the sauce. Good options include cinnamon, ginger and cloves.
  • Cook the cranberries just until they burst and start to thicken. You know the sauce is done when the pectin in the cranberries thickens the sauce to an almost jam-like consistency. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools, so you don't want to cook it for too long or you'll end up with very thick sauce.
  • Whole cranberry sauce has the best texture, so stop cooking once almost all of the cranberries have burst. Leaving some berries whole gives it that great homemade, rustic taste and texture.
  • Stir regularly as the sauce simmers. This will help the berries cook evenly, and will prevent any scorching or burning on the bottom of the pot.
  • Give the sauce time to cool to room temperature before serving, or before packing and storing in the refrigerator.

Nutrition

Serving: 0.25cupCalories: 72kcalCarbohydrates: 18gSodium: 1mgPotassium: 87mgFiber: 1gSugar: 14gVitamin A: 80IUVitamin C: 18.8mgCalcium: 6mgIron: 0.1mg
Keyword: best cranberry sauce recipe, cranberry orange sauce, cranberry sauce with orange juice, easy, homemade cranberry sauce
Course: Side Dish
Cuisine: American
Author: Blair Lonergan

This recipe was originally published in November, 2013. The photos were updated in October, 2021.

blair

Hey, I’m Blair!

Welcome to my farmhouse kitchen in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Inspired by local traditions and seasonal fare, you’ll find plenty of easy, comforting recipes that bring your family together around the table. It’s down-home, country-style cooking!

Read More

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Comments

    1. I’m not sure, Sheryl! I’ve never seen whole canned cranberries that aren’t already made into whole cranberry sauce. I would go with fresh or frozen cranberries, which I know will cook down and thicken properly. I just don’t know if canned berries would act the same when cooked, or not.

  1. 5 stars
    Really nice sauce. I like the reduced sugar. I added the zest from my orange as well. The salt really did add a “wow” factor I would not have expected. Thank you and happy Holidays.

  2. For a different “wow” factor, try grating about half a nutmeg into this sauce this Thanksgiving. Very “outside the box”. You will love it. I promise.