Homemade Cranberry Sauce

$3.17 recipe / $0.53 serving
by Beth - Budget Bytes
4.73 from 11 votes
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I guess I take pleasure in the little things because I get the most excited about this Homemade Cranberry Sauce recipe out of all the Thanksgiving food every year! The amount of flavor that comes out of just three simple ingredients is unreal. And because homemade cranberry sauce is this easy to make, I’ve started making it as a side dish for my dinners all winter long. It’s great with so many different meals!

Overhead view of a pot full of homemade cranberry sauce being stirred.

Need more easy Thanksgiving recipes? Check out our Easy Thanksgiving Dinner for Beginners guide!

Ingredients for Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is so incredibly easy to make that you’ll only need these simple ingredients:

  • Cranberries: You can use fresh or frozen cranberries to make this sauce. Make sure to look for plump and firm cranberries and pass on any that look dull, mushy, or wrinkled.
  • Sugar: Cranberries are incredibly tart on their own, so we’ll need a good dose of sugar to balance their tart flavor.
  • Water: A little water helps the cranberries boil and creates a saucy texture with the sugar.
  • Orange: This ingredient is optional, but I find that the addition of a little orange juice and a pinch of orange zest really adds a nice little dose of freshness on top of the bright cranberry flavor.

Sugar Substitutions

If you don’t want to use white sugar in your cranberry sauce, you can substitute the sugar with honey or maple syrup, keeping in mind that they will produce slightly different flavors and textures in the final sauce. And while I have seen recipes that use sugar-free sweeteners, like stevia or erythritol, I have not tried making cranberry sauce with these ingredients myself.

What Else Can I Add?

This simple cranberry sauce recipe can be modified in various ways to add other flavors. Here are some other ingredients you can add to cranberry sauce to make it your own:

  • Jalapeños
  • Red wine
  • Apples
  • Figs
  • Raspberries
  • Cinnamon or Nutmeg
  • Vanilla extract
  • Cloves
  • Ginger
  • Balsamic vinegar

How to Store Leftovers

This cranberry sauce holds up beautifully in the refrigerator, so feel free to make it a day or two ahead of your Thanksgiving meal. It will stay good in the refrigerator for about 4-5 days, or you can freeze it for up to three months.

How to Use Cranberry Sauce

We all know and love cranberry sauce with Thanksgiving turkey, but it’s also awesome served in other ways! Try adding it to chicken, stirring it into your oatmeal, adding it on top of buttered toast or an English muffin, on top of a bagel with cream cheese, or even on some vanilla ice cream! And you can use it to make my favorite Cranberry Cream Cheese Dip for New Year’s Eve. ;)

Overhead view of cranberry sauce in a bowl with orange zest and a spoon.
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Homemade Cranberry Sauce

4.73 from 11 votes
This easy three ingredient homemade cranberry sauce is fast, flavorful, and the perfect addition to your Thanksgiving meal!
Thickened cranberry sauce in the pot being stirred.
Servings 6 (1/2 cup each)
Prep 5 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
Total 20 minutes


  • 12 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries ($2.00)
  • 1/2 cup sugar ($0.18)
  • 1 cup water ($0.00)
  • 1 small orange ($0.99)


  • Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepot. Stir to combine. Bring the water to a boil over medium heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
  • Rinse the cranberries, then add them to the boiling sugar water, and place a lid on top. Allow the water to come back up to a boil, at which point the cranberries will begin to pop.
  • Once all the cranberries have popped, remove the lid, give it a stir, and turn the heat down to medium-low. Let the pot continue to simmer over medium-low heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cranberries have completely broken down and the mixture has thickened. You can simmer longer if you prefer an extra thick cranberry sauce.
  • While the cranberries simmer, zest and juice the orange
  • Once the cranberry sauce has thickened, remove it from the heat and stir in2 Tbsp orange juice and 1/4 tsp zest to the sauce. Allow the sauce to cool slightly, then serve.

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Serving: 0.5cupCalories: 93kcalCarbohydrates: 24gProtein: 0.3gFat: 0.1gSodium: 3mgFiber: 2g
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Try serving this homemade cranberry sauce over a wheel of baked brie for an extra special holiday treat!

How to Make Homemade Cranberry Sauce – Step by Step Photos

Water being poured into a pot with sugar.

Start by adding 1/2 cup sugar and 1 cup water to a medium sauce pot. Stir to combine, then place the pot over medium heat and allow it to come to a boil.

Fresh cranberries added to the pot with the water and sugar.

While waiting for the water and sugar to boil, rinse one 12oz. package of fresh cranberries. You can actually use either fresh or frozen cranberries for this recipe. If using frozen, just allow them to thaw first. Add the rinsed cranberries to the boiling sugar water. Place a lid on top and allow it to return to a boil. 

Half boiled cranberries in the pot.

When the pot returns to a boil the cranberries will begin to pop (that’s why you need a lid). Once all of the cranberries have popped, remove the lid, give it a good stir, and reduce the heat to medium-low.

Thickened cranberry sauce being stirred.

Continue to let the cranberries simmer over medium-low, without a lid, until they have broken down and thickened (about 5-7 minutes). Stir the mixture occasionally as it simmers.

Juiced and zested orange.

While the cranberries are simmering, zest and juice one small orange. You’ll only need about ¼ tsp zest and 2 Tbsp juice unless you really like citrus and then you can measure with your heart!

Zest and juice added to the pot.

Stir the juice and zest into the cooked cranberry sauce.

Finished cranberry sauce in the pot.

Stir everything together then let it cool slightly (it will thicken as it cools). Then it’s ready to serve! You can make this a day or two ahead of time if needed.

Thickened cranberry sauce in the pot being stirred.

Fresh cranberry sauce is so delicious and you can put it on just about anything. Of course, it is good on all of the usual Thanksgiving items but don’t forget it on your turkey sandwich the next day! Because it is so jam-like it’s also amazing on a piece of toast with butter in the morning. Try it over ice cream too! What do you put your cranberry sauce on?

A bowl of thick cranberry sauce ready for serving on your holiday table
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  1. My whole family loves this cranberry sauce! We don’t just use it for holidays, we put them in sandwiches, in our yogurt, etc. !!

  2. Used this recipe to make my first cranberry sauce this holiday. Left out the orange zest & juice (I don’t have a zester or a juicer!) and added slightly more sugar to account for how sweet my mom usually makes her sauce. It was so easy overall and turned out great!

  3. Awesome recipe!
    I’ve made this at least five times now and have adjusted the sugar as needed. The sauce is versatile and can be used for anything from a thanksgiving side to sandwich or waffle spread. Good stuff!

  4. Funny Story! We are in charge of making cranberry sauce this year so I printed out this recipe a few days ago. Today we were making it and we just couldn’t believe how much orange was being added in, half a cup of juice and were doubling it so it was a full cup! We tasted it and it tastes SUPER citrusy, but the sauce is made and we’re just gonna serve it, I mean I think it still tastes good, just not the traditional cranberry sauce one thinks of. I jump on here to check out an entirely different recipe and the latest recipe at the top of the page is “Homemade Cranberry Sauce” so out of curiousity we look to see what changed and YUP IT’S THE AMOUNT OF JUICE! Anyways, I just thought it was so funny because the discussion of the day has been how orangey the sauce tasted and if we had only waited till today to print out the recipe we would have never known that the original had too much juice! I feel like I’m somewhat being punished for actually planning out things ahead of time LOL!

    1. Sorry about that! I definitely prefer the larger quantity of juice and zest, but after this recipe has been up for so many years and several people saying that it was too citrusy for them, I retested, adjusted the amounts, and republished. 😅

  5. Homemade cranberry sauce is the very best! If you make it just once, you’ll NEVER use that canned stuff again! This is basically the same recipe as mine, but I add a cinnamon stick to simmer with the berries and remove it when the cooking process is done.

  6. Looking forward to making this this year! How freezer-friendly is it? I’d love to make it ahead of time.

    1. Homemade cranberry sauce freezes beautifully. Use the frozen cranberry sauce within a couple of months, and defrost in the refrigerator overnight. XOXO -Monti

  7. Nutrition question- specifically sugar and added sugar per serving. For the diet I’m trying, I need to account for sugar and I didn’t see sugars in the nutrition section of the recipe 

  8. I doubled this and it worked great, but it’s way way too orangey unfortunately (measured out 1 cup juice for a doubled recipe). Going to try again with less.

  9. This was so tart as written! I had to double the sugar and the zest was a little overpowering. I think I’ll just use the juice next time. Otherwise, I love the recipes on here!

  10. This is so delicious yet simple.  Could I use the leftovers to put over cream cheese like in your other recipe? 

  11. Hi! May cranberries be replaced with other red berry? Or a blend of other red berries

    1. I’m not sure, actually, I think I’d need to try it out to see. I think the main things you’d need to consider are that berries vary quite a bit in sweetness, and so you may find that you need to adjust the amount of sugar to compensate (cranberries are VERY tart, so they need a lot of sugar to balance). Berries also vary in the amount of pectin, which helps the sauce gel up. Reducing the sugar will also reduce the thickening power. So there are a lot of things to consider with both flavor and texture when swapping out berries.

  12. You don’t keep a cup of pasta water to add the past dinner? I heard it’s very important to do this step. Or us it?

  13. This was the first time I’ve ever made cranberry sauce. I don’t know what took me so long! This was a straight-forward , simple recipe. Delish! I can’t wait to use the left overs with a pork loin roast.

  14. Making this easy and fresh cranberry sauce in the morning of Thanksgiving, 2nd year in a row. 💖💖💖