Classic Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Written by Beth - Budget Bytes

I guess I take pleasure in the little things because I was most excited about this Classic Homemade Cranberry Sauce out of everything that I cooked today. The simplicity of this sauce is unreal especially for the amount of flavor it has. Fresh cranberries provide a strong refreshing tartness that is only kept in check by the sweet orange juice and sugar. Zest from the orange provide layers of flavor to tickle your tongue after the cranberry’s burst dies down. This easy recipe is so quick and delicious, I will surely be making it year-round!

Originally posted 11-19-09, updated 11-14-16.

A pot full of simple and classic homemade cranberry sauce, ready to liven up your holiday table!

See this recipe in my Easy Thanksgiving Dinner for Beginners meal plan.

What is in Cranberry Sauce?

Cranberry sauce really is as simple as three ingredients. At its most basic, cranberry sauce includes:

  • Cranberries
  • Sugar
  • Water

I’ve added a touch of orange to brighten up the flavors just a bit and add an extra level of flavor, which prevents the sauce from being one dimensional. You can leave out the orange in a pinch, but I’m telling you, it really makes this simple cranberry sauce spectacular.

Can I Make Cranberry Sauce Without Sugar?

Yes, you can substitute the sugar listed below with honey or maple syrup, keeping in mind that they will produce slightly different flavors and textures in the final sauce.

Try These Other Fresh Cranberry Sauce Flavors

You can also play around with the flavor by adding other ingredients like red wine, cinnamon, raspberry, apple, or even jalapeño. Check out some of my other fresh cranberry sauce recipes:

Close up of a spoonful of thick cranberry sauce, made from scratch, with orange essence.

cranberry sauce dripping off a spoon into a bowl
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4.41 from 5 votes

Classic Homemade Cranberry Sauce

This simple cranberry sauce only requires three ingredients but has enough flavor to add excitement to your holiday meal.
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
Total Time: 20 mins
Servings: 6 (1/2 cup ea.)


  • 12 oz. fresh or frozen cranberries ($2.00)
  • 1 small orange ($0.33)
  • 1/2 cup sugar ($0.09)
  • 1 cup water ($0.00)


  • Add the sugar and water to a medium saucepot. Stir to combine. Place the pot over medium heat and bring the liquid to a boil.
  • While the liquid in the pot is heating, rinse the cranberries. Once the water and sugar are boiling, add the cleaned cranberries and place lid on top. Allow the liquid 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.
  • While the cranberries simmer, remove the zest from the orange using a microplane, zester, or small-holed cheese grater. Cut the orange in half and squeeze the juice into a bowl (about 1/2 cup juice).
  • Once the cranberries have broken down, stir the orange juice into the sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, then stir in about 1 tsp of the orange zest. Allow the sauce to cool slightly, then serve.
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Serving: 1 ServingCalories: 53.58 kcalCarbohydrates: 14 gProtein: 0.42 gFat: 0.08 gSodium: 1.13 mgFiber: 2.42 g
Nutritional values are estimates only. See our full nutrition disclaimer here.

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Try serving this homemade cranberry sauce over a wheel of baked brie for an extra special holiday treat!

Close up of a spoonful of thick cranberry sauce, made from scratch, with orange essence.

How to Make Fresh Cranberry Sauce – Step by Step Photos

Sugar and Water

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.

Rinse Cranberries

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.

Cranberries in Pot

Add the rinsed cranberries to the boiling sugar water. Place a lid on top and allow it to return to a boil. 

Popped Cranberries

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

Cranberries Broken Down

Continue to let the cranberries simmer over medium-low until they have broken down (about 5-7 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Zest and Juice an Orange

While the cranberries are simmering, zest and juice one small orange. You’ll need about 1 tsp zest and 1/2 cup juice.

Stir in Orange Zest

Stir the juice into the cooked cranberry sauce. Remove the pot from the heat, then stir in the zest.

Stir Cranberry Sauce

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.

A pot full of simple and classic cranberry sauce brightened with orange essence.

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