Cranberry sauce has been the butt of plenty of Thanksgiving jokes, thanks to memories of the plasticky canned variety that so many Americans grew up with. In my family, though, my mom's homemade cranberry sauce has always been a highlight of Thanksgiving. Though some people harbor a soft spot for the canned stuff, to me the best cranberry sauce is a different beast altogether—fruity and tart, sweet but not too sweet, and thick but not artificially gloopy.
Not only does ditching the can allow you to make a truly great basic cranberry sauce, it gives you room to experiment with other flavors that complement the tart berries. All kinds of fruits, spices, and other ingredients have the ability to transform an ordinary cranberry sauce into something truly memorable.
To help get you started, we've rounded up nine of our favorite cranberry sauce variations, flavored with apple and orange, pear and ginger, jalapeño and lime, and more.
A great batch of homemade cranberry sauce requires just four ingredients: cranberries, sugar, water, and a pinch of salt. Because cranberries are so high in pectin, you won't need any other thickeners to get the sauce to set. Once you're comfortable with this basic recipe, try customizing it with other flavoring agents—orange zest and a cinnamon stick are a nice touch.
Adding apple and orange to a basic cranberry sauce helps to emphasize the best qualities of the dish. Here, chopped Granny Smiths amplify both the berries' tartness and their sweetness, while orange juice and zest add a strong bright edge.
Mild, sweet pear and spicy ginger make an excellent (and fall-appropriate) combination that we've put to work in other dishes, including a fantastic Pear, Riesling, and Ginger Sorbet. This cranberry sauce incorporates both fresh and crystallized ginger to give the sauce a pleasant kick, while chopped pear provides sweetness for balance. If you aren't sure how much spice your crowd is willing to handle in their cranberry sauce, feel free to cut back on the crystallized ginger here.
Cranberry sauce is helped out immensely with a little textural contrast, and a handful of pecans makes an especially good addition. But rather than settling for just plain old nuts, here we toast them with a spiced brown sugar glaze before chopping them up and mixing them into the sauce. Just a little bit of cayenne in the spice mix helps to balance out the cinnamon and sugar.
This complex cranberry sauce is inspired by a classic winter beverage, mulled wine. We swap in red wine for the water typically used to cook the berries and add cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice. Molasses and maple syrup give the sauce a more layered sweetness than one made with white sugar.
Just like in the previous recipe, plain water gets the boot in favor of a more flavorful cooking liquid. Here, it's tart pomegranate juice, which gives the sauce an extra dimension of fruit flavor. The mouth-puckering, crunchy pomegranate seeds we stir in after cooking will make clear that this isn't your grandma's cranberry sauce, but the flavor is still traditional enough to keep any guest satisfied.
This cranberry sauce is bursting with familiar fall flavors—orange, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and cloves—but it also contains a secret ingredient: spiced rum. There's not enough rum here to hit you over the head, but it does add some pleasant depth of flavor.
This cranberry sauce is about as far from traditional as you can get. Tailor-made to stand up to a smoky barbecued turkey, it's made with fresh jalapeños, lime juice, and a few teaspoons of mezcal for complementary smokiness. Remove the seeds from the peppers to give the sauce more of a fruity flavor than an intensely spicy one.
This last recipe isn't a cranberry sauce at all, but pulsing fresh cranberries, apple, sugar, orange juice, and orange zest together in a food processor gets you the same flavors in a thicker form akin to a relish. It also takes just 10 minutes to make, so it's the perfect option if you feel overwhelmed by the rest of your Thanksgiving prep duties.
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