The World's Easiest Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving is easy to make, and even easier to tweak to your tastes.

Finished cranberry sauce in a small bowl next to a bowl of stuffing with a gold spoon

Serious Eats / Fred Hardy

Why This Recipe Works

  • Cranberries are high in pectin, which helps them set naturally into a jelly without the need for any other thickeners.
  • Orange zest and cinnamon are natural flavor pairings for cranberries, enhancing and complementing their tartness.

I understand the draw of canned jellied cranberry sauce. It plops out of the can, has those pretty ridges, and can be sliced up and placed right in the center of a plateful of curly parsley. It's got a kind of Betty Crocker appeal to it. But whole-berry sauce-in-a-can-or-jar? Why do it?

Sure, some store-bought versions are pretty good, but homemade is so much better. Best of all, it's blindingly simple to make.

"The cranberries basically do the work themselves, setting into a jelly all on their own."

Cranberries Have High Pectin Content

Here's why: First off, cranberries are extremely high in pectin. This is the cellular glue that holds plants together, and it's the primary gelling agent in jellies. Unlike most other berries used for jelly, which require you to add powdered or liquid pectin in specific quantities to get the requisite gel level, cranberries already contain the perfect amount. That means that all you've got to do is cook them down with some sugar and just a touch of water to get them started, and the cranberries basically do the work themselves, setting into a jelly all on their own.

Cranberry Sauce Has a Long Shelf Life

Cranberries and cranberry sauce also have an extremely long shelf life. In part due to their high acidity, in part due to naturally high levels of antimicrobial phenolic compounds, fresh cranberries can last weeks (if not months) stored in the refrigerator. I make my Thanksgiving cranberry sauce at least a week ahead of time. It sits in the fridge, no problem, and saves me from having to think about it on Turkey Day.

Endless Flavoring Options

Finally, making cranberry sauce yourself lets you adjust the flavorings any way you like 'em. I'm a purist at heart, so my sauce most often contains nothing but cranberries and sugar, but sometimes I'll add a couple of strips of orange zest and a splash of orange juice as it cooks down. Floral orange plays really nicely with the tart cranberries. A cinnamon stick can also be a good complement—the spicy phenolic compounds in cranberries are similar to those in cinnamon, so the flavors go quite well together.

If you're looking for more specific directions for cranberry sauce variations, you can check out our recipes for spiced red wine cranberry sauce, cranberry sauce with candied pecans, apple-orange cranberry sauce, and pear and ginger cranberry sauce.


How to Make the Best Easy Cranberry Sauce

November 2010

Recipe Details

The World's Easiest Thanksgiving Cranberry Sauce Recipe

Cook 15 mins
Active 15 mins
Cooling Time 30 mins
Total 45 mins
Serves 8 to 12 servings

Homemade cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving is easy to make, and even easier to tweak to your tastes.


  • 1 (12-ounce; 340g) bag fresh or frozen cranberries

  • 1 cup sugar (5 ounces; 140g)

  • 1/2 cup water (4 ounces; 115g)

  • 2 strips zest and 2 tablespoons (30ml) juice from 1 orange (optional)

  • 1 cinnamon stick (optional)

  • Pinch kosher salt


  1. Combine all ingredients in a 3-quart saucier or saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until berries start to pop. Press berries against side of pan with a wooden spoon and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until berries are completely broken down and achieve a jam-like consistency, about 10 minutes total. Remove from heat and allow to cool about 30 minutes. Stir in water in 1-tablespoon increments to adjust to desired consistency. Cranberry sauce can be served immediately or stored in the refrigerator for several months.

    Four Image collage of ingredients for cranberry sauce being added to a saucepan and cooking on a hot plate

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

3-quart saucier

Make-Ahead and Storage

Cranberry sauce can be made and refrigerated in a sealed container for at least one week before serving, or frozen for several months and defrosted to serve.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
58 Calories
0g Fat
15g Carbs
0g Protein
Show Full Nutrition Label Hide Full Nutrition Label
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 8 to 12
Amount per serving
Calories 58
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 7mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 5%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 13g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 4mg 20%
Calcium 3mg 0%
Iron 0mg 0%
Potassium 23mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)