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Cranberry Sauce: the sweet-tart recipe for a classic Thanksgiving side dish

Total time: 20 Min
Difficulty: Low
Serves: 12 people
By Cookist

No Thanksgiving dinner is complete without a side of homemade cranberry sauce to dollop over your roast turkey. This classic Thanksgiving recipe is incredibly easy to make and even more delicious than the canned cranberry sauce you can find in stores. It also adds a fantastic sweet-tart flavor that's a perfect complement to all the savory items on the table.

Cranberry sauce is different from cranberry relish – the latter is served raw and tends to be a lot tarter than cranberry sauce. Cooked cranberry sauce is tart but beautifully sweet thanks to sugar, and can easily be customized to make it even more flavorful. Serve it chilled or at room temperature with your turkey, pork or chicken, and use the leftovers on everything from Thanksgiving sandwiches to waffles, on toast, as a glaze for roasts, and more!

This traditional recipe for cranberry sauce made with sugar as we know it today did not become popular until the 19th century when farmers began dry-harvesting and picked cranberries by hand. This dish became even more rooted in the Thanksgiving meal tradition in the early 1900s when farmers developed a bog harvesting, making the process faster and easier, while also making it easier to market canned cranberry sauce.

Should you Use Fresh or Frozen Cranberries for Cranberry Sauce?

Either fresh or frozen cranberries can be used to make cranberry sauce. Frozen cranberries are usually less expensive than fresh ones, so it's entirely up to you which ones you choose. If you want to use fresh cranberries, make sure they're firm, plump and good looking.


Homemade Cranberry Sauce Ingredients

Cranberries – you can use fresh or frozen ones. Don't use canned cranberries.

Sugar – it adds sweetness and thickens the sauce as it absorbs liquid when heated. Granulated white sugar is the go-to for most cranberry sauce recipes. You can use other types of sugar if you prefer.

Orange – use zest and juice to make the sauce more flavorful.

Water – you need a liquid base.

Tips for making the Best Cranberry Sauce

Don't have white sugar? Brown sugar will taste just as good in your cranberry sauce.

Another great way to add more flavor to your cranberry sauce is to mix in ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, lemon zest, maple syrup, or a dash of rum, bourbon, or vanilla extract.

If your cranberry sauce is bitter, add some juice like orange juice or apple juice, or a tablespoon of maple syrup or honey. Don't use sugar as you'd need to reheat the sauce to get the sugar to dissolve properly.


Can I Make Cranberry Sauce Ahead of time?

Of course! Cranberry sauce can be made up to one week ahead of time. Before serving, make sure it's chilled so that it has its classic thick texture. So letting it sit in the refrigerator from the night before is an easy way to set it.

What to do with Cranberry Sauce Leftovers

If you have leftover cranberry sauce, use as a garnish for roasts, as a condiment in burgers or Thanksgiving sandwich, turn it into a salad dressing, or add it to oatmeal, yogurt, or spread it over toast, waffles, or pancakes.


How to Store Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Keep your homemade cranberry sauce in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 10 days, just be sure to let it cool completely before refrigerating it.

Can you Freeze Fresh Cranberry Sauce?

You can definitely freeze cranberry sauce once cool. It will keep for up to 2 months, stored in a zip-top freezer bag labeled with the date. When you want to serve it, let it thaw in the refrigerator overnight, then reheat the cranberry sauce on the stove or in the microwave until warm.

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Granulated sugar
1 cup
1/2 cup
Fresh cranberries
12 ounces
Orange zest
2 tsp
Kosher Salt
a pinch
Fresh orange juice
1/2 cup

How to make Cranberry Sauce

Place sugar, orange juice and water in a saucepan.

Cook over high heat until it boils, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar.

Add the orange zest.

Stir in the cranberries and return to a boil.

Turn the flame down to medium cook for 10 minutes, or until cranberry burst open.

Go on stirring. You could also mash cranberries with a fork. Take the pot off the heat.

Cool the sauce completely, then serve the cranberry sauce chilled or at room temperature or store for later use.

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