This Cranberry Sauce with Orange Juice is the perfect balance of sweet and tart with a burst of citrus flavor. Easy to make in just 20 minutes, this classic Thanksgiving recipe is make ahead-friendly and tastes so much better than canned.
Living in a town filled with cranberry bogs, cranberry season feels extra special. Every October, I watch the cranberry-filled trucks drive by my house. And on my morning walk, I'm treated to the sight of farmers harvesting the floating crimson berries from flooded bogs.
Needless to say, making fresh cranberry sauce is one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions.
I like to add orange juice and zest to my cranberry sauce recipe. Not only does it add a vibrant citrus flavor that’s perfect for the holidays, but it also helps balance the tartness of the cranberries.
Today, I’m walking you through how to make the best cranberry sauce with orange juice, including which ingredients to use, tips that guarantee it turns out right the first time, and some of my favorite ways to repurpose this seasonal recipe.
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Why You'll Love This Recipe
- Fresh Flavors- Tart cranberries and sweet, zesty orange pair together perfectly, creating a festive holiday side dish with a flavor that easily outshines any canned cranberry sauce.
- Quick & Easy- Making cranberry sauce from scratch may seem like one task too many during the busy holiday season, but it's absolutely worth the effort. This recipe only requires 3 ingredients and comes together in just 20 minutes.
- No Corn Syrup- Homemade cranberry sauce is made without corn syrup, which is found in many canned brands. The result is a fresher-tasting, more flavorful dish without unnecessary additives.
- Make Ahead-Friendly- Cranberry sauce is perfect for making ahead and tastes even better after a day or two in the refrigerator.
Here are some notes on key ingredients. For a full list of ingredients, check out the recipe card below.
- Cranberries- Use either one 12-ounce bag of fresh cranberries or about 4 cups of frozen cranberries. Both work perfectly. If using frozen cranberries, there’s no need to worry about thawing them.
- Orange Juice- Approximately 4 oranges will yield one cup of fresh orange juice. A citrus squeezer can help extract the most juice from each orange.
- Sugar- By using only ¾ cup of sugar, the natural cranberry and orange flavors shine through.
- Orange Zest- Adding fresh orange zest gives the cranberry sauce a more intense orange flavor. Use a microplane or cheese grater, being mindful to avoid the bitter white rind.
🌱 Sustainability Tip: Use locally sourced or organic cranberries to reduce the pollution associated with food transportation and support sustainable farming practices.
Substitutions and Variations
Here are a few ways you can customize this orange cranberry sauce recipe to fit your diet and taste preferences.
- Cranberries- While I haven't personally tested it, you can experiment with dried cranberries or cranberry juice for making cranberry sauce. Keep in mind that these methods may require a thickening agent like cornstarch.
- Orange Juice- Swap freshly squeezed orange juice for bottled orange juice, cranberry juice, apple juice, or water.
- Granulated Sugar- Substitute granulated sugar for brown sugar, coconut sugar, or maple syrup in a 1:1 ratio. For honey, start with 6 tablespoons and adjust sweetness to taste. With liquid sweeteners, you may need to simmer the cranberry sauce a little longer to achieve the right consistency.
- Orange Zest- Use dried orange zest or a small amount of orange extract in place of fresh orange zest.
- Spiced- Add spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves for a warm, festive flavor.
- Herbed- Fresh herbs like rosemary and thyme add a savory flavor that complements traditional Thanksgiving dishes.
- Ginger- Grate fresh ginger into the cranberry sauce for a spicy taste that pairs well with cranberry and orange.
- Dried Fruit- Stir in dried cranberries, cherries, or apricots for some added texture.
- Toasted Nuts- Sprinkle chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans into the cranberry sauce for a tasty crunch.
- Spicy- Add a little minced jalapeño for a spicy kick.
How to Make Cranberry Sauce with Orange Juice
Here is how to make homemade cranberry orange sauce.
Step 1: Dissolve the sugar. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the freshly squeezed orange juice and granulated sugar. Whisk continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a gentle boil.
Step 2: Cook the cranberries. Reduce the heat to low and carefully add the whole cranberries to the pot. Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes, or until most of the cranberries have burst. If you prefer a smoother texture, you can use the back of a wooden spoon to gently mash the cranberries to reach your desired consistency.
Step 3: Stir in orange zest. Once the cranberries have cooked down, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the zest from half of an orange.
Step 4 (optional): Strain the cranberry sauce. If you prefer a completely smooth cranberry sauce, strain it before chilling. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a clean bowl. Gently pour the cooked cranberry mixture into the sieve, using the back of a spoon to press it through. This will remove any remaining solids, leaving you with a silky, smooth sauce. Discard the solids and transfer the strained sauce to your dish for chilling.
Step 5: Chill the cranberry sauce. Allow the cranberry sauce to cool to room temperature. Then, transfer it to a dish and place it in the refrigerator to chill. As it cools, the sauce will naturally thicken.
Tips for Success
Make this easy cranberry sauce with orange juice recipe successfully the first time using these helpful kitchen tips.
- Use fresh ingredients. Opt for fresh, ripe oranges and plump, firm cranberries for the best flavor and texture.
- Adjust sugar to taste. I’ve reduced the sugar in this recipe slightly to highlight the cranberries’ natural tartness. However, feel free to use more or less sugar to suit your taste.
- Control consistency. If you prefer a chunkier, thinner consistency, leave more cranberries whole. For a smoother, thicker sauce, mash the cranberries thoroughly.
- Cool before chilling. Allow the sauce to cool to room temperature before refrigerating to prevent condensation and maintain the correct consistency.
- Make ahead. You can prepare homemade cranberry sauce with orange juice up to one week ahead of time, making it easy to fit into your busy holiday schedule.
- Experiment with flavors. Don’t be afraid to make this cranberry sauce recipe your own and experiment by adding different flavors.
What to Serve with Cranberry Orange Sauce
Cranberry sauce is the quintessential Thanksgiving condiment.
For a well-rounded meal, complement your main dish with vegetable sides. Consider pairing cranberry and orange sauce with roasted maple balsamic Brussels sprouts, buttery garlic green beans, or a fall-inspired arugula quinoa salad.
What to do with Leftover Cranberry Sauce
After Thanksgiving, don't toss that bowl of leftover cranberry sauce. There are a variety of delicious ways to repurpose it, both in sweet and savory dishes, so none of it goes to waste.
- Breakfast- Fold cranberry sauce into muffins, quick bread, waffles, pancakes, oatmeal, or smoothies for a satisfying breakfast treat.
- Desserts- Add a burst of tartness to your holiday cookies, cakes, crisps, pies, and cheesecakes. It also makes a delicious ice cream topping!
- Spread- Transform your sandwiches, charcuterie boards, crackers, bagels, and more with the vibrant and tangy addition of cranberry sauce as a delightful spread.
- Glaze- Give your proteins an upgrade by using cranberry sauce as a sweet and tangy glaze for chicken, turkey, pork, fish, or meatballs.
- Condiments- Turn cranberry sauce into versatile condiments like cranberry aioli or a tangy salad dressing for a unique flavor twist.
- Thanksgiving Leftovers- Repurpose leftover cranberry sauce into delicious Thanksgiving leftover dishes, like pizza, egg rolls, pot pie, croissant rings, sandwiches, and casseroles.
Storage and Reheating
How to Store
- Room Temperature- If you’re serving cranberry sauce as part of your holiday spread, remember that it should only be kept at room temperature for a maximum of 2 hours.
- Refrigerator- Store leftover cranberry sauce in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 10-14 days.
- Freezer- For longer storage, freeze cranberry sauce in a freezer-safe container for up to 3 months.
How to Reheat
Generally, cranberry sauce is served chilled or at room temperature so there is no need to worry about reheating it. If your cranberry sauce has been stored in the freezer, leave it in the refrigerator overnight to defrost before serving.
Homemade cranberry sauce is the perfect make-ahead Thanksgiving side dish.
When stored properly, it can last for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. However, for the freshest-tasting cranberry sauce, I recommend making it up to one week before Thanksgiving.
Frequently Asked Questions
If your cranberry sauce is too thin, it may be due to excess liquid, especially if using frozen cranberries. To fix this, continue cooking until desired consistency is reached. If the issue is lack of sugar, add a few more tablespoons to help the sauce gel.
If your cranberry sauce is too thick, it's likely because of the natural pectin released when cranberries burst. To adjust, simply add a splash of orange juice or water until you reach your desired consistency.
Cranberry sauce is typically served chilled. If you prefer it not cold, consider serving it at room temperature.
Cranberry Sauce with Orange Juice
- 1 cup (about 4 oranges) freshly-squeeze orange juice
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 12 ounces (about 4 cups) whole cranberries fresh or frozen
- Zest from ½ of an orange
- In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the freshly squeezed orange juice and granulated sugar. Whisk continuously until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture comes to a gentle boil.1 cup (about 4 oranges) freshly-squeeze orange juice, ¾ cup granulated sugar
- Reduce the heat to low and carefully add the whole cranberries to the pot. Let the mixture simmer for about 10 minutes, or until most of the cranberries have burst. If you prefer a smoother texture, you can use the back of a wooden spoon to gently mash the cranberries to reach your desired consistency.12 ounces (about 4 cups) whole cranberries
- Once the cranberries have cooked down, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the zest from half of an orange.Zest from ½ of an orange
- Optional: If you prefer a completely smooth cranberry sauce, strain it before chilling. Place a fine-mesh sieve over a clean bowl. Gently pour the cooked cranberry mixture into the sieve, using the back of a spoon to press it through. This will remove any remaining solids, leaving you with a silky, smooth sauce. Discard the solids and transfer the strained sauce to your dish for chilling.
- Allow the cranberry sauce to cool to room temperature. Then, transfer it to a dish and place it in the refrigerator to chill. As it cools, the sauce will naturally thicken.
- Before serving, give the sauce a gentle stir to ensure the flavors are evenly distributed. Enjoy!
- Quick Tip: If you prefer a chunkier, thinner consistency, leave more cranberries whole. For a smoother, thicker sauce, mash the cranberries thoroughly.
- Storage: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze for up to 3 months.
- Make Ahead: Prepare cranberry sauce up to one week before serving.