The Best Cranberry Sauce

An overhead shot of cranberry orange sauce with orange slices and cranberries around it.

Traditional cranberry sauce gets taken up a notch with the addition of orange juice, orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, and cloves. The result is a bright and citrusy spiced cranberry sauce that will have everyone reaching for seconds.

Need more convincing? My best cranberry orange sauce recipe is easy on the cleanup and can be made ahead up to a week in advance. Save on the hassle of making cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving by making my cranberry orange sauce up to a week in advance. Even better, this recipe has easy cleanup so you can spend less time at the sink and more time with those you love!

A hand scoops a small serving of cranberry sauce out of a crystal serving dish.
This cranberry sauce made with orange juice and zest is so good, you could eat it by the spoon!

Cranberry Orange Sauce Ingredients

The most basic cranberry sauce recipe uses just cranberries, sugar, and water. To upgrade the basic cranberry sauce recipe, and a few select spices to complement the bitterness, you can make a cranberry sauce that tastes amazing.

  • Granulated sugar. Though recognized instantly as a sweetener, sugar also acts as a thickening agent.
  • Cranberries, fresh or frozen. Both fresh and frozen cranberries will work in this recipe! Be sure to check the amount of cranberries in each bag—I’ve seen bags range from 8 oz to 16 oz.
  • A medium orange. Instead of using bottled orange juice, use juice fresh from an orange. That will allow you to zest the orange for a brighter citrusy flavor.
  • Cinnamon sticks. I like to cook my cranberry sauce with cinnamon sticks. (What other things are you going to use cinnamon sticks for?) If you don’t have any cinnamon sticks on hand, substitute 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.
  • Cardamom. Just for a little extra of that delicious warm spice flavor.
  • Star anise pods. Star anise pods add a hint of licorice flavor that is simply irresistible. Not everyone has them in their kitchen, so don’t worry if you don’t have any on hand.
  • Ground cloves. To round out our spices, add a pinch of ground cloves. Cloves are intense—just a pinch will do!
  • Salt. I add a pinch to help balance out the sweetness.
Frozen cranberries, sugar, an orange, spices, and water on a quartz counter.
Cranberries, an orange, spices, and water come together to make a delicious Thanksgiving side of orange cranberry sauce.

Prepping the Best Cranberry Sauce with Orange Juice

If you’d rather watch a video than read these tips, see my video on making the best cranberry sauce.

Preparing the Orange for Cranberry Sauce

The key to getting this sauce bright instead of bitter lies in the orange. Using both the juice and the zest lends a bright, citrusy flavor that cuts through the bitterness of the cranberries. Plus, the natural sugars in the orange juice mean that you can make this sauce with less added sugar than the traditional recipe!

Zest the orange directly over the saucepan you plan to make the cranberry sauce in for the most orange flavor. Citruses have the highest concentration of limonene, the oil responsible for the citrus scent, in the rind. Zesting the rind releases a burst of oil (and fragrance!) that is best used in the dish you’re making, not a measuring cup. I recommend using a Microplane for the best zesting experience—I will never go back to other zesters!

You can juice your orange in a juicer or directly over the saucepan as well. Be sure to remove any seeds!

Cooking the Cranberry Sauce with Orange Juice over the Stove

Cranberries only take about 10 minutes to cook in this cranberry orange sauce recipe. Note: Your sauce may take closer to 15 minutes to cook if using frozen cranberries. Don’t worry: The texture and flavor will be largely unchanged.

You can use the color of the liquid as a guide to tell when the cranberry sauce is done cooking.

At the beginning, the sauce will be mostly clear with a bit of a pink tinge to it. Once the cranberries have burst open and the sauce has started reducing, the liquid in the cranberry sauce will turn a bright, rich red.

A wooden spoon holds up some cranberry sauce.
The liquid will take on a rich red color once the cranberries have started cooking.

The Perfect Cranberry Orange Sauce Consistency

Even if your cranberry sauce is a rich, deep red color, it can be hard to tell when cranberry sauce is the right consistency. Once cooled, the sauce thickens considerably. It can feel like a guessing game to get the right cranberry sauce consistency.

I test the consistency of my cranberry orange sauce by dabbing a few drops of sauce on a dinner plate at the end of the cook time. I use a plate at room temperature (that way I don’t have to remember to put a plate in the fridge!).

Let the sauce cool on the plate for about 15 seconds, then hold the plate vertically. If the sauce begins to run, cook for another minute before testing again. If the sauce stays largely in the same shape, the sauce is done—remove from heat! See photo below for an example.

Two dabs of cranberry sauce on a plate; the top one is largely circular while the bottom one has started to drip.
A couple of drops of your cranberry sauce, when properly thickened, won’t run off a plate.

Can I Make Cranberry Orange Sauce in Advance?

Yes, please do! This cranberry sauce can be made in advance and stored in the fridge for up to two weeks. Let the sauce come to room temperature before serving for the best flavor.

It can also be stored in the freezer for up to three months. Thaw overnight in the fridge, then take out the morning of the event to come to room temperature before serving.

Can I Use Bottled Orange Juice for Cranberry Sauce?

You can use bottled orange juice if you’d rather not use a fresh orange. There won’t be quite as much orange flavor without the orange zest, but not everyone is a fan of orange zest! For best results, use a natural orange juice that doesn’t have any added sugar.

Can I Use Frozen Cranberries for Cranberry Orange Sauce?

Yes, I have made this cranberry sauce with cranberries directly out of the freezer. Adding frozen cranberries means the syrup takes a bit longer to boil, but the end result is the same.

Frozen cranberries tend to break up more easily in the sauce, leaving seeds behind. The flavor and texture is still the same; there are just some small seeds in the sauce instead of stuck inside each individual cranberry.

A Cape Cod Select frozen cranberries bag in the background of a crystal dish full of cranberry orange sauce.
My grocery store was out of fresh cranberries, so I used frozen cranberries from Cape Cod Select for this recipe shoot. They had a great flavor and texture!

What Can I Make with Leftover Cranberry Sauce?

I’m so glad you asked! There’s the traditional turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce as a spread, but there are other uses, too!

My cranberry orange macarons are always a hit when I bring them to holiday parties.

Other Recipes You May Enjoy

Another easy, citrusy dessert for you: Homemade Candied Orange Slices. Candied orange slices take only a few minutes of active time to make and can be enjoyed for days!

Looking for an absolute stunner of a cake to follow your feast? My apple snickerdoodle layer cake is filled with spiced apples and snickerdoodles for a fall-themed cake that’s sure to please.

Need another side dish to serve with your meal? My garlic French bread recipe is a reader-favorite (for good reason!) and beginner-friendly if you’re new to making homemade bread.

Dish Cleanup: Piece of Cake

I rate my recipe cleanups on a scale of 1 to 5. 1 is only a handful of dishes, and 5 is everything including the kitchen sink.

My cranberry orange sauce recipe has a cleanup rating of a 1. This recipe comes together in one saucepan with only a handful of additional utensils for a delicious make-ahead cranberry sauce. I used a cutting board to be safe, but most oranges can be cut easily without one if needed.

I recommend rinsing the saucepan immediately after use if you aren’t going to wash it right away. Otherwise, soak it in the sink.

A collection of dishes used in making cranberry orange sauce.
A handful of utensils and the saucepan used in making cranberry sauce.
Yield: 2 cups

The Best Cranberry Orange Sauce

Cranberry orange sauce on a quartz counter with orange slices and cranberries around it.

Made with warm spices and a whole orange, this cranberry orange sauce will become everyone's favorite at the Thanksgiving table!

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup sugar (150g)
  • 2/3 cup water (160 ml)
  • 12 ounces fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1 medium orange
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • 2 star anise pods (optional)
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • pinch of salt

Instructions

  1. Combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan.
  2. Zest the orange over the saucepan, then juice the orange into the saucepan. Remove any seeds, if needed. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add in the cranberries and spices. Stir together, making sure the spices stay submerged in the liquid. Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring occasionally. This will take about five minutes for fresh cranberries and closer to 10 minutes for frozen cranberries.
  4. Cook for 7-10 minutes. The cranberries will burst open and start to turn the liquid pink. By the time the sauce has thickened, the liquid will be burgundy.
  5. To test for the perfect consistency, dab a few drops of the sauce onto a plate at room temperature. Let the sauce cool for 15 seconds before holding the plate vertically for two seconds. If the sauce begins to run, continue cooking for another minute before checking again. If the sauce stays in about the same place, remove the sauce from heat. (See image in post for more details.)
  6. Remove the cinnamon sticks and star anise pods.
  7. Pour into a serving bowl and enjoy! Serve hot, cold, or at room temperature for a deliciously citrusy cranberry sauce.

Notes

This cranberry sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks or in the freezer for three months.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

8

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 102Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 19mgCarbohydrates: 26gFiber: 2gSugar: 22gProtein: 0g

The nutrition facts are estimated and may vary based on specific ingredients used.

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