This recipe for homemade Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce is bursting with juicy cranberries, apples, orange juice, orange zest, and warming spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. All simmered for just 15 minutes into a thick, flavorful sauce (perfect for slathering on turkey or cornbread!).
⭐ Reasons to love this recipe
Meet my family’s favorite, homemade whole berry cranberry sauce!
Bursting with juicy cranberries, sweet apples, orange zest, orange juice, and spiced with warming cinnamon & nutmeg - this simple side dish always delivers on the holiday vibes in a major way.
I know some people are partial to the kind that comes in a can, but this is so easy and so tasty that it just might convert you into that person who makes their own from scratch every year.
I'm totally smitten with the texture, charm and flavor of this stovetop sauce.
But the best part is that it cooks for just 15 minutes and is one of the few Thanksgiving recipes you can actually make-ahead for the holiday table.
A nice bonus is that it makes your house smell PHENOMENAL as it cooks - imagine the best simmer pot ever (cinnamon spice with sweet berry, apple & citrus aromas, heavenly!).
PS - You can also use frozen cranberries in place of fresh for this stovetop recipe. You don’t even need to thaw them before adding to your pot, just chuck them right in. Allow for a few more minutes of simmer time on the stove and you're good to go.
🧾 Ingredients you need to make it
Fresh cranberries: The fresh cranberries are the star ingredient and I love how beautiful they are in this sauce. For the best flavor be sure to choose plump, deep red berries. Rinse and pick them over, removing any stems and discarding any that are broken or too mushy.
Fresh apple: I always use a granny smith apple because it’s firm, crisp and has a unique natural tart & sweet flavor that pairs perfectly with the cranberries, oranges and spices. But you could use any other apple that’s suitable for baking - like Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Golden Delicious or Jonagold (avoid softer varieties like McIntosh, Gala, Fuji or Red Delicious which do not hold up well in baking or sauce recipes).
Orange juice: You can either use storebought or fresh squeezed orange juice for this recipe. Since we’re already using orange zest from a fresh orange, I’ll usually just juice that orange. If you’re taking this same approach, don’t worry too much about using exactly ¼ cup of orange juice - the juice of one orange should be plenty.
Orange zest: The zest from a fresh orange adds so much to this sauce without requiring too much extra effort on your part.
Cane sugar: The cane sugar adds a nice sweetness that helps to balance out the naturally tart fruit and orange juice, but you can also use white sugar. It also helps to thicken everything.
Water: Together with the orange juice, the water helps dissolve the sugar and bring the ingredients to a simmer. It thickens a lot as it cools, so if you like a thinner sauce, you can return it to simmer and stir in more water until it’s the consistency you like.
Cinnamon: I love the extra warmth that the cinnamon brings to this recipe but if you’re not a cinnamon fan or don’t have any on hand, you can omit it. For a more subtle cinnamon flavor just simmer the sauce with a whole cinnamon stick instead.
Nutmeg: I love the combination of cinnamon and nutmeg together, and the scent of them cooking with all the other ingredients on the stove is like the most fantastic simmer pot ever. But feel free to omit it if you want a simple classic cranberry sauce.
💭 Top prep tips
This recipe is a low effort but super flavorful side dish to set out on any holiday table and looks infinitely more impressive & difficult than it actually is to make.
I’ve added lots of simple modifications and variations below so you can make it your own, but here’s a few quick tips that will help you make the best orange cranberry sauce ever:
- For big orange flavor try minced orange peel: In keeping with family tradition, I use a peeler and then mince it (with a sharp knife or in a food processor) to get the most flavor possible - it tastes almost like having bits of candied orange peel sprinkled throughout the sauce.
- For quick and easy prep, zest the orange: Since minced peel takes extra time, I wrote the recipe with only orange zest. Rest assured that if you use this convenient shortcut you'll still end up with a super delicious homemade sauce (and extra time)!
- Prepping the apples: I prefer to peel them and do a small dice (about ¼ - ½” sized cubes) but if you like a more rustic, chunky, textured sauce you can roughly chop them to a larger size.
You can easily make a double or triple batch! If you’re planning for ⅓-½ cup of cranberry sauce per person, this recipe serves enough for 8-12 people. But since my family loves it so much I always make a double batch just in case.
📖 Modifications & variations
How to make instant pot cranberry sauce: Add all your ingredients and set to pressure cook on high for 4 minutes and then let it naturally release.
How to make slow cooker cranberry sauce: Add all your ingredients and cook on high for 3-4 hours (or on low for 7-8 hours).
Make a healthy low sugar version: I've found that you can use as little as half the amount of sugar in the recipe card and still get a delicious, balanced, thick sauce. So feel free to reduce it down to suit your needs and taste.
Make a paleo (or refined sugar free) version: Swap the cane sugar for honey or maple syrup, just note it’ll change the flavor and color a bit depending on the type of honey or syrup you choose.
Add ginger: You can add a pinch of fresh grated ginger or dried ginger (if going the dried ginger route, maybe just opt to use pumpkin pie spice in place of the cinnamon and nutmeg since it has all three in it plus cloves & allspice!).
🍴 Ways to serve it
The traditional way to serve it is, of course, to set it out on the Thanksgiving or holiday table as a side dish to enjoy with turkey but you can serve it with a variety of other meats (including as a sweet glaze for roasted chicken).
But, honestly, my absolute favorite thing to do is slather it on cornbread or warm buttery dinner rolls - I just can’t get enough of it!
You can also use it like you would any jam, jelly or fruit spread and enjoy it on toast, stirred into your morning oats, as a fancy PB&J stand-in ingredient, served warm over pancakes or waffles, as a filling for fruit crumble bars, tarts, cookies… you name it!
Make a holiday cheese board with cranberry sauce: Use it in place of other fruit preserves and play up the festive colors with fresh rosemary sprigs on the side.
🍞 What to do with leftover sauce
Make cranberry sauce cornbread muffins: Use your favorite cornbread muffin recipe and swirl in a bit of the leftover cranberry sauce into it just before baking.
Make a cranberry & turkey wrap: Take a large wrap and spread a thin layer of cream cheese, followed by a thin layer of cranberry sauce. Then layer in fresh greens (like romaine, spinach or arugula), crunchy sprouts, and sliced turkey.
Make the best thanksgiving leftovers sandwich: Use leftover sliced turkey on toasted bread with the cranberry sauce, some mayo, lettuce, tomato and sliced cheese (provolone or some melted brie would be my picks!).
Make a cold cranberry goat cheese log: Carefully spread the cooled cranberry sauce around a goat cheese log and then sprinkle with chopped candied pecans - serve with crackers for dipping.
Make a warm cranberry brie dip: Layer cranberry sauce on top of brie and bake for a delicious cheesy dip, serve with crackers or crusty, toasted bread for dipping.
Make cranberry overnight oats: Use it like you would jam and stir it into these easy overnight oats for a delicious cranberry cheesecake flavored breakfast or snack.
🧊 Storing & freezing tips
Yes, you can freeze cranberry sauce! Be sure to store it in a tightly lidded container or well-sealed ziptop bag (with the air pressed out of it) to avoid freezer burn. It’ll keep well for 2-3 months stored this way in the freezer.
Or simply store it in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days (again, being sure it’s in a tightly lidded container or ziptop bag).
If you’re making it ahead of time, I like to transfer it to a heat-safe glass or ceramic serving dish right away (its easy to pour out of the pot when it’s warm and will set evenly in whatever dish you want to use). Then let it cool and cover with plastic cling wrap (or beeswax wrap) before refrigerating.
Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce
- 3 cups fresh cranberries or about one 12-ounce bag
- 1 granny smith apple peeled and diced into small cubes
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 ¼ cups sugar
- ¼ cup orange juice or the juice of about 1 orange
- ¼ cup water
- ¾ tablespoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- Add all the ingredients to a medium-sized lidded sauce pot and stir together.
- Bring the mixture to a boil. Then cover and turn down to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes (stirring once halfway through cooking).
- Once it’s done cooking, give it a final stir and allow to cool fully before sealing with a tightly fitting lid and storing in the fridge.