A spoon rests in a white bowl filled with homemade cranberry sauce garnished with citrus zest.

One of the key components of any Thanksgiving dinner is a good cranberry sauce. Sure, you can use canned sauce in a pinch, but this cranberry orange sauce recipe is so simple, and it’s worlds above the canned stuff in terms of flavor. I love that I can make this sauce days ahead of time, freezing up my kitchen time to work on other parts of Thanksgiving dinner. Whether you’re serving a big crowd or making Thanksgiving dinner for two, you’ve got to try making homemade cranberry orange sauce!

What do I need for this cranberry orange sauce?

A simple recipe has simple ingredients. To make our cranberry orange sauce, you’ll need:

  • A package of fresh cranberries
  • Orange juice
  • A bit of salt, nutmeg, and ground cinnamon
  • Honey
  • Orange zest grated off an orange peel

That’s it! You can use freshly squeezed or store-bought orange juice for this recipe. When it comes to the cranberries, I recommend using fresh. You can use frozen cranberries, but steer clear of dried berries as they don’t have the juices needed to make homemade cranberry sauce.

Wholefully Protip

If you don’t have ground cinnamon, you could also toss a cinnamon stick in with your cranberry sauce. As it cooks, it’ll disperse the flavor. Just be sure to take it out when your sauce is done!

How do you make cranberry sauce?

Making cranberry orange sauce is pretty much a dump and heat scenario. All you need to do is:

  1. Zest your oranges.
  2. Add all of your ingredients together in a medium saucepan.
  3. Heat the mixture over medium-low for roughly 20 minutes, or until the cranberries have popped and the sauce looks thicker.
  4. Chill the finished cranberry orange sauce until you’re ready to serve.

Wholefully Protip

When zesting your orange, stop before you get to the white pith. You want the flavorful oils in the top of the peel, not the bitterness located in the pith.

How do you know when the sauce is done?

It’ll take roughly 20 minutes of cooking time for your sauce to be finished. When it’s done, most of the cranberries in the pot should have popped open. The sauce will also be thicker than it was when you started.

Is it possible to overcook cranberry sauce?

Yes! As the cranberries simmer, they break down, releasing a natural thickener called pectin. The goal is to have most of your cranberries burst, but maybe not all of them. The longer the sauce cooks for, the thicker it gets. Since cranberry sauce continues thickening as it cools, a sauce that’s too thick in the pan will be way too thick once it’s chilled. If this happens to you, stir in a little more orange juice to thin it out a bit.

Will cranberry sauce thicken as it cools?

Yes, as cranberry sauce cools, it’ll continue to thicken. The pectin in the cranberries gels together as it cools off, creating a thicker sauce. This is why it’s so important to remove your cranberry orange sauce from the stove before it reaches your desired thickness.
Hands holding a plate of Thanksgiving food - turkey, Brussels sprouts, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and cauliflower rice pilaf

Is cranberry sauce supposed to be sweet or tart?

The best cranberry sauce with orange juice is a bit of both! You want your sauce to be a little tart and a little sweet. Although you can’t taste the salt in this cranberry sauce recipe, it plays an important role in balancing the tartness of the cranberries with the sweetness of the honey.

On top of the tart-sweet balance, there are other important factors at play in cranberry orange sauce. The orange juice adds the liquid you need to cook the berries while the juice and the zest combined add a citrus boost that screams Thanksgiving! The mellow nutmeg and cinnamon flavors infuse the sauce with holiday spice as it cooks on the stove. The result is a well-rounded Thanksgiving side dish with the best flavors of the holiday season.

Can I make cranberry orange sauce in advance?

Yes! In fact, I recommend making your fresh cranberry sauce a day or two ahead of the rest of the holiday meal. This will allow the sauce to gel up the refrigerator as it cools. It also means less hands-on cooking on Thanksgiving, which is a plus in any busy cook’s life.

How should I store the leftovers?

You should store leftover cranberry orange sauce in the fridge in an airtight container. You can keep cranberry sauce in the fridge for up to two weeks, which should be long enough to get you through several holiday dinners!

If you need to store your cranberry sauce for longer than two weeks, you can freeze it in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag for up to two months.

A spoon rests in a white bowl filled with homemade cranberry sauce garnished with citrus zest.

Fresh Cranberry Orange Sauce

Yield: 8-10 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

This cranberry orange sauce is a great way to complement a Thanksgiving dinner. It has a nice autumnal flavor and adds a pop of color to the Turkey Day spread.


  • 1 12-ounce package fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Pinch of salt


  1. Combine all ingredients for the Cranberry Sauce in a medium sized saucepan.
  2. Heat over medium-low heat until the cranberries pop and the sauce looks thickened, about 20 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a serving bowl and chill until ready to serve.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 79Total Fat: 0gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 15mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 1gSugar: 17gProtein: 0g

At Wholefully, we believe that good nutrition is about much more than just the numbers on the nutrition facts panel. Please use the above information as only a small part of what helps you decide what foods are nourishing for you.

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