Homemade Cranberry Sauce (With Orange Zest)

An easy 15 minute recipe for homemade cranberry sauce with orange juice and zest. It’s the perfect side for your holiday table that you will come back to every year.

homemade cranberry sauce in a bowl

It’s that time of year again to start thinking about the Thanksgiving dinner. With so much going on, it can be hard to find the time to make everything from scratch.

This cranberry sauce recipe is quick and easy and full of homemade goodness. The best part? It takes only 15 minutes and can be made ahead of time – so you’ve no excuses!

freshly made homemade cranberry sauce with cranberries on top

This recipe includes orange juice as well as orange zest for an added citrus flavor. Cranberries are a tart fruit and can be overwhelming but if you add orange juice and zest to them, it really balances out the flavors.

Everyone needs a few solid holiday recipes, and this cranberry sauce is just that. It will quickly become part of your annual Thanksgiving or Christmas tradition, just like it has in our house.

Many people don’t realize how simple it is to make homemade cranberry sauce, and just default to the grocery store variety for simplicity’s sake.

But when you realize that it takes only 15 minutes and a few fresh ingredients to make this recipe, you’ll never go back to the gelatinous, canned stuff again!

Why This Recipe Works

  • It has the perfect balance of tart and sweet
  • It takes only 15 minutes to make
  • It can be made ahead of time
  • It has no artificial sweeteners, flavors or preservatives

And of course, this cranberry sauce pairs perfectly with my One-Pan Roasted Turkey Breast and Veggies, as well as my all time favorite Thanksgiving Stuffing Recipe.


To make this recipe, you’ll just need a handful of simple ingredients:

  • fresh cranberries
  • fresh orange juice
  • orange zest
  • white sugar
  • water

Could it be any simpler?


Start by bringing the sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Once the sugar is dissolved and the water is bubbling, add the cranberries, orange juice and zest. Then return to a boil.

Within the first couple of minutes, the cranberries will start to pop. Boil gently for about 5 minutes until most of them have popped.

fresh cranberries with orange juice and zest

Turn the heat off, remove the pot from the heat and set aside to cool. Do not mix it, it needs to be allowed to sit and cool so that it naturally thickens and sets up.

thick homemade cranberry sauce

Once cooled, taste and decide whether it needs more sugar. Add up to 1/2 cup more, stirring well to combine.

A close up of a bowl of cranberry sauce

Tip: Depending on the texture you prefer for your sauce, you may like to leave some of the lumps or use a potato masher to get a smoother texture.


Giving the visitor ideas on how they can change this recipe to better suit their dinner guests, or their cultural cuisine, is a great way to increase the chances they make the recipe

  • Sweeter – you can vary the amount of sugar used in the recipe. 1 1/2 cups is perfect for my family’s tastes, leaving just enough tartness. But feel free to increase by another 1/2 cup if you prefer it sweeter.
  • Use limes or lemons – You can replace the orange with limes or even lemons for a more tart sauce. You can also add them either one in addition to the orange.
  • Add in a pinch of your favorite holiday spices like cinnamon and nutmeg right at the very end for an extra layer of flavor. Or just throw in a cinnamon stick!


If you’re watching your sugar intake, homemade cranberry sauce is a much better option than the store-bought variety, as it’s easy to control the amount of sugar included.

  • For a reduced-sugar cranberry sauce, use 1/2 cup of sugar to start, then taste and add more as needed. Also reduce the amount of water to 1/2 cup, adding more as needed if the sauce seems too thick.
  • To make sugar-free cranberry sauce, substitute a sugar replacer like Truvia or Splenda for the sugar.


Fresh cranberry sauce will last up to a week in the fridge, or up to 6 months in the freezer.

serving homemade cranberry sauce with orange zest for Thanksgiving dinner

Frequently Asked Questions

Can this recipe be made ahead of time?

Yes! I actually recommend making it at least a day ahead so that it has plenty of time to chill and set up in the fridge.

Can I use frozen cranberries?

Yes, but the texture will be smoother and flavor less tart. Reduce the water by 1/2 cup and add more if the sauce is too thick

Making your own cranberry sauce is so easy and tastes way better than the canned stuff. This recipe takes 15 minutes to make from start to finish, and since it can be made ahead of time, you have no excuses not to try it! I promise, you’ll never go back to canned once you try this recipe!

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Homemade Cranberry Sauce (with Orange Zest)

homemade cranberry sauce in a bowl
A delicious homemade cranberry sauce that takes only 15 minutes to make and is perfect for Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.
Jenna Shaughnessy
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Serving Size 10


  • 12 ounces fresh cranberries 1 bag
  • 1 large orange, juiced approximately ¼ cup
  • zest of 1 large orange
  • cups sugar You can do ½ more if you want it sweeter.
  • ¾ cup water


  • Bring sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  • Add cranberries and orange juice and zest. Return to a boil.
  • Boil gently for about 5 minutes until most of the cranberries have popped.
  • Don't mix the sauce, let it sit untouched until cool. It will thicken.
  • Once cool, add any additional sugar and mix.
  • If you like your sauce with less lumps, just grab a potato masher and mash it until you get your preferred texture.
  • Store in an airtight sealed container in the fridge for up to a week.


Depending on how sweet or tart you like your cranberry sauce, you can vary the sugar content from 1 to 2 cups. I personally like 1 1/2 cups – not too tart, not too sweet.
It’s important to leave the cranberry sauce alone and not mix it while it’s cooking. The sugar will naturally thicken the sauce. 
The sauce can be eaten directly from the fridge or allowed to come to room temperature before serving. 
Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, or 6 months in the freezer.

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