Thanksgiving is the ultimate foodie holiday. We spend days prepping the most anticipated meal of the year. Every table is set with a perfectly roasted turkey (we’ve got 30 recipes to inspire you); a mountain of delicious, homemade sides; and beautiful, freshly baked pies. But atop every table, there always seems to be one outlier: that can-shaped mold of cranberry sauce.
After a marathon day of cooking, grabbing canned cranberries can seem like an easy shortcut. While it may do in a pinch, it isn’t nearly as good as scratch made. Our expert Test Kitchen team is here to assure you that making your own cranberry sauce isn’t a chore at all. In fact, it’s simple, quick and darn delicious. Best of all, you can prep the sauce several days in advance and check it off your list early.
To make the sauce, our Test Kitchen recommends starting with this simple recipe. Let’s jump in.
Easy Homemade Cranberry Sauce
Pro tip: This sauce can be made several days in advance, so no need to worry about mixing this up on a busy Thanksgiving afternoon.
1 package (12 ounces) fresh or frozen cranberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup cranberry-raspberry juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Step 1: Give it a Stir
Add your cranberries, sugar and juice to a large saucepan. Give this a quick stir to combine.
Step 2: Let it Simmer
Cover the pan and heat over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally so the sugar dissolves in your cranberry mix. Once you start to see boiling bubbles, quickly reduce the heat to a simmer. Then, let it cook for another 10 to 15 minutes. During this time you’ll hear the cranberries start to pop. Don’t be alarmed! This is cranberry-goodness magic happening. Be sure to give your mix a stir every few minutes during this process.
Step 3: Cool it Down
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in your lemon juice. Then, transfer the sauce to a bowl to cool. Once it’s cooled slightly, pop it into the refrigerator. This recipe makes about two cups of sauce, so if you have a really big crowd (or just a crowd of cranberry lovers), double or triple the batch.
How to Make It Your Own
This simple cranberry sauce recipe is delicious on its own, but it also makes a great foundation for more customized options. Check out our favorite ways to jazz up the holiday classic.
Spice it up.
If you’re looking to add a little extra spice, add 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to your sauce, giving it all those warm fall flavors we love. You can also try adding a teaspoon of freshly grated ginger for a bit of bite. If you’re a culinary daredevil, you can even try simmering your sauce with a halved jalapeño (just remove it before serving). This preparation is especially good brushed over pork tenderloin.
Add some mix-ins.
Go nuts and add 1/3-1/2 cup of chopped and toasted pecans, walnuts or pistachios. This gives the sauce a nice crunch and texture. You can also add dried fruit to boost the taste and to create a more rustic cranberry sauce. Stir in 1/3 cup of raisins, currants or chopped dried apricots to provide even more fruit flavor.
Use booze to boost flavor.
A splash of your favorite tipple can go a long way in adding richness to your cranberry sauce. Our Test Kitchen recommends trying a tablespoon of orange liqueur or spiced rum to add some traditional holiday flavor. You can also substitute port or wine (white or red) for part of the cran-raspberry juice in this recipe. Add the liquor or wine at the same time as the juice, sugar and cranberries. The cooking process will burn away any harsh alcohol taste (and the alcohol itself) while providing that extra layer of flavor.
How to Use Leftover Cranberry Sauce
We love Thanksgiving leftovers! Repurposing next-day goodies is always a fun challenge, especially with tart and versatile cranberries. Check out a few of our favorite ideas for using extra sauce, and then check out 48 ways to make use of your turkey leftovers.
Use as a spread.
This tart, tangy side makes a great addition to sandwiches, breakfasts and more. Swipe over multigrain bread and pile high with turkey and all the fixings for the ultimate day-after lunch. Or try stirring a heaping spoonful of sauce into cream cheese for a tasty bagel spread. Still have some left? Include a small dish with your next cheese tray—it makes an excellent spread for crackers, and it complements so many cheeses.
Pair with your favorite protein.
Cranberries are the perfect complement to turkey, pork and chicken. Repurpose this sauce as a glaze for pork loin or chops (we were totally inspired by this recipe). Leftover sauce is also good for braising a chuck roast or chicken thighs; for this application it’s best to add a few savory ingredients to make a tasty sauce—try onion, garlic, broths or Worcestershire sauce. The easiest way to add to your favorite protein? Mix a bit of the cranberry goodness with mustard, ketchup or BBQ sauce and slather on the meat.
Keep it sweet.
This tart sauce works with sweets, too! Try a spoonful in your morning oatmeal or yogurt. Or swirl leftover sauce in muffins, quick breads and coffee cakes.