How to Make the Best Fresh Cranberry Sauce with Wisconsin Cranberries
This delicious homemade cranberry sauce recipe is perfect for the holidays! Bursting with vibrant flavor, it’s the ideal accompaniment to a festive feast. With just a handful of ingredients and minimal effort, you can whip up a batch of this tangy and sweet cranberry sauce that will impress your guests and elevate numerous holiday foods beyond the ordinary. Whether you enjoy it alongside roast turkey, spread it on sandwiches, or use it as a topping for desserts, this cranberry sauce is the ultimate holiday essential. So, let’s get cooking to make the best cranberry sauce you’ll ever taste!
First, a short holiday cooking tale that is absolutely 100% “pinky-swear” true...
Imagine soft holiday music playing in the background and the perfect Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving holiday setting… NOT!
The Day I Almost Ruined Thanksgiving...
It happened only a few hours away from everyone arriving for Thanksgiving.
My heart raced—thump, thump, thumping nearly out of my chest. Admittedly, I WAS flipping out. I had a full-on panic attack because I couldn’t find my recipe for the best fresh cranberry sauce made with Wisconsin cranberries.
Of course, I still had a standby can of store-bought jellied sauce, but honestly, it doesn’t compare to this recipe for the cranberry sauce I’ve made for our Thanksgiving dinner for over 20 years. I couldn’t bear the thought of my homemade sauce not gracing our table.
What! Did I catch you shaking your head in disbelief? I thought I almost heard you saying, “She’s lost it,” under your breath. “Why on earth would she panic? It is just a sauce, after all…”
But you MUST understand this is no ordinary sauce recipe!
This fresh cranberry sauce recipe is necessary for producing the most legendary holiday sauce ever. A condiment that everyone counts on. The pièce de resistance… in a cranberry sauce straight from heaven. The most blissful tasty sauce and accompaniment of all time for roast turkey – appetizers, cheese, and crackers – for dipping, and dolloping on desserts and over cream cheese-filled celery sticks, smearing on sandwiches, and…
Now, can you possibly understand?
My somewhat organized mess…
Frantically, I sorted through stacks of recipe cards, tiny scraps of handwritten notes, newspaper clippings, and print-offs. Piles upon piles of recipes with scrawled notations, tweaks, and re-works (to gluten-free) that “someday” I’ll get to file in an organized manner. By the way, I can’t help but giggle (writing this) because organizing all these is a personal joke (of a sort) since this published collection of these recipes is my most organized gathering of saving everything I hope never to lose. God willing, I will never run out of recipe inspiration with all I collect.
Then, of course, I googled without a lot of luck either.
Yes, I found gussied-up homemade cranberry sauce recipe versions, but nothing was exactly like the simple, easy Best Holiday Cranberry Sauce recipe our family has come to love.
Despite all my searching, I couldn’t find anything close to it.
“What’s wrong?” Dear hubby finally asked after noticing my frustrated frenzy.
“Oh, what on earth am I going to do?” I answered, collapsing against the counter in my best diva groan of defeat.
Amused at my drama queen efforts, “Honey,” he muttered matter-of-factly from across the room, “You’ve made that cranberry sauce a thousand times over the years. I’m sure you can do it from memory.”
With his boost of my confidence, I knew he was right. So, I put on my thinking cap (not an actual cap, but the imaginary kind). After a minute or two, it all came back. Each ingredient, the cooking process, and my cook’s confidence. There it was, where it’s been all this time, in my head.
You’ve got to love it when the only thing better than a good recipe is when something’s so easy to make that you don’t even need a recipe in the first place.
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Diving into a little bit about Wisconsin Cranberries…
You might find it interesting that Wisconsin is renowned for its cranberry production. Cranberries produced here account for over 60% of the country’s cranberry crop. The state’s unique climate, nutrient-rich soil, and abundant water sources create the perfect conditions for cranberry cultivation. The cranberries produced in Wisconsin are known for their exceptional flavor and bright red color, making them an ideal choice for cranberry sauce.
As a true-blue Wisconsinite, I recommend starting with fresh Wisconsin cranberries for the best holiday cranberry sauce. You can find them at many local grocers, farmers’ markets, orchards, or even order them from the cranberry farms online.
How to Make the Best Holiday Cranberry Sauce
- 1 bag of fresh Wisconsin Cranberries (about 4 cups or 12 ounces) may substitute frozen cranberries
- 1 cup Water
- 3/4 cup granulated Sugar – You can replace some (or all) the white sugar with brown sugar for a deeper, more caramel flavor.
- Zest from one Orange (about 1-1/2 teaspoons)
- 1 tablespoon Cointreau Liquor
- Pinch of Kosher Salt
Rinse one 12-ounce bag of cranberries, removing any damaged or soft berries. Zest the orange with a Microplane grater to produce about 1-1/2 teaspoons of grated zest. *Measure out one tablespoon of orange liquor. I use Cointreau, or Grand Marnier would also work. Set everything aside until needed.
*To make this fresh cranberry sauce non-alcoholic, reduce the water content in the next step to 1/2 cup and replace the Cointreau with the juice of one orange (about ¼ cup juice).
Add the cranberries (from step 1), 1 cup of water, and 3/4 cup of sugar to a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to a light boil until the cranberries begin to pop. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing sticks or burns to the bottom. When the cranberries have popped and burst open (you may need to mash the cranberries a bit with the back of a spoon to help some of them pop), turn the heat to medium-low, stir in the Cointreau, orange zest, and a pinch of salt, and continue to cook (about 2 to 3 minutes more) until the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens. As it cooks, the natural pectin in the cranberries will turn the mixture soft and jammy, coating the back of a spoon.
Turn off the burner and remove from the heat to cool and thicken even more to a jelled consistency.
Serve the cranberry sauce warm or chilled. Store leftovers in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. The sauce can be frozen for up to two months. When frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge and stir it before using.
Make the Sauce in Advance
If you’re wondering… Yes, you can make this cranberry sauce ahead of time. Store the cooled sauce in an airtight glass container in the fridge for up to a week pre- or post-Thanksgiving (and, honestly, I’ve kept it for a lot longer).
As for what to do with any leftover cranberry sauce, we love using it as a spread for day-after turkey sandwiches (which seems a natural fit), but it goes great with almost everything.
Some of my favorite ideas are to:
- Use it over cheese or liver pâté on crackers as a condiment for appetizers
- Dollop it as a topping for cheesecake
- Use it as a dip for cream cheese-filled celery spears
- Mix it with horseradish (to taste) for a deliciously zesty sandwich spread or dip for grilled chicken or turkey skewers
💭 Before we go...
So, if you want to add sweet, sour, good-on-everything flavor to your holiday feast, look no further than this homemade cranberry sauce featuring the finest Wisconsin cranberries. Take it from me: this tangy and sweet condiment is essential for holiday tables and will impress your guests with its vibrant color and exquisite taste.
Our family loves the fresh cranberry tartness with its slight pucker-inducing tang that pairs perfectly with the sweetness, orange zest, and Cointreau for zip in the sauce, giving it a well-balanced taste.
It’s a festive, seasonal, chutney-like condiment you’ll want to add to your roster of Thanksgiving recipes – Something to offset all those spice-heavy dishes you know you can’t do without.
Enjoy this legendary, tried, and tested recipe that’s so easy to make that you “almost” don’t even need a recipe in the first place. It’s the best holiday cranberry sauce utilizing delicious Wisconsin cranberries.
I hope you’ll love this sauce as much as we do!
Looking for more holiday-worthy recipes? Here’s a handful of our reader favorites…
Keep scrolling to the recipe card below to print or save this recipe for the Best Holiday Cranberry Sauce to your recipe box. Then try it this Thanksgiving or for Christmas in your home!
Thanks for stopping by. Have a happy time cooking!
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The Best Holiday Cranberry Sauce
- 1 Large Saucepan
- Utensils (Measuring Cups and Spoons, Rubber Spatula, or Large Wooden Spoon)
- 1 bag of fresh Wisconsin Cranberries about 4 cups or 12 ounces may substitute frozen cranberries
- 1 cup Water
- ¾ cup granulated Sugar 
- Zest from one Orange about 1-1/2 teaspoons
- 1 tablespoon Cointreau Liquor 
- Pinch of Kosher Salt
Before you begin:
- Rinse the cranberries, removing any damaged or soft berries. Zest the orange with a Microplane grater, measure out the Cointreau and set them aside until needed.
To make the sauce:
- Add the cranberries, water, and sugar to a large saucepan over medium heat and bring to a light boil until the cranberries begin to pop. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring frequently so nothing sticks or burns to the bottom. When the cranberries have popped and burst open (you may need to mash the cranberries a bit with the back of a spoon to help some of them pop), turn the heat to medium-low, stir in the Cointreau, orange zest, and a pinch of salt, and continue to cook (about 2 to 3 minutes more) until the liquid reduces and the sauce thickens. The mixture should turn soft and jammy, coating the back of a spoon.1 bag of fresh Wisconsin Cranberries, 1 cup Water, ¾ cup granulated Sugar , Zest from one Orange, 1 tablespoon Cointreau Liquor , Pinch of Kosher Salt
- Turn off the burner and remove from the heat to cool and thicken even more to a jelled consistency.
- Serve the cranberry sauce warm or chilled. Store leftovers in an airtight glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. The sauce can be frozen for up to two months. When frozen, thaw overnight in the fridge and stir it before using.
If you’re wondering… Yes, you can make this cranberry sauce ahead of time. Store the cooled sauce in an airtight glass container in the fridge for up to a week pre- or post-Thanksgiving (and, honestly, I’ve kept it for a lot longer). As for what to do with any leftover cranberry sauce, we love using it as a spread for day-after turkey sandwiches (which seems a natural fit), but it goes great with almost everything. Some of my favorite ideas are to:
- Use it over cheese or liver pâté on crackers as a condiment for appetizers.
- Dollop it as a topping for cheesecake.
- Mix it with horseradish (to taste) for a deliciously zesty sandwich spread or dip for grilled chicken or turkey skewers.
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(Nutritional values are an approximation. Actual nutritional values may vary due to preparation techniques, variations related to suppliers, regional and seasonal differences, or rounding.)
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