Cranberry Sauce

Ocean Spray cranberry sauce on the left, homemade on the right

Ocean Spray cranberry sauce on the left, homemade on the right

For the second installment of my Thanksgiving side dish testing, I had several friends over for a mini Thanksgiving meal complete with green beans, mashed potatoes and a roast chicken.  The real stars of the show, however, were the cranberry sauce and stuffing that we were comparing.  I’ll talk about the results of our stuffing tasting in the next post, but for now let’s take a look at Cranberry Sauce.  Cranberry sauce seems like one of those things that you either love or hate and I love it!  It rounds out the typically salty Thanksgiving fare with it’s tangy, sweet bite.  I grew up mostly eating the canned variety of cranberry sauce, one of the few pre-made dishes on our Thanksgiving table, but a few years ago I started to experiment with homemade recipes.  I honestly like just about any cranberry sauce, even the jellied, molded in the shape of the can kind but there is something more fresh and flavorful about sauce made from fresh cranberries, or is there?  Below is my favorite recipe for homemade cranberry sauce and the results of a comparison with Ocean Spray whole berry cranberry sauce:

Cranberry sauce ingredients in the pan

Citrus Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce

I looked at tons of different cranberry sauce recipes when I first made it a few years ago and this is kind of a mash up of all of them with my own twist.  I was inspired by the huge bag of grapefruit sitting on my kitchen counter, but I’m sure it would also taste great with just orange juice.  I’ve also made  this cranberry sauce with 1/2 cup of port replacing 1/2 cup of the citrus juice and it is delicious!

Makes about 2 cups


  • 12 oz. bag fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 whole cinnamon stick

1.  Pour the cranberries into a colander and rinse under running water, removing any shriveled or soft cranberries that you find.

2.  Place the cranberries and the rest of the ingredients in a medium pot or large skillet.  Stir to combine ingredients and bring to a boil over medium heat.  Reduce heat until the sauce is gently simmering.  Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce begins to thicken and become syrupy, about 30 minutes.

3.  Cool the cranberry mixture to room temperature, discard the cinnamon stick and place the cranberries in the refrigerator until completely cooled.  The sauce will get much thicker as it cools.

As you can see, this cranberry sauce takes quite a bit more time than just opening a can and plopping the sauce in a bowl.   Most of the time, however, the sauce is just simmering or cooling in the pan; it’s actually very easy to make.  It also ended up costing a few dollars more than the canned variety, but either canned or homemade, cranberry sauce is a pretty cheap side dish.  The homemade and canned cranberry sauces looked strikingly similar.  I had a hard time telling them apart when served side by side on a plate.  Did the flavor of the homemade sauce make it worth the extra time and money?  Well, it depends on who you ask.  At our tasting dinner, we had the unique experience of having two tasters who had never eaten cranberry sauce before, ever!  These two tasters actually preferred the canned sauce citing the “sweet, not too intense flavor” and “good consistency” as the reasons for their preference.  One of these tasters found the homemade sauce “too tart”.  The majority of the testers were more experienced in the realm of cranberry sauce and they all liked the homemade variety better saying that it tasted “more complex”  and felt “less jelled” to them.   Almost all the tasters agreed that the canned sauce was sweeter and thicker while the homemade sauce had a tarter flavor and looser texture.  The difference in opinion came when deciding which of these flavors one likes better:  sweet or tart?

Bottom Line:  In the end, maybe  it comes down to your audience.  If you’re feeding people who love the taste of cranberries and enjoy the juxtaposition of tart to salty in their Thanksgiving dinner, then homemade may be worth the time and money to you.  If, however, you’re making sauce for those who are not big cranberry fans or haven’t had cranberry sauce very often, then canned is probably just as good.

Citrus Cinnamon Cranberry Sauce                                                          Ocean Spray Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

Cost:  $4.69                                                                                                                 Cost:  $1.50

Time:  50  minutes                                                                                                     Time:  1 minute