Growing up, cranberry sauce was always my favorite dish at the Thanksgiving table. I’d give myself a massive serving, bigger than my second favorite side dish, candied yams.
As an adult, I volunteer to make cranberry sauce for all Thanksgivings and Friendsgivings dinners we attend.
Partly because I can make a lot and know that I won’t leave anyone hanging if I dole myself an extra serving or two.
But really, my slow cooker cranberry sauce recipe is SO EASY and hands off, that it requires practically zero work on my behalf!
Not that I’m trying to get out of doing work… but if there’s a way to hit the easy button and get something done without sacrificing quality (or dare I say, MAKE IT BETTER), then I’m all about it.
Going back a few decades, cranberry sauce always came from a can. I ate it myself growing up and didn’t even know there was an alternative until I was in my early 30’s!
I know there are still some die-hard canned cranberry sauce fans out there.
Some of you like the jellied.
Some of you like the jellied with cranberries.
I hear your, and I respect you and your traditions.
But since I’ve learned the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup, the canned stuff is officially banned from our house. And no, I don’t make exceptions at holidays.
I’m hoping that once you see how EASY and HANDS OFF this slow cooker cranberry sauce recipe is, you’ll never go back to the can either!
Now, I’m sure you CAN use your Instant Pot for my recipe below, I just haven’t done it myself. And to be honest, the idea of experimenting on a Thanksgiving staple scares me to death. So I’m sticking with what I know.
For my experimental readers though, feel free to test this ‘slow cooker to Instant Pot conversion” and let me know how it goes, mkay?
- Follow steps 1-3 in the recipe.
- Set the “slow cook” function on the Instant Pot.
- Adjust the pressure to “normal.”
- Set the timer for 4 hours.
Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce Recipe
Okay, let’s talk about this crazy easy recipe, shall we?
I like to use fresh cranberries because while the holidays are the best time to stock up on cranberries, I’ve usually eaten them all in the form of cranberry orange scones or cranberry orange granola or even homemade dried cranberries by the time the following Thanksgiving comes around. So I have to buy a new bag (or several!).
You can definitely use frozen cranberries though, if that’s what you have!
The combination of cranberries and orange is just heavenly. Plus, the natural sweetness of the oranges counteracts the tartness of the cranberries. This means we can get away with adding less sweetener.
You can use whatever oranges you’d like in this recipe. Mandarin oranges have been on sale the past two years, and my kids like to snack on those, so that’s what I’ve used. But really, you can use navel oranges, blood oranges, Satsuma… any orange will work.
In the recipe, we’re both zesting AND juicing the oranges. I have this micro-plane, and absolutely adore it. I used a classic cheese grater in the past, and that works too. In either case, we want to only get the orange colored of the rind, not the white part (the pithe). The white part is bitter.
If you don’t have access to fresh oranges, you can use orange juice. Just know that you might have to add a bit more sweetener since the bright orange flavor might be lacking (so use the other flavor options below).
You have LOTS of options here when it comes to flavoring your cranberry sauce. Traditionalists will likely only use cinnamon and/or vanilla, but you can use ground or freshly grated ginger, spiced wine or bourbon, apples or pears, candied pecans or walnuts… really, the options are endless.
I like to keep it simple by using cinnamon and a splash of vanilla since that’s what I usually have on hand. You can see in the photos that I used two cinnamon sticks for a very muted cinnamon flavor (and then I re-use it for stove-top potpourri).
If you don’t have cinnamon sticks, use ¼ tsp for a muted flavor. Or spice it up and increase the cinnamon to ½ tsp or even 1 tsp.
Ever since we quit processed sugar, I seriously contemplate adding any sugar at all to most of my recipes. Most of the time I can get away with reducing the sugar by at least 50% without my family complaining that it’s lacking in sweetness.
Most homemade cranberry sauce recipes use close to 2 cups of sugar. But mine only uses ¼ cup of pure maple syrup for sweetening!
Depending on your taste buds, you might be able to get away with using as little as 2 tablespoons, or you might have to add a bit more. I suggest starting with ¼ cup for cooking, and then sweetening as desired 1 tablespoon at a time after it’s cooked down.
Remember that you can also add a splash (or rather, a slug) of molasses for that rich, depth flavor too.
PS – Big shout out to my PT who asked me if I had any Thanksgiving recipes on the blog. Here you go! 😉
- 12 oz cranberries (fresh or frozen)
- 3-4 medium to large oranges (I used clementines)
- 2-4 Tbsp maple syrup
- tiniest pinch of salt
- Optional Flavors: a splash of vanilla extract (here's how to make it at home), pinch(es) of cinnamon OR whole cinnamon sticks, a pinch of ground or freshly grated ginger (as tempting as it may be to pick all of them, it's really best to pick just one or two)
- Place cranberries in the slow cooker.
- Zest and juice all 3 oranges. You need about ½ cup of fresh orange juice, so zest and juice the additional orange if necessary.
- Add 2 Tbsp of maple syrup plus any additional flavors, if desired (remember to pick just one or two!).
- Cook on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 7-8 hours.
- The cranberries will be very soft by this point, so you can mash them with the back of a wooden spoon until they reach your desired consistency.
- Taste, and add additional sweeter and/or optional flavors as desired. The sauce will thicken slightly as it cools.