Basic slow cooker cranberry sauce recipe with fresh cranberries & oranges – no sugar! Use cinnamon, homemade vanilla extract and/or bourbon to make it unique. This is hands down the best cranberry sauce recipe ever. Better than Ocean Spray, better than Alton Brown, you’ll never go back to canned cranberry sauce again!
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, 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.
Is cranberry sauce healthy?
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 jellied.
Some of you like jellied with cranberries.
I hear you, 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 on 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!
Homemade Cranberry Sauce in the Instant Pot
Now, I’m sure you CAN use your Instant Pot for my easy recipe below, I haven’t done it myself. 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.
Stove-top Cranberry Sauce
My stove-top is usually busy with other dishes at Thanksgiving, but if you don’t have a slow cooker or Instant Pot, here’s how you can make homemade cranberry sauce on the stove.
- Follow steps 1-3 in the recipe.
- Put the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thick and reduced, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from the heat and let it cool before serving.
Slow Cooker Cranberry Sauce Recipe
Okay, let’s talk about this super easy 4 ingredient cranberry orange relish, shall we?
- Cranberries. The holidays are the best time to stock up on fresh cranberries, but you can use frozen cranberries if that’s what you have!
- Oranges. The natural sweetness of the oranges counteracts the tartness of the cranberries. You can use whatever oranges you’d like in this recipe.
- Optional Flavors. 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.
- Sweetener. Ever since we quit processed sugar, I significantly reduce the amount of sweetener we use. Most homemade cranberry sauce recipes use close to 2 cups of sugar. But mine only uses 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup for sweetening!
How to Make this Fresh Cranberry Sauce Recipe
The hands-off ease of slow cooker cranberry sauce really makes this the best Thanksgiving recipe ever. You can easily make it a few days ahead of time and chill in the fridge until needed. The flavors meld and make the most delicious cranberry relish of all time!!
- Add the cranberries, orange zest (I use this zester) and orange juice to your slow cooker. (I use this one.)
- Stir in maple syrup and any additional flavors. I like to use a couple of cinnamon sticks (and then reuse them for stove-top potpourri!) and a splash of homemade vanilla extract.
- Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 7 hours.
- Once finished, gently mash the cranberries with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste test and add additional sweetener if desired.
- The sauce will thicken as it cools. Feel free to cool completely and serve at room temperature or chill before your big meal. Don’t forget to save some for turkey sandwiches!
- 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.