This simple crockpot cranberry sauce uses only 5 ingredients but the bourbon makes it seem much fancier!
This simple crockpot cranberry sauce uses only 5 ingredients but the bourbon makes it seem much fancier! And I’m ALL about being fancy without the effort. You can’t beat a five-ingredient recipe, especially when it comes to Thanksgiving recipes!
We don’t usually host Thanksgiving and if we do, it’s a small group of about 4-7 total people. Even with having just one other couple over (like last year!), I’ll inevitably use the oven, the stovetop, numerous pots, and pans – and there will probably be a decent mess to clean up.
Plus, there never seems to be quite enough time or kitchen items available to cook all the Thanksgiving dishes at the same time. Am I right?
So about seven years ago, I decided to put my crockpot to work for one of my favorite side items – fresh cranberry sauce.
We grew up on canned cranberry sauce, and I loved it. But I didn’t even know fresh, homemade cranberry sauce was a thing until my adult life. I prefer fresh cranberry sauce now, but the canned version still gives me a sense of nostalgia. And honestly, cranberry sauce is one of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving, if not my VERY favorite part. It basically makes every part of the meal taste better. It’s good on sweet potatoes, regular mashed potatoes, turkey, dressing, cornbread, and I’ve even put it on my salad with leftovers!
I also eat a spoonful, before, during, and after dinner. It’s a tradition for (only) me. And I plan to do the same thing this year.
Why I love my Crockpot Cranberry Sauce Recipe
This cranberry sauce is a perfect side dish to make in advance since it stores well in the fridge for 3-5 days. Or, you can make it the day of Thanksgiving since it smells amazing and is very hands-off.
You just place all the ingredients in the crockpot, stir to combine, then cover and cook for a few hours. The cooking time is flexible. It can be ready in about 2 hours if you cook on high, but you can also leave it in for 3-4 hours on high. Or, cook on low for 6-8 hours.
I usually have this simmering away in the corner, out of the way, and out of mind while focusing on the more detailed dishes for Thanksgiving.
This really is the easiest recipe you’ll make for Thanksgiving. You can jump to the recipe below or read through a few pointers first. (I recommend reading through because I included quite a few variations for the sauce – ALL are delicious!).
This makes enough for 4-5 people. If you have more guests, you can easily double or triple the recipe. Or, if you are anything like me, I usually double this recipe anyways, so I have extra for myself after Thanksgiving dinner. I am that obsessed.
1 bag (12 oz) fresh cranberries, rinsed 3/4 cup sugar 1 cup of water 2 tbsp bourbon (or a little more, just for good measure) 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract (a high-quality extract is important!) 1 pinch of salt (optional)
Cranberries are actually really high in antioxidants and vitamins and minerals like manganese, copper, and vitamins C, E, and K1. They are also super fibrous and low in sugar (which almost makes up for the added sugar in this recipe).
Add the cranberries, sugar, and water to a crockpot. Turn to high. Once the mixture starts to boil, reduce heat to low.
Cook over low heat for 2-3 hours until the cranberries have softened and skins start to peel off.
About 45 minutes before serving, add the bourbon and vanilla. Continue cooking over low. I like to add a pinch of salt at this point too.
Remove from heat and allow to cool and thicken slightly before serving.
You can leave the berries whole or mash them with a potato masher to your preferred texture. Play around with it to see what you like each year. I made three trial batches well ahead of Thanksgiving last year, so I could try a few different iterations!
You can use fresh cranberries or frozen cranberries, but I prefer fresh. I find they hold their shape a little bit more, which I prefer in terms of texture and appearance.
This is a very versatile and forgiving recipe. You can use brown sugar instead of white sugar. I even used coconut sugar last year, and it was great. You can add more sugar if you like a sweeter version or follow the measurements below (or cut back even more) for a tart option.
If you want a different flavor, try using orange juice instead of water or add some orange zest to the mix. This always adds a fun flavor to the cranberry sauce.
For your bourbon (or whiskey), buy something you’d want to drink. Since the recipe doesn’t use much, you’ll want a nice bottle to have around for the holidays rather than something cheap. I love Bulleit and Basil Hayden.
If you don’t want bourbon in your cranberry sauce, just leave the bourbon out and add a dash of cinnamon instead. Note that the alcohol does cook off, but it will still leave a flavor!
Using an Instant Pot
If you want to use your Instant Pot for this recipe, you definitely can. Using your pressure cooker is handy when you are trying to cook all the things for a Thanksgiving day meal and have just run out of time. It happens. Or if you’ve forgotten to make your cranberry sauce until the last minute (which has definitely happened to me before).
If this has happened to you, here are some quick and super easy Instant Pot instructions:
Throw all the cranberry sauce ingredients in the pot, but do NOT stir!
Seal the lid and choose the high-pressure option
Set it to cook for 2 minutes
When done, let the pressure naturally release for 5 minutes (try manually releasing pressure after this a few times to make sure the sauce doesn’t spew out in the steam).
When the pressure is out, open the lid and stir your cranberry sauce thoroughly
Transfer to serving dish to cool (it will thicken as it cools)
Why Crockpots Are My Go-To
A good crockpot (or slow cooker, whichever term you prefer!) is a must-have for your kitchen (and for this recipe, of course). I love having it because I can literally just pop the ingredients into the pot, turn on the heat setting, and let it sit for hours while I go about my day. When I’m ready to eat – I can just scoop out whichever recipe I’ve put in the Crockpot, serve it, and voila! Meal: served.
So if you don’t love yours (or heaven forbid, you don’t have one), treat yourself to an early Christmas present. I promise you won’t regret it.