This slightly spicy cranberry sauce is just the side dish for Thanksgiving or dinner any time of year. Savory with a little zip from a chipotle pepper and adobo sauce, this homemade cranberry sauce recipe is really easy to make and can be prepped ahead.
Forget the old homemade vs. canned debate. For years I was a "neither" when it came to cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving.
I like cranberry-flavored things and don't have issues with food textures, so I'm not sure why cranberry sauce was a no-go. Probably because I've always been laser-focused on filling my plate with stuffing, mashed potatoes, and honey cornbread. I'm not even that big on the actual turkey!
As I've gotten older I've begun appreciating the balance of tartness, sweetness, and fruit flavor it brings to poultry and meat dishes. While at its base all you need for basic cranberry sauce is cranberries, sugar, and water, zhushing things up with some fun extras elevates it to a savory cranberry sauce you'll (you meaning me!) can get excited about.
Reasons to Love This Recipe
- A few additional ingredients turn plain cranberry sauce into one that has a great depth of flavor. The spiciness plays off of the sweetness so well!
- Using canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce is a shelf-stable way to make a spicy cranberry sauce, versus other varieties that use jalapeños. It also adds a unique smoky flavor.
- You can adjust the spice level so easily by using more or less diced pepper, or even forgoing the peppers entirely and using just the adobo sauce.
- Its mix of sweet and spicy makes a delicious spread, especially on a leftover Thanksgiving sandwich or easy baked brie with jam.
- Cranberries: You can use fresh or frozen cranberries to make this spicy cranberry sauce. Cranberries are only in season for a short time, and can be found fresh in the produce department in the fall and early winter in the United States. One 12-ounce package will yield about 3 ½ cups.
- Brown Sugar: This counters the tartness of the cranberries. You can substitute with granulated sugar.
- Orange Juice: This gives a small citrus flavor boost.
- Balsamic Vinegar: Adds to the flavor complexity.
- Garlic: This blends in well and helps lean into the savory cranberry sauce vibe.
- Chipotle Peppers in Adobo: This brings a bold, smoky, and spicy flavor for a ton of depth to a fairly standard cranberry sauce recipe. These can be found canned in the "international foods" aisle of the grocery story. See tips below on how to alter the heat.
While not quite as quick and easy as opening a can, homemade spicy cranberry sauce really doesn't take that long to make from scratch.
- Whisk together everything in a saucepan except for the cranberries: brown sugar, water, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, chipotle pepper, and garlic. Stir in the cranberries.
- Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, as the cranberries begin to burst. The mixture should come to a simmer/low boil.
- Towards the end of the cook time lightly mash the cranberries against the pan with the back of a wooden spoon if you'd like to produce a smoother consistency. Remove from heat and let cool.
Recipe Tips and Tricks
- Cranberry prep: With either fresh or frozen cranberries, give them a rinse and a sort. Discard any that are wrinkled or mushed. Ideal fresh cranberries are firm and can be found in a light/medium red to a deep red coloring.
- Modify spice level: I've gone up to one whole chipotle pepper and a teaspoon or so of sauce, and that combo delivers the heat. Consider using just a teaspoon or two of the adobo sauce to start if you're unsure how much heat you'd like to add.
- Make ahead: Spicy cranberry sauce can be made up to a few days ahead of Thanksgiving or whenever you are planning to serve it. Keep it refrigerated in an air-tight container.
- Use up leftovers: This makes a delicious spread on a leftover Thanksgiving turkey sandwich. It can also replace the fruit preserves in slow cooker cocktail meatballs for a zippier take.
IMPORTANT: Chipotle peppers and the adobo sauce they come in are spicy! Using half of a sauce-coated pepper will definitely bring the heat. If you're unsure how much spice you'd like, start small and add more pepper later after tasting once the sauce has cooled down.
More Thanksgiving Recipes
- If you have an Instant Pot, Instant Pot collard greens are a family favorite that keep the stovetop free for other dishes. Prepared Southern-style with meat and a pot liquor you'll want to drizzle like gravy, these are a reader favorite recipe with rave reviews.
- If you think your crowd can handle a slight tweak to a classic side dish, roasted garlic mashed potatoes are an easy and flavorful update. Sour cream mashed potatoes is more of a (just as delicious) classic.
- Even a mixed green salad can be warm and cozy with this festive pomegranate vinaigrette.
- And how about seasonal cocktails to go along with the festivities? A cranberry apple margarita, apple cider mule, apple cider sangria, or bourbon apple cider cocktail are all wonderful Thanksgiving drinks.
- Don't forget dessert! Try pecan upside down cake if you're not up for making a pie.
If you’ve enjoyed this recipe, I’d love for you to leave a star rating in the recipe card and/or a comment review below!
Slightly Spicy Cranberry Sauce
- ½ cup brown sugar
- ½ cup water
- 2 ½ Tablespoons orange juice
- 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
- Half of one chipotle pepper in adobo, very finely diced
- 1 clove garlic pressed or finely minced
- 12 ounces cranberries fresh or frozen (around 3 ½ cups)
- Rinse and sort through the cranberries, discarding any ones that are mushy or wrinkled.
- Add brown sugar, water, orange juice, balsamic vinegar, diced chipotle pepper in adobo, and garlic to a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Whisk everything to combine.
- Add the cranberries and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until the cranberries are bursting and well-heated. Remove the pan from the heat. The cranberry sauce will thicken as it cools.
Nutritional information is provided as an estimate. As it can vary due to many factors (brands used, quantities, etc.), we cannot guarantee its accuracy.Food Safety and Nutrition Disclaimer