We Reverse-Engineered Canned Cranberry Sauce (and Made It So Much Better)

Make a batch. Fool your friends.

Published Oct. 7, 2021.

If one of your favorite Thanksgiving rituals is cracking open a can of jellied cranberry sauce and watching it slither from the tin—you're not alone. The condiment, with its iconic ridges and alluring smoothness, has been a stalwart of the Thanksgiving table since it debuted in 1930. But even die-hard fans must admit: The flavor needs punching up.

After some experimentation, we figured out how to reverse-engineer the canned sauce and imbue it with a much fresher, fruitier taste. And the sky's the limit on supporting flavors and even molding options. 

Here's how to do it:

  • Double up on fruity flavors by cooking whole cranberries (fresh or frozen are equally fine) in sweetened cranberry juice instead of plain water.
  • Add a modest amount of sugar (and a little salt) to keep the sauce tasting vibrant.
  • Cook the berries at a full boil for 25 minutes. Cranberries are loaded with pectin, and lengthy cooking will extract lots of it for a firm, sliceable consistency—no added thickener needed.
  • Strain out the skins and seeds and stir in a smidge of vanilla to bring the flavors to life.
  • Pour the strained jelly into a mold: We like using an empty can (or even empty tomato paste cans for individual portions), but a fancy old-fashioned Jell-O mold or a glass bowl works just as well.

The plain gel tastes bright and punchy, but it's easy to accent the fruit flavor by seasoning the cranberry mixture with rose water, lemon and rosemary, orange zest and cardamom, juniper berries and shallots—even ancho chile powder.

Set the jelly in anything from an old-fashioned Jell-O mold to a clean empty can to a glass bowl.

Choose the classic flavor profile:

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Give thanks for customizable flavors and forms—and a touch of nostalgia.
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