My family makes canned cranberry sauce a fancy side dish every Thanksgiving and it takes very little effort

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I love cranberry sauce straight from the can, but you can spice it up pretty easily.Getty Images; Rachel Askinas/Insider

  • Canned cranberry sauce is delicious on its own, but there are ways to dress it up for any meal.

  • Adding fruits such as oranges or berries brings different flavors and acidity to the sauce.

  • Adding crushed nuts at the end makes the texture more varied.

Cranberry sauce is an important side dish and especially popular with holiday meals, from Thanksgiving through Christmas. While there is always the option of making cranberry sauce from scratch, many people choose to expend their energy on other, more time-consuming side dishes and opt for pre-made, canned cranberry sauce instead.

While that option may conjure up images of canned cranberry jelly cylinders popped onto a dish, there are plenty of quick and easy ways to dress up canned cranberry sauce.

Growing up, my mom loved to elevate the canned cranberry sauce she served with roast chicken, potatoes, and, of course, Thanksgiving turkey

While I loved opening the plastic, bowl-shaped Ocean Spray tub and digging my spoon right into the sweet, tangy cranberry sauce, my mom often had bigger plans for whipping it up.

For a regular weeknight meal, she’d open a can of cranberry sauce (usually the whole cranberry variety) and just heat it up in a pot. She would thaw out a bag of frozen mixed berries and add it to the gooey stuff simmering on the stove. It really was that simple.

The blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries typically found in a mixed berry mix add their own flavors to the sauce, but they also add texture. Each berry has something unique about it – strawberries retain their clumsy but soft integrity, blackberries and raspberries add some pizazz, and blueberries are always a welcome burst of sweetness.

While you can use fresh berries, I prefer frozen berries for a number of reasons. First, I only need to buy one bag of frozen mixed berries, which is usually cheaper than buying packs of four different types of fresh berries from the produce section. Second, when frozen berries thaw, the juices melt and become sauce-like on their own, making for an easy marriage between the berries and the cranberry sauce.

If the sauce was prepared for a holiday meal, Mom would get a little more creative. Adding diced apples and a can of mandarin oranges (with half the juice from the can) to cranberries as they cook was her go-to. She would then fold in chopped pecans for some crunch after taking the mixture off the stove.

The first and most basic step is knowing how to reheat canned cranberry sauce

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Sure, you could just cut your cranberry sauce straight from the can and serve it that way, but what’s the fun in that?Getty Images

It’s fine to serve cranberry sauce — whole berry or jelly — straight from the can. But in my experience, reheating the canned sauce takes the flavor to the next level. In addition, it becomes a bit more aesthetic.

If you are dealing with canned cranberry sauce, you can pour it into a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Once it starts to boil, I lower the heat and let it simmer until I’m happy with the temperature and texture.

If you opt for gelatin sauce, I recommend cutting it into large cubes and stirring them with a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the chunks. Then you can warm it up in the same way as the whole berry sauce.

You can use a microwave instead of a stovetop, but be sure to cover the microwave-safe bowl loosely with paper towels or a lid so the sauce doesn’t explode all over the inside of the unit. Microwave the sauce in 30-second intervals, stirring between each interval for even cooking.

Experimenting with simple cranberry sauce mix-ins is a great way to take the dish to the next level


The list of possible cranberry sauce mix-ins is endless.Stephanie Frey/Getty Images

If you like ginger, you can peel and dice the root and let it cook along with the sauce. The ginger adds fresh spice to the flavor and a bit of bite to the texture.

Just because you bought the jellied cranberry sauce doesn’t mean you can’t add whole cranberries to it for texture and tangy flavors — although you’ll want to boil the whole berries in some water with a little sugar first.

Do you have some almost overripe oranges or stone fruit in your kitchen? For a fruity twist, you can cut them into pieces and toss them in the pot.

Lemon, lime or orange peel are also great sources of bright, citrusy flavors.

If you want to make it boozy, try mixing some champagne after letting it cool. Adding it to the cooking pot boils off the alcohol – which is great if you want the taste of champagne but not the boozy aspect.

You can also crush just about any meaty nut (pecans, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, and even Brazil nuts are great options) and fold them in once your sauce has reached room temperature.

Have fun with your canned cranberry sauce, but be sure to taste what you’re mixing as you cook it

You’ll want to periodically taste your mix along the way to make sure you’re adding the necessary components. If your sauce tastes too spicy, add something sweet like sugar to balance it out. If it’s too sweet, you can add lemon juice the acidity will reduce the sweetness.

Let creativity be your guide, but also engage your taste buds. It can be all too easy to get carried away with flavors when you’re cooking up a sauce – trust me on that one.

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