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Here's an America's Test Kitchen recipe for keeping Thanksgiving (cranberry) saucy

This cranberry sauce recipe calls for orange zest as well as orange liqueur like Grand Marnier.
Steve Klise
America's Test Kitchen
This cranberry sauce recipe calls for orange zest as well as orange liqueur like Grand Marnier.

If you ain't got sauce, then you're lost.

Rapper Gucci Mane may have been talking about fame, fortune and style when he said that, but it's also excellent advice to follow in the kitchen.

So for your Thanksgiving table, Jack Bishop, one of the hosts of the PBS television show, America's Test Kitchen, suggests making a tangy cranberry sauce using whole cranberries, orange zest and orange liqueur. The dish, Bishop says, will cut the richness of other staples like mashed potatoes, green bean casserole and gravy.

"You need something bright and of course something colorful on the plate, and the cranberry sauce with orange is doing that," Bishop says.

Skip to get to the recipe or read on for tips Bishop shared with Morning Edition host Noel King, as she prepared the sauce in her kitchen.

Tip #1 – Zest only the citrus skin

When zesting your orange for this recipe, avoid getting down to the white part, called the pith, because it has bitter notes. The orange skin has more of the floral, aromatic ones. "If you are zesting your fruit all the way down to the point where you see the actual fruit, you've gone too far," Bishop says.

Tip #2 – How you'll know when your whole cranberries are ready

Cook them until about 2/3 of them have popped. That will release enough pectin – the stuff that makes jelly wiggle. What you're left with will be bits of fruit in this "wonderful sea of cranberry jelly," Bishop says.

Tip #3 – Stand close to your bowl when adding the liqueur

It's what transforms this dish: 2 tablespoons of orange liqueur. "I would suggest you get pretty close to get the aroma because it's going to smell so wonderful when that Grand Marnier hits the hot cranberry sauce," Bishop says.

Tip #4 – If you're using an electric cooktop, try setting two burners

Electric cooktops are not usually as responsive or forgiving to temperature changes as gas ones, so Bishop suggests using two burners set at different temperatures. For example, start your saucepan on high and then, instead of reducing the heat on that one, just shift over to a burner that's set to medium.

Cranberry-Orange Sauce

Serves 9 (Makes about 2 1/4 cups)

Time 15 minutes, plus 20 minutes cooling


  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
  • ¼ teaspoon table salt
  • 1 (12-ounce) bag cranberries, picked through
  • 2 tablespoons orange liqueur (such as Triple Sec or Grand Marnier)
  • Note:

    The cooking time in this recipe is intended for fresh berries. If you've got frozen cranberries, do not defrost them before use; just pick through them and add about 2 minutes to the simmering time. Orange juice adds little flavor, but we found that zest and liqueur pack the orange kick we were looking for in this sauce.


    Bring water, sugar, orange zest, and salt to boil in medium nonreactive saucepan over high heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve sugar. Stir in cranberries; return to boil. Reduce heat to medium; simmer until saucy, slightly thickened, and about two-thirds of berries have popped open, about 5 minutes. Off heat; stir in orange liqueur. Transfer to nonreactive bowl, cool to room temperature, and serve. (Can be covered and refrigerated up to 7 days; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)

    Recipe reprinted by permission of America's Test Kitchen.

    Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

    Barry Gordemer is an award-winning producer, editor, and director for NPR's Morning Edition. He's helped produce and direct NPR coverage of two Persian Gulf wars, eight presidential elections, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. He's also produced numerous profiles of actors, musicians, and writers.