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

Nov 25, 2021
Originally published on November 25, 2021 7:24 am

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)


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 2021 NPR. To see more, visit


Some words of wisdom from Gucci Mane - if you ain't got sauce, then you're lost. It is not just good advice for life. It is an excellent philosophy in the kitchen as well. And we've got just the person to help you add the sauce to your Thanksgiving dinner.


KING: Jack Bishop is one of the hosts of the PBS TV show "America's Test Kitchen." Jack taught me how to make a tangy cranberry sauce that puts the zing in amazing.

JACK BISHOP: I've got a little bit of a twist with just really two ingredients that are going to make your cranberry sauce better than any cranberry sauce anyone at your Thanksgiving has ever had before.

KING: Can I start with a confession?

BISHOP: Sure. I love a good confession.

KING: This recipe calls for some liqueur. And much in the tradition, who was the one who would get sauced before she started cooking? Was it Julia Child? Well I'm pulling a Julia (laughter).

BISHOP: Well, I mean, you know, you're, like, well past cocktail hour on whatever crazy schedule you work...

KING: Thank you.

BISHOP: ...Right? I mean...

KING: Thank you, Jack.

BISHOP: In your world, it's - what? - like 9 o'clock.

KING: It is. It's about 9 p.m. Yes.

BISHOP: So you should've been drinking four hours ago.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Who brought the sauce?

NAIKA: I brought the sauce.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Who made the sauce?

NAIKA: I made the sauce.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: What's in the sauce?

NAIKA: I am the sauce.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Who brought the sauce?

KING: Jack kept a close eye on me over Zoom. I was in my kitchen in Washington, D.C. And Jack gave me step-by-step instructions from Boston.

BISHOP: We need a medium sauce pan, and we're going to put sugar, water and salt in that sauce pan. Most recipes, including most back-of-the-bag recipes, don't add salt. Everything tastes better with a little bit of salt.

KING: I'm going to grab my medium sauce pan. I'm going to tell you, as I walk away from the mic, I recently moved. In this new place, I have an electric oven, and I don't like it as much. And I'm trying to determine if there are any benefits to an electric oven that will make me feel a little bit better about the fact that I no longer have my gas range, which I really loved.

BISHOP: I'm not going to sugar coat it.

KING: It's terrible (laughter).

BISHOP: Well, the oven itself - you know, let's separate the cooktop from the oven. The electric oven portion of the range actually works a little better than the gas. It's a little bit more consistent, the heating. The cooktop is just not going to be as responsive. Think about using two burners. So when you're making an omelet, start it over medium-high, but then if you want to finish it gently, rather than turning that burner down, which isn't going to cool down, just move the pan to a cooler burner and have another burner set to, like, medium-low.

KING: That is a genius idea - not something that had occurred to me but would have saved me quite a few disasters over the past few months, honestly.


PATTY REESE: (Singing) Awesome sauce in the morning, awesome sauce at noon, awesome sauce in my bubble bath. I pour some awesome sauce on you.

KING: After the mixture of salt, sugar and water came to a boil, we turned down the heat and added a bag of fresh cranberries.

BISHOP: You're basically cooking them until about two-thirds of them have popped. And you're just trying to pop enough of the berries to get enough pectin. You know, pectin is the thing that makes jelly wiggle.

KING: Oh, they are popping, but they're not popping violently. They're just sort of popping open very gently.

BISHOP: Yeah. And you're going to get little bits of fruit in this wonderful sea of cranberry jelly.

KING: Are cranberries - are fresh cranberries really only sold around the time of Thanksgiving? Or have I just not been really paying attention?

BISHOP: They're really only available in the Thanksgiving timeframe, historically. Now, it's changed a little bit because they're now growing cranberries in South America and Chile. Cranberries are an American fruit. There are very few native american fruits. There isn't a big tradition of growing cranberries in Europe, for instance, but it is - along with blueberries and Concord grapes, there are only three commercially grown fruits that are native to North America, and cranberries are one of them.

KING: Next, I zested some orange peel.

BISHOP: I want to see your orange, by the way, because I want to see how good a job you did on zesting the fruit.

KING: Oh, God. I - is it bad that I got down to the white part?

BISHOP: Well - so I see a little bit of fruit there. So you...

KING: Yes.

BISHOP: You really went far.

KING: (Screaming) I overzested.

BISHOP: There's no harm here. But the white part, the pith, has more of the bitter notes that are in the orange. The colored skin - and this is the same for lemons and limes as well - the colored part really has more of the floral, aromatic notes. In general, that pith is a little bitter. And if you are zesting your fruit all the way down to the point where you see the actual fruit, you've gone too far.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Cranberries, whoa, my cranberries, could they be jealous of our love? Don't they understand?

BISHOP: Now we're going to come with the thing that actually transforms this dish, which is two tablespoons of Grand Marnier.

KING: My father was left at home to raise three small children, and he was a fellow who often had a bottle of Grand Marnier not far from. I think for some very explicit reasons (laughter). So I always have it in the house just in case I need to chill. So I've got my tablespoon. I've got my Grand Marnier. You tell me when it goes in.

BISHOP: So we want to do this at the end of the cooking process because we want to get the maximum impact from the Grand Marnier. I'm going to 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.

KING: Here we go. I'm about to inhale. Hello, friends. Oh, God, that smells good. That smells delicious.

BISHOP: At this point, you cool the cranberry sauce. I like to put it into a container with a lid. It can spend a week in the fridge. I will say it's a good idea on Thanksgiving Day to take the cranberry sauce out of the fridge earlier in the afternoon and let it come back up to room temperature where it's just much more fragrant and delicious.

KING: That's another very useful tip - honestly not something that had occurred to me, but that's a good one.

BISHOP: I want you to take a little taste. It's - now, it's going to seem too loose because it's going to gel in the refrigerator. But tell me what it tastes like.

KING: I can taste the orange, and I can taste the orange liqueur. That is so good. The orange actually does change the game because this tastes like the cranberry sauce I have every year except it has that added citrus jolt, which is really, really nice.

BISHOP: That burst of freshness along with the cranberries and the orange together is really going to cut the richness of the mashed potatoes, the green bean casserole, the gravy, all that heavy food. You need something bright and, of course, something colorful on the plate. And the cranberry sauce with orange is doing that.

KING: Well, this is a strong recommend from me. I think I will be doing this one this year. Thanks, Jack.

BISHOP: Thanks, Noel. Have a great Thanksgiving.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We were meant to be, whoa, my cranberries.

KING: Jack Bishop hosts the PBS TV show "America's Test Kitchen." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.