Chefs Weigh In On the Great Cranberry Sauce Debate, and It Gets Heated
There are two kinds of people in this world: People who prefer canned cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving, and people who prefer homemade. Oh, wait—I'm getting word that there are also people who like having both canned and homemade on the table.
"I love the canned stuff, but I also love when someone shows up with a really sour homemade one with loads of orange zest," one coworker told me. Another chimed in, "Team BOTH." Because the truth is, canned cranberry sauce and homemade cranberry sauce are two entirely different foods. And both elicit emotional responses.
We decided to ask chefs how they felt about the age-old cranberry sauce debate, and we found a surprisingly large contingent advocating for canned sauce, with the ridges still visible. But the opinions were all over the place. Here's what they had to say.
"Homemade is the best and non-negotiable."
"It's so easy to make cranberry sauce; I don’t know why anyone would use canned unless you have a nostalgia for it. I buy two bags of cranberries and freeze them. When I’m ready to cook, I cook them frozen in a pot with orange juice, honey, and lots of ginger. As soon as the cranberries burst (the freezing makes them burst easier), they're done. I like my sauce chunky. I did once put out a can of cranberry sauce for a guest who demanded them. I left it in can form and draped it with turkey deli meat and dusted them with the spice mix from Stove Top stuffing. He didn’t think that was funny." - Edward Lee, culinary director at Succotash
"All you need is a little extra time and a lot of love to get a much better and more delicious cranberry sauce." - Yuval Litmanovich, executive chef at Green Fig
"Find local cranberries (they’re perfect by Thanksgiving) and make the real thing." - Jimmy Bannos, Jr., executive chef at The Purple Pig
"I'm going to have to say nay on the canned cranberry sauce, even though my family might disown me. It was a staple at all of my family Thanksgivings, but once you take the time to make a fresh cranberry or lingonberry jam in its place, you'll never go back. Fresh lingonberries cooked down in a little bit of sugar, cinnamon, star anise, and orange juice/zest will make you forget canned cranberry sauce ever existed." - Jim Stein, executive chef at McCrady's
"Always make fresh cranberry sauce, as cranberries are always available fresh or frozen." - Glenn Rolnick, executive chef at Carmine’s Italian Restaurant
"Although the overly gelatinous, unnaturally red blob does remind me of my childhood; it doesn’t have a seat at the table anymore. For me cranberry sauce is a must, but I like to use fresh (or frozen) berries cooked down with pomegranate juice, sugar, rosemary, and red wine vinegar. More of a jam or purée with still visible berries is what I like to go for." - Molly Martin, chef/partner at Juniper Green
"I actually never heard of canned cranberries, and being from Barcelona, I did not know they were a part of Thanksgiving traditions since I always cook my Thanksgiving meal with a Spanish twist. That said, I definitely prefer fresh and can’t imagine canned cranberries with ridges!" - Marc Vidal, executive chef at Boqueria
"Never use canned cranberry sauce! It’s so easy to make with fresh or frozen cranberries and can be made weeks ahead of time." - Roberto Santibañez, culinary director at Mi Vida
"I serve fresh cranberry sauce because I like it chunky." - Nicholas Tang, executive chef at DBGB DC
"Canned cranberry sauce should be abolished, always make it fresh!" - Robert Aikens, executive chef and partner at Espita Mezcaleria
"The cranberry sauce is very easy to make. Fresh cranberries and sugar. When it’s homemade, you can adjust the sugar quantity and highlight the cranberry flavor. And to save time you can make it in advance and save it in glass jars." - Laetitia Rouabah, executive chef at Benoit
"Buy some cranberries and boil them in orange juice with a bay leaf and sugar. Cranberries have a lot of pectin and will naturally thicken. Super easy to make and so worth it. Do not take the easy way out here.” - Anthony Zappola, chef/owner at The Rice Shop at Ohio City Galley
"Canned with visible ridges is the way to go."
"I prefer it with the ridges. My sister told me years ago that one day someone would ask me this question, and I would have to be honest or she would sell me out. Funny, the time has come!" - Mina Newman, executive chef at Sen Sakana
"I love canned cranberry sauce and the way it looks out of the can." - Leah Morrow, executive pastry chef at the Brooklyn Bread Lab
"Definitely canned cranberry sauce, This is one item you want to buy and not make and yes, you leave the shape and cut with a knife. Cranberry is one of the couple items that I never want to make fresh because the canned cranberry sauce is going to be just as good if not better than fresh made." - Dave Anoia, chef/owner at DiAnoia's Eatery
"I actually love and prefer the canned cranberry sauce, however, we don't serve it in the restaurant." - Laurence Edelman, chef and owner of Left Bank
"'If it ain't broke, don't fix it!' I was so proud of my homemade cranberry sauce. I found it pushed to the farthest corner of the table where it was in nobody's way. " - David Bancroft, executive chef at Bow & Arrow and Acre
"I gave up on this battle a few years ago. Susan's (my wife’s) family are staunch can supporters. I continued to make cranberry relish only to lose out year after year to my canned competitor.” - Kevin Johnson, executive chef & owner at The Grocery
“A few bites of that canned cranberry sauce isn’t bad and yes those little ridges are the best... brings back childhood memories!” - Kevin Nashan, executive chef at Sidney Street Cafe and Peacemaker Lobster & Crab
"Yas on canned cranberry sauce! It's one of those classics I'll never get enough of. I've just had so many bad versions of homemade cranberry sauce, I gravitate back towards the lovely can ridges of Ocean Spray. My mawmaw always sliced along the can ridges and cascaded the rounds on a platter, beautiful presentation!" - Jacqueline Blanchard, owner of Coutelier
"Dress up the canned cranberry sauce."
"Yes to canned cranberry sauce, for the most important reason…people like it more! I do spice it up to make it mine by adding white wine-plumped golden raisins and orange zest after I whip it in a Kitchen Aid.” - Michael Sichel, executive chef at Hotel Bennett
"I grew up in a family that didn’t cook very much so we always had canned cranberry sauce. I think the cranberry itself lends itself well to a canned preparation, but I find it always better to make it fresh with a little grated apple and fresh horseradish if you have the time. But if you use the canned stuff, wear it proudly and keep the rings." - Ryan Skeen, executive chef at The Cannibal
"Both! I make one of my mom's recipes that's not as sweet and has some yogurt for fat, but the nostalgia of the canned stuff is still strong with me! Slice it along the ridges of the can!” - Joshua Gentry, executive chef at Little Donkey
"Growing up first generation - this is the only cranberry sauce I knew of (in a can with ridges showing). But now, as an adult, I make fresh cranberry sauce." - Dianna Daoheung, executive chef at Black Seed Bagels
"We always do both. We make a new attempt at something with fresh cranberries, which tend to have more spices, or they have stuff like orange zest or wine. And for Dad, a simple can of the Ocean Spray cranberries, still in the can shape, with ridges and all." - Adam Gertler, Würstmacher, Dog Haus
"I actually put both on the table. I love how tangy canned sauce is, and the texture is something I enjoy. The kids at the table typically agree. However, making your own is fun, easy, and there is a lot of room to experiment and play with flavors. I like to cook fresh berries down in orange juice with a lot of brown sugar and grated ginger." - Michael Wilson, executive chef at Domenica