The holidays are almost here, which means it’s time to start thinking about that classic question: What meat goes with cranberry sauce?
It’s a tough question to answer.
You want something that will stand up to the tang and sweetness of the cranberry sauce, but also be able to play nice with all of the other stuff on your plate.
We’re here to help.
We’ve rounded up 9 of our favorite meats that are a perfect match for cranberry sauce this holiday season—and we’ve even included some tips and tricks for making them taste even better!
What Meat Goes with Cranberry Sauce?
When it comes to pairing meat and cranberry sauce, it all depends on how sweet or sour the cranberry sauce is. If you want a sweeter sauce, you’ll want to pair with a sweeter meat like turkey. If you want a more tart cranberry sauce, you’ll want to pair with a more savory meat like beef.
Still looking for answers?
If there’s one thing that everyone knows about Thanksgiving, it’s that turkey is the classic choice for this holiday meal.
Most people think to use dark meat for pairing with cranberry sauce, but we recommend using light meat instead because its milder flavor allows the sauce to really shine.
Our favorite preparation is grilling, but you can also pan-fry or smoke turkey to bring out different flavors and get a little creative with your presentation.
Duck has been gaining popularity in recent years, and it’s easy to see why: it’s delicious!
This rich, fatty meat pairs well with cranberry sauce as an unexpected complement—it brings a deep richness to balance out the tanginess of the cranberry and create a truly delicious dish.
We recommend smoking duck if you want crispy skin, but if you prefer your skin not to be so crunchy, grilling is another great option.
Goose is a delicious meat, but it can be expensive, so a lot of people don’t get the chance to eat it very often.
It’s also pretty strong-tasting—kind of like beef, but more intense. A good cranberry sauce will help cut down on the richness of the goose and even out its flavor.
Venison is another favorite for many people.
Venison is typically served as steaks or roasts, and it’s delicious when cooked medium-rare.
Pair venison with a sweeter side dish like mashed potatoes or brown rice pilaf and you’ll have a meal everyone loves!
Pheasant is a game bird that’s native to Asia.
It’s similar to chicken in taste and tenderness, but it has a richer flavor.
The meat is dark brown; the skin is lighter brown or tan, and the feathers can be any hue from white to blue-ish green.
Pheasant is commonly served roasted, broiled, or braised.
When paired with cranberry sauce, pheasant offers a rich flavor that complements the tartness of the cranberries.
It tastes best when served as a single thigh fillet or an entire breast with wing bone attached.
6. Black-Angus Beef
With its rich, buttery flavor and tender texture, black-angus beef is the perfect choice for pairing with a sweet sauce like cranberry sauce.
A combination of cranberries, onions and a handful of herbs and spices, this recipe uses black-angus beef to create a mouth-watering tangy dish that will have you licking your plate clean.
7. Pork (especially bacon bits)
There are so many ways to prepare this delicious meat: smoked, roasted, pan-fried, slow cooked, seasoned, glazed… the possibilities are endless!
Pork’s versatility allows it to be paired with a variety of cranberry sauces: simple syrup-based ones, vinegar-based ones, even mustard-based.
One of my favorite pairings is bacon bits with maple syrup-based cranberry sauce.
Bacon bits are amazing because they provide both a crunchy texture and a salty flavor that goes so well with sweeter sauces.
Another great thing about pork is that it can be prepared in advance—a major bonus for people who like hosting but not cooking!
Chicken is another versatile meat that pairs well with cranberry sauce.
It’s a little more expensive than pork, but it’s still very affordable and can be cooked in many different ways, including baked, grilled, or pan fried.
It also has less fat than pork which makes it healthier for you overall!
Lamb is a type of red meat that comes from sheep and is known for its distinct taste and texture.
It’s an excellent choice when you want to spice up your dinner table at the end of a long workday or on weekends with something other than chicken, beef, or turkey.
Tips for Picking the Best Meat to Pair with Cranberry Sauce
Cranberry sauce is a classic Thanksgiving side dish, and it’s also a very versatile one.
You can serve it with all kinds of meats—or even vegetables.
But how do you know which meats will pair best with cranberry sauce?
Here are three tips:
Choose the Right Cut of Meat
It might seem like the most obvious thing in the world, but it’s one that bears repeating: make sure you choose the right cut of meat.
The leaner cuts will work best with cranberry sauce because they’ll give you a more delicate flavor profile.
If you’re looking for something with a bit more heft, fattier cuts will do the trick.
Use Your Senses
The nose knows! When you’re picking out your meat, use your sense of smell to get a better idea of what kind of flavor you’re working with.
- Does it smell rich?
- Or are there hints of citrus?
By using your senses, you can narrow down your options right away so you don’t have to spend hours at the butcher’s shop or grocery store.
Know Your Sauce
Cranberry sauce is an incredibly versatile condiment, but knowing what kind of flavors are going to pop when it’s paired with meat requires some knowledge about the ingredients.
For example, if you know that your cranberry sauce has hints of orange and cinnamon, then those flavors will be accentuated when paired with a leaner cut of meat and vice versa.
5 Meaty Side Dishes That Go Well with Cranberry Sauce
Side dishes can be the hardest part of Thanksgiving.
You’ve got the turkey, and you’ve got the cranberry sauce, but what else could possibly make them happy?
Here are 5 amazing side dishes that will pair perfectly with your sauce!
Meatballs are a classic pairing for cranberry sauce.
They go great together and often grace the same buffet tables, but did you know they’re particularly tasty when they’re made of sausage?
Make sure you use a good local sausage—Italian sausage is a favorite—and roll them into balls!
You can serve them plain or covered in cranberry sauce if you want an extra kick of flavor.
This dish had to be our second pick.
It’s delicious, it’s traditional, and it goes great with cranberry sauce.
Just make sure you cook the turkey a little longer than you normally would so that the stuffing is done on time.
3. Cornish Hen
Cornish hen (or as we like to call it, baby chicken) is a small bird that can be stuffed with stuffing and then roasted in the oven.
It pairs well with cranberry sauce because it is also traditional and delicious.
4. Smoked Ham
There’s nothing quite like smoked ham—and it’s even better with cranberry sauce.
You don’t need any special cooking tools for this recipe; just follow the instructions and enjoy!
These meatballs are made with ground beef, pork, and veal and glazed with cranberry sauce.
The sweetness of the cranberry sauce pairs well with the meatiness of the meatballs, making for a flavorful side that will please all your guests.
Best Meat That Goes with Cranberry Sauce
- Black-Angus Beef
- Pork (especially bacon bits)
- Stuffed Turkey
- Cornish Hen
- Smoked Ham
- Cranberry-Glazed Meatballs
- Pick any kind of meat from this list to serve with your saucy dinner.
- Prepare the rest of your meal.
- Enjoy your meal in no time!