Originally posted August 4, 2014. Updated June 2015.

Years ago, my only exposure to cranberries was in the form thick slices of the canned variety at Thanksgiving dinner. During college I discovered dried cranberries at my local Trader Joe’s and started snacking on these tart and chewy gems morning, noon and night (and became a bit cranberry-obsessed!)! Until recently, I had neither seen nor heard of cranberries in a barbecue sauce until I started experimenting with a recipe from The Cranberry Institute. Even though I had never made my own barbecue sauce, I was intrigued with the idea of making a traditional holiday food into a sauce that I could add to a chicken sandwich any day of the week!

Most bottled barbecue sauces tend to have a lot of added sugar, so I set out to create one made with whole cranberries, vegetables, spices and minimal added sugar–something I’d feel good about eating and feeding my family. After all, cranberries not only add brilliant color to dishes, they contain powerful, disease-fighting plant chemicals called flavanoids. The specific flavanoids in cranberries are called proanthocyanids (PACs), which help prevent nasty bacteria like E. coli from sticking to cell walls and creating problems like urinary tract infections. Between their delicious flavor, gorgeous color and this amazing anti-adhesion property, cranberries are definitly among my list of super-nutritious foods!

Did you know that cranberries have one of the lowest sugar contents of all berries?! This is why most cranberry products tend to be sweetened–to make the flavor palatable to the masses. 

My first challenge in creating this recipe was finding cranberries in the summer in Arizona. After looking for them at five different grocery stores (truth!), I finally called the one grocery store I knew I’d have the best chance of finding them in…Whole Foods Market. Since I live 45 minutes from the nearest store, I wasn’t about to take my chances without calling ahead! The market employee wasn’t even sure they had any in stock, but soon replied, “Yes! We have a few bags in the frozen section!” Hallelujah!

This is a simple recipe to pull together and the best part is, you can make it ahead of time, refrigerate it and use it when you need it! Add the sauce to shredded or diced chicken, top it with my Tangy Coleslaw with May-Yo Dressing and serve it on a bun. I’ve served this on both a sesame seed bun and on whole grain sandwich thins and they were equally delicious! What can you do with extra sauce? Refrigerate it up to four days or freeze it up to 6 months.

*Special thanks to The Cranberry Institute for the inspiration to create this recipe, for sending me some of the ingredients and for the excellent information about the health benefits of cranberries!

Cranberry BBQ Chicken Sandwich

Serves: 6
Prep time: 10  minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Recipe makes 1 1/2 cups of sauce


  • 2 teaspoons canola oil
  • 1 cup minced yellow or sweet onion
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) frozen cranberries, thawed
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 5 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken or vegetable broth



  1. In a saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes.
  2. Mix in garlic, mustard and chili powder and continue cooking for 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and sugar and cook for additional 5 minutes.
  3. Add cranberries and bring to a simmer. Stir to incorporate all ingredients and heat until cranberries pop, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in about 1/4 cup of broth and allow sauce to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens, about 15-20 minutes. Add up to an additional 1/4 cup of broth to thin sauce to desired consistency. Remove from heat.
  4. Transfer sauce to a blender or use immersion blender and puree to a smooth consistency.
  5. At this point you can cool sauce to room temperature, refrigerate until ready to use and reheat before using or add the sauce to cooked chicken.
  6. For sandwich: Add about 1/2 cup of BBQ seasoned chicken to each bun, top with 1/4 cup of coleslaw and serve.