Sweet, savory, and oh-so-tender and juicy, this Balsamic Roasted Cranberry Chicken Recipe is a sweet and savory dinner perfect for the holidays. Made with fresh cranberries, hearty chicken thighs, and plenty of flavor, it can be made in the oven or air fryer in minutes. Pair it with all your favorite gluten free sides for a complete meal you’ll love!
Your New Favorite Holiday Recipe
I have a confession. I don’t like turkey. GASP! It’s blasphemy, I know, especially around the holidays. Don’t get me wrong, I love a warm bowl of turkey sweet potato chili or green chile turkey tacos. However, traditional roasted turkey just doesn’t do it for me. That said, during the holidays we still serve a big bird, but it usually takes the form of my Instant Pot Whole Chicken or everyone’s favorite, this balsamic roasted cranberry chicken dish recipe!
A Cotter classic, this recipe has been a family and reader favorite for years, and for good reason! Made with bright cranberries, simple ingredients, and tender chicken, it’s not only picture-worthy and perfect for Instagram, but it’s also easy to make and unbelievably tasty. One bite, and you’ll find yourself whipping it up for Christmas dinner, holiday parties, weekly meal prep, and everything in between!
Allergy Friendly Ingredients for Cranberry Chicken and Marinade
What sets this cranberry chicken apart from other chicken recipes is the use of seasonal ingredients and our cranberry marinade!
- Cranberries – Used to add natural sweetness to both the marinade and the chicken, cranberries are also a great source of vitamin C, and antioxidants, and can help improve digestion.
- Olive Oil – Forms the base of the marinade, locking in flavor and providing a boost of omega fats.
- Maple Syrup – A natural sweetener, maple syrup helps bring out the flavor of the cranberries and is used to coat the chicken, locking in moisture while it roasts.
- Balsamic Vinegar – Combined with maple syrup, balsamic vinegar keeps the chicken extra tender. Not to mention, it can also help improve blood circulation, lower cholesterol, and promote better digestion! (Source)
- Garlic – The savory flavor of garlic balances out the sweetness of the rest of the ingredients, making for a well-rounded dish. It can also help boost your immune system, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, and more. (Source)
- Chicken Thighs – The key to creating extra juicy and delicious cranberry chicken is to use skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs. A great source of heart-healthy unsaturated fats, the skin is what locks in the moisture and creates the irresistible crispy exterior. It’s also rich in vitamin K, which is a nutrient we often overlook!
- Herbs – Fresh thyme leaves or dried herbs are sprinkled on top of the finished chicken for a beautiful presentation and herbaceous flavor.
How to Make the Best Balsamic Roasted Cranberry Chicken
Unlike a Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham that requires a lot of prep work and a lot of “babysitting” while it cooks, this cranberry chicken recipe is pretty hands-off. That means you can pop it in the oven and get to work on your favorite sides like dairy free mashed potatoes and gluten free stuffing salad!
We’ll walk you through how to make the oven method (see video above) and a new air fryer method we added below!
- Create the marinade. Add all of the marinade ingredients to the bowl of a food processor or high-speed blender, and pulse until smooth.
- Marinate the chicken. Coat the chicken thighs with the cranberry marinade, and let it sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight. The longer it marinates, the more flavorful your chicken will be!
- Bake. Arrange the chicken skin side down on a baking pan, and sprinkle more cranberries on top. Then, bake for 25-25 minutes, depending on the size of your chicken thighs. Flip the chicken over, and brush extra maple syrup and olive oil on top. Continue to cook the chicken until it reaches an internal temperature of 165° Fahrenheit.
- Broil. Once the chicken is fully cooked, let it broil until the skin is crispy. Be careful not to overcook!
- Serve. Spoon extra marinade over the cranberry chicken, sprinkle it with herbs and a pinch of pepper, and serve warm.
Air Fryer Method
Follow the recipe as listed, marinating the cranberry chicken. Then, instead of baking it in the oven, preheat your air fryer to 400° Fahrenheit. Cook the chicken alone (without the additional cranberries) for 13-15 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked, flipping halfway through. Just be sure to baste the chicken with more cranberry sauce when you flip it over to help prevent it from drying out!
Tips and Tricks for Success
Use Fresh Cranberries. For the best results, we recommend using fresh cranberries. Or, be sure to let thawed varieties thaw in the fridge before use. Otherwise, your marinade will be too watery, and the flavor won’t be quite as strong.
Adjust the Cooking Time. Depending on the cut of chicken used and its size, your chicken may take more or less time to cook. So, be sure to keep an eye on it in the oven, and use a meat thermometer to ensure it is fully cooked.
Let the Chicken Rest. You’ll want to be sure to let the chicken rest for at least 5 minutes before slicing into it. This will allow the juices to redistribute, making your chicken tender and juicy.
Bonus Tips & Variations from Our Readers
I used cranberry pear white balsamic vinegar and subbed local honey for the maple syrup. It gave the final glaze a little extra stick.
I took a chance on making this even though I didn’t have time to marinated the chicken per the recipe. I made minor alterations, using 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, doubled the marinade (just poured in the roasting pan to cook in), and used fresh rosemary in place of thyme.
I used a whole can of berry sauce and added a little extra maple syrup, a tiny bit of dijon mustard, and boneless skinless breasts.
I used dried cranberries (50% less sugar) and put a little bit of boiling water on them to rehydrate them before adding them to the blender for the marinade.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
Not only is this balsamic roasted cranberry chicken guaranteed to knock the socks off your guests when served fresh, but it’s also an awesome option to make ahead of time and store for later. That means you can prep your holiday meal in advance!
To Make Ahead: Prepare the cranberry marinade, and let the chicken soak until the next day. Then, just pop it in the oven, and it’s ready in no time.
To Store: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
To Freeze: Once cooled, transfer your cranberry chicken to a freezer-safe container or sealable bag, and keep it frozen for up to 3 months.
To Reheat: To serve, let frozen leftovers thaw in the fridge overnight. Then, warm them in the microwave, covered in a skillet over medium-low heat, or covered in the oven. You could also place them in a slow cooker to keep them warm for a holiday feast!
Note: If your sauce seems a bit dry, add a splash of water or broth to help freshen it up.
This cranberry chicken recipe pairs amazingly well with all your favorite holiday sides like green bean casserole, baked pears with vegan stuffing, rice pilaf with gluten free orzo, and baked cauliflower mac and cheese!
Frequently Asked Questions About Cranberry Chicken
If you can’t find fresh cranberries, frozen can be used in their place. Just make sure to let them thaw completely.
We haven’t tried it, but blueberries or cherries should also work. Or, just make our superfood baked salmon instead!
If you want to lighten up the fat and calories in this recipe, you can absolutely use boneless skinless chicken breasts. BUT you’ll need to reduce the roasting time. While the meat will still be delicious, it’s also important to note that it won’t be nearly as crispy and juicy.
Yes, this cranberry chicken recipe will work with any other neutral-tasting protein including turkey or fish. Just create the marinade, as usual, swap out the chicken for whatever protein you like best, and be sure to adjust the cooking time as needed.
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Do you have questions, feedback, or tips about this recipe? Leave a comment below with any questions or feedback you’d like to share!