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Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts (Pūpūs)

Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts (Pūpūs)

My mother lived on the Pacific island of Kwajalein for several years when she was growing up, and often ate bacon-wrapped water chestnuts as a snack. Snacks and appetizers are called pūpū. Since we ate these all the time, our family simply called this dish pupu. It’s the snack of snacks for us! The recipe has long been a family favorite and is truly made with love! It starts with a simple but flavorful marinade that’s sweet, savory, and has a little bite from ginger and garlic. The combination of these flavors with salty and crisp bacon is unbelievably scrumptious! But while the taste is big and bold, you’ll be happy to know it takes very little effort to make.

Why Our Recipe

  • We’ve tested and perfected this dish over 30 years.
  • Easy enough for kids to make, so delicious that everyone loves to eat them!

A close up view of someone holding up a bacon wrapped water chestnut on a toothpick.

What makes this version special is that I’ve tested several different ingredients and techniques over decades to nail down the best flavors and cooking methods. When we say this recipe is tried-and-true, we mean it! I have slowly tweaked quantities here and there: adding or reducing bits of garlic and ginger to find the perfect amount, trying more or less brown sugar, and swapping pineapple juice for citrus soda. Bit by bit, these adjustments have created a flavorful water chestnut marinade that is simply irresistible AND so easy to make!

Ingredient Notes

An overhead view of the ingredients needed to make bacon wrapped water chestnuts. An overhead view of the ingredients needed to make bacon wrapped water chestnuts.
  • Bacon: use thin strips of quality pork bacon to easily wrap around the water chestnuts. Don’t try to swap with turkey bacon or cheap bacon that will fall apart.
  • Water Chestnuts: leave them whole and do not try to cut in pieces.
  • Soy Sauce: use regular or low-sodium soy sauce. For a soy-free dish feel free to swap with coconut aminos.
  • Lemon Lime Soda: any choice of brand like Sprite. You can use pineapple juice for a more tropical taste, but we prefer the soda.
  • Brown Sugar: light brown is best for a sweet but mellow taste.
  • Ginger and Garlic: use freshly minced for the most flavor. In a pinch you can swap fresh garlic in this recipe with 1/8 teaspoon of dry garlic.
An overhead view collage of images showing the steps to making bacon wrapped water chestnuts. An overhead view collage of images showing the steps to making bacon wrapped water chestnuts.

Chef’s Tips

Check before cutting the bacon. Typically the strips of bacon are cut in half before wrapping around the water chestnuts. But before slicing, first check the length of the bacon versus the size of the chestnuts. If the water chestnuts are on the smaller side, you might be able to cut the bacon strips into thirds.

When inserting in the toothpick, sometimes the water chestnut can split. Be sure to push the toothpick through the center, not the edge to prevent splitting. Go straight through, trying to not wiggle the toothpick too much. Watch your hands!

Use a baking sheet that is lined with parchment paper for quick and easy cleanup.

Use tongs to turn the water chestnuts halfway through cooking. This is important so that all sides of the bacon can be crisp.

Keep your eyes on them. The bacon crisping up will be the cue to know they are done. Remove them from the oven promptly so they don’t overcook.

Prep ahead and marinate the water chestnuts for up to 24 hours prior to cooking.

Let the kids help! Show them once or twice how to wrap and secure the bacon, then let them have at it. The marinade comes together easily in one bowl and is poured right on top of the pan. Everyone will have fun in the kitchen, and you’ll be free to work on other dishes. (Or take a little well-deserved break!)

Try Smoking Them!

These pupus are also awesome cooked on an indirect grill (Pellet grill). 

Due to the size of the water chestnuts, they can easily fall through the grate. So use a grill mat. Spread the bacon wrapped water chestnuts out and set the indirect grill to 325. Let them cook for 25 minutes. Watch carefully so you don’t burn the bacon.

An overhead view of bacon wrapped water chestnuts on a baking sheet. An overhead view of bacon wrapped water chestnuts on a baking sheet.

What to Serve with Pūpūs

Crisp water chestnuts wrapped in bacon are a delicious side or main dish the whole family loves. Pair them with savory island foods like kalua pork or savory pulled ham, Hawaiian bbq chicken, or spam fried rice. Highlight the sweetness of the water chestnuts and also serve with a fruit salad, slices of fresh or grilled pineapple, or slices of mango.

They are always a hit as an appetizer for get-togethers, potlucks, and parties. Really, any occasion! Serve crunchy, sweet and salty water chestnuts alongside other finger food snacks like cream cheese and avocado wontons and crab rangoons.

Storage and Reheating Instructions

Refrigerate leftovers for 5-6 days in an airtight container.

Reheat in an oven or air fryer at 350 for 7-9 minutes. Check often, as you want to make sure the water chestnut is heated through but not overcook the bacon.

More delicious appetizer recipes…

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Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts (Pūpūs)
Bacon Wrapped Water Chestnuts (Pūpūs)

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