I first passed a place called Kings Restaurant in 2007 when I interviewed for jobs at a pair of Eastern North Carolina newspapers. Another 12 years passed before I finally got my first taste of the ballyhooed “Pig in a Puppy” at Kings. If you find yourself in Kinston, don’t pass up Kings’ barbecue the way I did for so long.
Most every town big and small in the eastern third of North Carolina has at least one barbecue restaurant. The authentic ones smoke whole hogs and serve it up with sides like slaw, hushpuppies and Brunswick stew. At Kings, you can easily get your barbecue, slaw and hushpuppy fix all in one bite, over and over again on just one ticket.
The “Pig in a Puppy” is vinegar-infused chopped pork barbecue topped with slaw and served on a very large hushpuppy bun. For a North Carolina pork barbecue lover like me, it’s indeed a bite of heaven. There’s a sweetness to the hushpuppy breading, a tang to the vinegar pork Q and a creaminess to the slaw. I suggest you add a side of Brunswick stew, a mix of bits of meat and vegetables to form a thick stew. I’m not sure I’ve had better stew than Kings serves.
From cooked pork to ribs, there are other ways besides the Puppy to enjoy forms of barbecue at Kings. And if you have friends or family members who don’t love barbecue—and while I can’t imagine that, I know they exist from my own family—they’ll have plenty of typical Southern restaurant menu items like burgers and chicken to make them happy at Kings. But if they enjoy seafood, I’d recommend the non-barbecue eaters try some shrimp, flounder or oysters, fried if they want the true Eastern North Carolina experience, along with a side or two.
No matter what you eat, wash it down with a cup or two of sweet tea while you’re at it. That’s the only way to drink properly at a barbecue restaurant in the South.
Kings also offers a buffet option, with a host of favorites available for a set price. You’ll likely find someone asking you when you enter if you’d like the buffet or menu. You’ll go left heading in for ordering off the menu, and you’ll head right for the buffet.
More than a decade ago, I ended up taking a job in nearby New Bern instead of Kinston because that’s where I received an offer. During that time, I visited Kinston because of its proximity for Minor League Baseball games and other events, but I never dined at Kings.
After four years I moved on and eventually ended up back in the western part of North Carolina, where I grew up. I met and married my wife Molly, and I’ve since had the pleasure of introducing her to Eastern North Carolina barbecue in multiple locations, including Kings, where she enjoyed a plate of fresh, well-drained and not greasy, seafood.
The “Pig in a Puppy” is vinegar-infused chopped pork barbecue topped with slaw and served on a very large hushpuppy bun. For a North Carolina pork barbecue lover like me, it’s indeed a bite of heaven.
When I lived “Down East,” as it’s often called, I worked with a man who for some reason thought I didn’t understand that barbecue is a noun and not a verb. He believed that since I was from western North Carolina I called the process of cooking any meat on a grill barbecuing, as many northeastern Americans do. No matter what I said, he’d joke that I failed to grasp that barbecue is cooked pork served on a plate or a bun.
I’ve never misunderstood the process or product of making good barbecue. I might be a westerner in terms of the Tar Heel state, but I enjoy good Q either style—eastern whole hog with vinegar saucing or western pork shoulder only with tomato saucing. However, I’ve yet to find anywhere else that serves barbecue and slaw on a huge hushpuppy bun. You’ll have to go to Kings (which has four locations, but I recommend the one addressed below) for that and so much more.
#FoodieScore Pro Tip: Kings is the iconic Kinston spot for the true Southern foodie looking for tradition, but there are now one or two more nationally-known spots in town, including celebrity chef Vivian Howard’s Chef and the Farmer. You’ll spend more money there and get a fancier meal. While it’s a perfectly fine place, Kings has the deeper history and the tastes and prices we prefer.