The venomous gourmet: A review of Bull City Burger and Brewery’s Tarantula Burger

Spider on a bun is the highlight of Durham restaurant’s Exotic Meat Month

According to a list of “fascinating facts” that has been forwarded around the internet for decades, the average sleeping American swallows four spiders a year.

I guess I have three more to go.

Every April since 2012, Durham’s Bull City Burger and Brewing has celebrated Exotic Meat Month. While other restaurants may be introducing plant-based meat substitutes*, for more than a decade, Bull City has given a new meaning to impossible burger, by looking far and wide for intriguing ingredients for their burger patties.

(*Rest assured, Bull City also offers plant-based alternatives for vegetarian customers.)

Reindeer? Python? Emu? Kangaroo? Yak? They’re all on the menu at various points during Exotic Meat Month. The restaurant lists 20 different exotic meats on their menu, with different combinations available each day during the month. They do their best on social media to give customers a heads up on what to expect throughout the month.

Why do they do this? As Bull City explains on its website, it gives customers “a chance to experience tastes that other cultures enjoy every day. It is a chance to learn about new flavors and increase your cultural awareness. It’s … a chance to step outside the box and experience ingredients that are daring, fresh and exciting.”

Tucked about two thirds of the way down the exotic meat menu is an ingredient that’s easy to miss: “Bugs.”

While the chance to try an ostrich or camel burger may excite some, Exotic Meat Month made its name with two ingredients from the “Bugs” category. The supplies are extremely limited, but, a few days every April, Bull City Burger and Brewer offers a few select diners the chance to sample the tarantula burger.

Unlike some of the other meats on the exotic menu, the patty is not made from ground tarantula. For most diners, that might actually be preferable to what is served. The Tarantula Burger is 100% all beef patty, on a fresh baked bun, topped with lettuce, a spicy sauce similar to barbecue … and a whole, baked tarantula.

The restaurant gets the tarantulas pre-baked and tops the burgers with them, hair, legs, eyes and all. It comes with a side of dirty fries for $25. In previous years, Bull City has had to hold lotteries to determine which diners get the spiders, since demand was so high. On the Sunday when I went, however, there were still some left at the height of the lunch rush.

Seated at a long communal table, another customer near me received his Tarantula Burger first, happily dousing it in ketchup and chowing down, much to the chagrin of the other people in his party.

As he was finishing up, my own Tarantula Burger arrived. The top bun was leaning against the burger, putting the tarantula on full display. It sat, legs folded up into its body, swimming in a pool of the BBQ sauce. This, I would later learn, was no accident.

“Your first time?” my new arachnotarian friend asked. When I nodded, he said, “Mine too.”

I put the bun in place, eschewed any ketchup—I wanted to taste it the way Bull City intended—took a deep breath, and then took a deep bite.

This may come as a shock to you, but … tarantula doesn’t taste very good.

I tried to use a convoluted logic to convince myself that it wouldn’t be too bad. After all, I reasoned, an ugly, dangerous, multi-legged creature that lives in water is an expensive delicacy. And aren’t crabs and lobsters really just the tarantulas of the sea? Maybe the big spider would taste similar to its seafood cousins.

It did not. The barbecue sauce wasn’t a luxury. It was a necessity, to drown out the tarantula taste. Its body was sour and bitter, tasting somewhat like milk that’s gone bad. The sweet spice of the sauce was able to blunt that, somewhat, but the resulting mixture of tastes still wasn’t a pleasant one. Without the sauce, the tarantula body tasted …well, like something that simply should not be eaten.

Then there were the legs.

“The legs,” said the diner who had eaten his burger just before me. “That’s what got me. I was fine, except for the legs.”

They were crunchy, much like the texture of bacon, except for one major difference: They were covered with hair, which, while also crunchy, was also somehow sticky and clung to my inner cheeks and tongue. An hour later, I was still picking what I was sure was tarantula hair from between my teeth. It also meant that after each bite was swallowed, my mouth was still filled with a cloud of leg bits, floating around and clinging to all surfaces. I tried chasing it with sips of a drink, but the sensation remained.

I finished the entire burger, spider and all eight legs. I’m not proud of it, but I am a professional. I did not return when they released their scorpion burger with guacamole a few days later.

As I was cleaning my plate, a waitress walked over to the chalkboard displaying the day’s specials and erased “Tarantula Burger” from view.

They’d sold out their supply for the day.