Twenty dollars can go a long way for a kid in elementary school.
For Arkansas football’s redshirt sophomore Cam Ball, $20 turned into a lifetime passion.
When the Razorbacks defensive tackle was 6 years old, his father, Charles Ball, offered Cam that small amount of cash in exchange for his services around the grill. Charles, a long-time educator and coach in Atlanta, had a side gig catering barbecue in the city.
At first, Cam’s motivation was purely money and food. An easy payday from Dad also coincided with a free plate of his favorite meal. But as time lingered on, Cam became a more regular employee for Charles, and the seduction of food turned into inspiration.
“When Cam was with me, it started with him just wanting to eat free chicken and ribs,” Charles said. “But at some point, he started asking questions. He wanted to start the fire and move the grill. It just went from there. Now, I think he could teach me a few things.”
Cam has carried this childhood passion to Fayetteville, where twice this season Cam has gone from playing on Saturdays to cooking plates for teammates and friends on Sundays. The plates include ribs, chicken, baked beans, mac-and-cheese and a roll.
He held his first pop-up BBQ sale the Sunday after the road Ole Miss game, having to cook with one arm after suffering an injury against the Rebels. He sold plates again the Sunday after the Mississippi State game, soaking the meat overnight and getting started at 8 a.m. so his food could be served for lunch. Cam cooks out of his own place, with only his girlfriend providing help.
The tradition started informally last year when he was a redshirt freshman, but Cam received rave reviews on his cooking, and friends told him he should start charging money for plates.
For Cam, this was just another way to challenge himself on a road to independence, weaving his father’s influences with passions he hopes to pursue by himself.
“This is the first year I started selling,” Cam said. “I just wanted to put myself out there and step outside my comfort zone and really see what I could do cooking for other people. I was nervous to do it.”
According to his father, Cam didn’t cook much BBQ before he arrived in Fayetteville. He was always around to help, but Cam shied away from any grill-master responsibilities.
But responsibilities are unavoidable when kids make the transition out of their parents’ home and into the college ranks. Cam wanted to start consistently cooking for himself. Barbecue was his entrance into self-sustainability.
It’s also turned into a potential career down the line, as Ball is getting a major in communication studies and a minor in food science at Arkansas.
In his limited time away from football last year, he picked up a short-term job at Chili’s so he could see what it was like to work in the kitchen. He’s also done some work with Bordino’s on Dickson, and he reportedly has an NIL deal with the ever-popular Northwest Arkansas establishment, Wright’s BBQ.
Cam’s eventual goal is to obtain an LLC and make the family business official. He wants ‘Ball’s BBQ’ to open at some point in the future. Until then, it’ll remain a side gig with some nice emotional benefits.
“I’m just passionate about other people enjoying my food,” Cam said. “Whoever it is, I want to see them smile and enjoy something that I created.”
Cam returned home to Atlanta during the Razorbacks’ bye week. BBQ, and his mom Corinthia Ball’s famous potato salad, were on the agenda.
But for the first time, Cam and Charles swapped roles.
“It’s prophetic because Cam came home and he said, ‘Pop I’m running to the store and getting stuff to barbecue.’ I thought he was tired, but he just wanted to show me what he could do. He didn’t want me to do anything. It was nice for me,” Charles said.
Cam still has work to do on his path to pit master. He says his pulled pork needs sharpening, and he wants to learn how to cook brisket before his time in college is over.
Charles learned the arts around a grill from his father while growing up in Montgomery, Ala. From one generation to the next, the Balls are carrying a love of BBQ into the future.
When Thanksgiving rolls around this week, Charles and the Ball family will come to Fayetteville. Charles will cook the turkey. Cam will be there, perhaps learning a new craft for the future of Ball’s BBQ.
Twenty dollars are no longer required.