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Clearly, the future of the beef cattle industry in the United States depends on the quality of the product. The majority of calves are born in the spring; therefore, to have a consistent supply of feeders entering feedlots and to take advantage of forages, a variety of stocker programs exist. Cattle enter the feedlot at varying weights and ages and from different nutritional backgrounds, and this variation could produce differences in carcass quality. The economically important measures of carcass quality are yield grade and quality grade. They are directly related: as cattle fatten in the feedlot, both quality grade and yield grade increase. Because cattle are commercially fed to fat-constant end points, it is logical to make comparisons at equal fat end points. Then, marbling (percentage Choice) becomes the primary quality criterion. We analyzed data from 534 cattle serially slaughtered and found that the percentage grading Choice increased 12 ± 1 percentage units for each 1-mm increase in rib fat. Marbling score increased 30 units (200 = slight 00) for each 1-mm increase in fat. To determine the effect of rate of winter gain on carcass quality, 372 calves over 5 yr were wintered at .23 or .61 kg/d gain. When adjusted to equal rib fat after summer grazing and finishing, there was no difference in quality grade. To test the effect of summer gain on carcass quality, 418 calves over 7 yr were followed through the feedlot after gaining .57 or .84 kg/d on grass. When compared at equal rib fat, there was no difference in quality grade. Shear force values and consumer taste panels were used to evaluate steaks from 90 cattle from calf-fed and yearling production systems. Calf-feds were 14 mo of age at slaughter and yearlings were 19 or 21 mo. Each group was serially slaughtered. There was no effect of an additional .39 cm of rib fat on shear force, juiciness, tenderness, flavor, or overall palatability. Calf-feds were significantly more tender than yearlings, but the risk of an undesirable steak from yearlings was < .2% based on shear force and < 2.8% based on the consumer taste panel. If cattle are fed to a common rib fat end point, and within the range of rates of winter and summer gains reported herein, we conclude that the backgrounding program has little or no effect on marbling or carcass quality grade.