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Eighty Angus and Angus × Simmental steer calves were used in a completely random design to determine the effect of rate of BW gain during the backgrounding period on subsequent feedlot performance, carcass characteristics, Warner-Bratzler shear force (WBSF), and sensory analysis. Animals were stratified by BW and allotted randomly to 1 of 10 pens (5 pens/treatment). Dietary treatments were formulated for an ADG of 0.91 kg/d [low BW gain (LG), 1.06 Mcal of NEg/kg] diets and 1.25 kg/d [high BW gain (HG), 1.19 Mcal of NEg/kg]. Steers were fed 70 d during the growing period. The LG diet consisted of 52.5% barley silage, 39.0% whole shell corn, and 8.5% supplement, whereas the HG diet contained 43.9% barley silage, 47.4% whole shell corn, and 8.7% supplement (DM basis). Initial BW (226 kg) was not different (P = 0.70) between treatments. Steers fed the HG diet had increased ADG (1.67 vs. 1.40 kg/d; P < 0.001) compared with steers fed LG diet. Dry matter intake was greater (9.49 vs. 8.35 kg/d; P < 0.001) for steers fed the HG vs. LG diet. Total backgrounding cost ($/animal) was less (P < 0.001) for those steers fed LG diet compared with HG diet ($126.00 vs. $140.35, respectively); however, total cost per kilogram of BW gain was not different (P = 0.24; $0.485/kg of BW gain). After the backgrounding period, steers were fed a common finishing diet for 135 d. During the finishing period, LG steers had similar (P = 0.12; 10.73 vs. 10.35 kg/d) DMI compared with those fed HG diets; however, ADG was not different (1.55 kg; P = 0.72) among treatments. Hot carcass weight, marbling score, 12th-rib fat, LM area, and USDA yield grade were not different (P > 0.12) between treatments and averaged 363 kg, Sm30, 1.33 cm, 83.8 cm2, and 2.7, respectively. There were no differences (P = 0.77; 3.63 ± 0.12 kg) in WBSF tenderness of rib-eye steaks. Percent cooking loss was increased in LG diets (P = 0.017). No differences were observed in consumer sensory analysis of tenderness, juiciness, and flavor intensity (P ≥ 0.276; 5.43 ± 0.12, 5.07 ± 0.13, and 5.17 ± 0.05, respectively). These data suggest that feeding steers diets that differ in energy concentration and result in ADG of 1.4 and 1.7 kg/d during the growing period results in minimal changes in subsequent finishing performance and does not affect meat quality.