The present study aimed to assess the physico-chemical and sensory characteristics of Longissimus thoracis muscle from young dairy bulls: Holstein-Friesian (HF) and Jersey × Holstein-Friesian (JEX). Bulls slaughtered at 15 months of age differed with respect to the finishing system, whereas 19-month-old bulls differed in energy consumption during a second grazing season and finishing period. All bulls were offered different diets during the first grazing season. Insoluble and total collagen contents increased with slaughter age, whereas collagen solubility and hue angle reduced with age. Bulls fed a higher concentrate finishing diet held a longer beef flavour. Intramuscular fat (IMF) content and beef flavour score were enhanced by higher concentrate intake during the second season and finishing period. Beef from a higher forage diet displayed a more intense red colour and higher thawing loss. There was limited effect of silage finishing or first and second grazing season on quality traits. Beef from JEX breed had a higher IMF content, higher flavour, juiciness and texture-related scores while lower moisture content compared to HF beef. The eating quality of beef from young dairy bulls was generally good. Slaughter age and the energy level of diet had obvious effects on quality characteristics. Cross-breeding Jersey with the HF breed can improve the beef quality of young dairy bulls. © 2017 Society of Chemical Industry.