Intensively finishing cattle on a high-grain diet is generally used to enhance marbling, whereas extensively finishing on grass is known to provide improved muscle fatty acid profiles. The objective of this study was to evaluate to what extent intensive concentrate finishing (0, 1 or 2 months) can be combined with forage feeding without negatively affecting the fatty acid profile of genetically lean animals. Bulls from the ‘Asturiana de los Valles’ breed were reared under grazing conditions with/without final finishing on a barley-based concentrate: 0 months (control; n = 7), 1 month (n = 10) and 2 months (n = 7). Yearling bulls were slaughtered commercially at an average live weight of 516 ± 9.8 kg. Increasing the finishing time on concentrate significantly increased the saturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, whereas polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) tended to decrease and it was not possible to increase the long-chain PUFA content in muscle tissue of this breed. An increase was observed for total trans-18:1 (average 5.5% with grain v. 3.7% for grass). The 11t-18:1/10t-18:1 ratio was significantly higher in grass-fed (average 8.1) compared with grain-finished animals (average 1.1). Grass or limited concentrate finishing reduced the n-6/n-3 ratio in muscle tissue (average 3.6 for 0 and 1 month, and 4.9 for 2 months on grain finishing). The beef was within or close to the recommended values for human consumption (i.e. polyunsaturated/saturated > 0.45, n-6/n-3 < 4.0), and total trans-FA content was low. However, finishing increased the content of undesirable trans-18:1 and conjugated linoleic acid isomers, particularly after 2 months, whereas grass finishing was judged to provide a healthier beef fatty acid profile.