This study aims to investigate the relative contribution of ante- and post-mortem factors to the final quality of beef. In all, 112 steers (four breed-crosses) were arranged in a 2 × 2 × 2 factorial experimental including production system, growth implant and β-adrenergic agonist strategies. Carcasses were suspended by the Achilles tendon or the aitch bone and meat was aged for 2/6/13/21/27 days (longissimus muscle) or 2/27 days (semimembranosus muscle). Meat quality traits related to beef texture were measured. Statistical analyses were developed including ante- and post-mortem factors and their relative contribution to the variability observed for each measured trait was calculated. The main factor responsible for the variability in sarcomere length was the suspension method (91.1%), which also influenced drip-loss (44.3%). Increasing the percentage of British breeds increased (P < 0.05) the intramuscular fat content in longissimus muscle, but only when implants were not used. Thus, the breed-cross, implant strategy and their interaction were responsible for >58% of the variability in this trait. The variability in instrumental and sensory tenderness was mainly affected by post-mortem factors (carcass suspension, ageing time and their interaction), explaining generally ∼70% of the variability in these traits. Breed-cross was the second most important effect (∼15%) when carcass suspension was not considered in the model, but still ageing time was responsible for a much larger proportion of the variability in tenderness (>45%). In conclusion, post-mortem handling of the carcasses may be much more effective in controlling beef tenderness than pre-mortem strategies.