The aim of this study was to test the hypotheses that differences in residual feed intake (RFI) of beef steers are related to diet sorting, diet nutrient composition, energy intake and apparent digestibility. To phenotype steers for RFI, 69 weaned Angus × Hereford steers were fed individually for 56 days. A finishing diet was fed twice daily on an ad libitum basis to maintain approximately 0.5 to 1.0 kg refusals. Diet offered and refused was measured daily, and DM intakes (DMI) were calculated by difference. Body weights were recorded at 14-day intervals following an 18-h solid feed withdrawal. The residual feed intake was determined as the residual of the regression of DMI versus mid-test metabolic BW (BW0.75) and average daily gain (ADG). Particle size distributions of diet and refusals were determined using the Penn State Particle Separator to quantify diet sorting. Sampling of diet, refusals and feces were repeated in four sampling periods which occurred during weeks 2, 4, 6 and 8 of the study. Particle size distributions of refusals and diet were analyzed in weeks 2, 4 and 6, and sampling for chemical analysis of refusals and feces occurred in all four periods. Indigestible neutral detergent fiber (288 h in situ) was used as an internal marker of apparent digestibility. We conclude that preference for the intakes of particles > 19 mm and 4 to 8 mm were negatively correlated to RFI and ADG, respectively. Although steers did sort to consume a different diet composition than offered, diet sorting did not impact intake energy, digestible energy or DM digestibility.