DNA methylation at position C5 of the pyrimidine ring of cytosine in mammalian genomes has received a great deal of research interest due to its importance in many biological phenomena. It is associated with events such as epigenetic gene silencing and the maintenance of genome integrity. Aberrant DNA methylation, particularly that of chromosomal regions called CpG islands, is an important step in carcinogenesis. In order to elucidate methylation profiling of complex genomes, various methods have been developed. Many of these methods are based on the differential reactivity of cytosine and 5-methylcytosine to various chemicals. The combined use of these chemical reactions and other preexisting methods has enabled the discrimination of cytosine and 5-methylcytosine in complex genomes. The use of proteins that preferentially bind to methylated DNA has also successfully been used to discriminate between methylated and unmethylated sites. The chemical and structural dissection of the in vivo processes of enzymatic methylation and the binding of methyl-CpG binding proteins provides evidence for the complex mechanisms that nature has acquired. In this review we summarize the methods available for the discrimination between cytosine and 5-methylcytosine in complex genomes.