Cre recombinase is now widely used to carry out complex manipulations of DNA molecules both in vitro and in vivo. For in vitro experiments, there is a clear need for highly pure preparations of Cre and of Cre mutants that serve as controls or supply an altered activity or specificity. In vivo experiments utilizing Cre variants also often require in vitro characterization and some applications involve transfection of purified enzyme to achieve transient activity in the cell. This review outlines a detailed protocol for purification of native Cre and describes straightforward assays that can be used to test for recombination activity in vitro. The design of experiments to trap the intermediates of Cre-loxP site-specific recombination for biophysical studies is also presented. The methods described should be useful to any investigator with a need for purified Cre recombinase and should be broadly applicable to related site-specific recombination systems.