1. The aim of the study was to determine the ideal ratio of the essential amino acids lysine (Lys), methionine (Met), threonine (Thr), tryptophan (Trp), arginine (Arg), valine (Val) and isoleucine (Ile) and to assess the required dietary lysine concentration for optimum performance in broiler chickens of 2 commercial strains from 20 to 40 d of age. 2. An identical basal diet was used throughout all experiments. It consisted mainly of maize and soyabean meal and contained 172 g crude protein and 13.2 MJ AMEN per kg. For each experiment, the basal diet was adequately supplemented with all essential amino acids except the one to be tested, which was supplemented in 6 graded concentrations in exchange for maize starch. One (Met, Trp, Arg, Val, Ile) or 2 (Lys, Thr) growth trials were conducted per amino acid tested and the response in weight gain, food: gain ratio, breast meat yield and abdominal fat were examined. 3. The ideal amino acid ratio relative to Lys (expressed as a percentage) was calculated to be 75% Met+Cys, 63% Thr, 19% Trp, 112% Arg, 71% Ile and 81% Val on a true faecal digestible basis when the data were subjected to broken-line regression analysis. From both lysine studies the concentration for optimum food: gain ratio was calculated, by exponential regression analysis, to be 11.5 g true faecal digestible lys per kg diet. © 1999, British Poultry Science Ltd.