For many years it has been known that viral capsid proteins are capable of self-assembly, but increasing evidence over the past decade indicates that in cells HIV-1 capsid assembly occurs via a complex but transient series of steps requiring multiple viral-host interactions. To better understand the biochemistry of HIV assembly, our group established a cell-free system that faithfully reconstitutes HIV-1 Gag synthesis and post-translational events of capsid assembly using cellular extracts, albeit more slowly and less efficiently. This system allowed initial identification of interactions that occur very transiently in cells but can be tracked in the cell-free system. Analysis of the cell-free system revealed that Gag progresses sequentially through a step-wise, energy-dependent series of assembly intermediates containing cellular proteins. One of these cellular proteins, the ATPase ABCE1, has been shown to play a critical role in the assembly process. The existence of this energy-dependent assembly pathway was subsequently confirmed in cellular systems, further validating the cell-free HIV-1 capsid assembly system as an excellent tool for identifying mechanisms underlying HIV-1 capsid formation. Here we describe how to assemble immature HIV-1 capsids in a cell-free system and separate assembly intermediates by velocity sedimentation.