Start-up phenomena in microbial biokinetic assays are not captured by the most commonly used growth-related equations. In this study we propose a new respirometric experimental design to estimate intrinsic growth parameters that allow us to avoid these limitations without data omission, separate mathematical treatment, or wake-up pulses prior to the analysis. Identifiability and sensitivity analysis were performed to confirm the robustness of the new approach for obtaining unique and accurate estimates of growth kinetic parameters. The new experimental design was applied to establish the metabolic burden caused by the carriage of a pWW0 TOL plasmid in the model organism Pseudomonas putida KT2440. The metabolic burden associated was manifested as a reduction in the yield and the specific growth rate of the host, with both plasmid maintenance and the over-expression of recombinant proteins from the plasmid contributing equally to the overall effect. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2010;105: 141–149. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.