A posteriori error estimation methods for mesh adaptation often require an accurate computation of the gradient of a Lagrange finite element solution. The precision of the error estimation is directly related to the accuracy of the recovered gradient. We therefore present in this communication a simple method for the evaluation of the gradient of a linear Lagrange finite element solution, and we show that it has significant advantages over existing methods of the same order. The proposed method requires the solution of a global linear system that can be solved by a preconditioned conjugate gradient method. An interesting feature is that it does not require any special treatment for boundary nodes contrarily to classical local patch recovery methods. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.