Despite years of effort, the problem of predicting the conformations of protein side chains remains a subject of inquiry. This problem has three major issues, namely defining the conformations that a side chain may adopt within a protein, developing a sampling procedure for generating possible side-chain packings, and defining a scoring function that can rank these possible packings. To solve the former of these issues, most procedures rely on a rotamer library derived from databases of known protein structures. We introduce an alternative method that is free of statistics. We begin with a rotamer library that is based only on stereochemical considerations; this rotamer library is then optimized independently for each protein under study. We show that this optimization step restores the diversity of conformations observed in native proteins. We combine this protein-dependent rotamer library (PDRL) method with the self-consistent mean field (SCMF) sampling approach and a physics-based scoring function into a new side-chain prediction method, SCMF–PDRL. Using two large test sets of 831 and 378 proteins, respectively, we show that this new method compares favorably with competing methods such as SCAP, OPUS-Rota, and SCWRL4 for energy-minimized structures. Proteins 2014; 82:2000–2017. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.