Genome-scale metabolic models bridge the gap between genome-derived biochemical information and metabolic phenotypes in a principled manner, providing a solid interpretative framework for experimental data related to metabolic states, and enabling simple in silico experiments with whole-cell metabolism. Models have been reconstructed for almost 20 bacterial species, so far mainly through expert curation efforts integrating information from the literature with genome annotation. A wide variety of computational methods exploiting metabolic models have been developed and applied to bacteria, yielding valuable insights into bacterial metabolism and evolution, and providing a sound basis for computer-assisted design in metabolic engineering. Recent advances in computational systems biology and high-throughput experimental technologies pave the way for the systematic reconstruction of metabolic models from genomes of new species, and a corresponding expansion of the scope of their applications. In this review, we provide an introduction to the key ideas of metabolic modeling, survey the methods, and resources that enable model reconstruction and refinement, and chart applications to the investigation of global properties of metabolic systems, the interpretation of experimental results, and the re-engineering of their biochemical capabilities.