The mutagenic heterocyclic amines 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (MeIQx), 2-amino-3-methylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoline (IQ), 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5-b]pyridine (PhIP) and 2-amino-3,4,8-trimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline (DiMeIQx) were measured in ground-beef patties fried at 150, 190 and 230 degrees C for 2-10 min on each side. Heterocyclic amines were purified using solid-phase extraction and analysed by HPLC. Recovery-corrected amounts of each heterocyclic amine were determined by the method of standard addition based on spiked samples with recoveries ranging from 40 to 70%. Mutagenic activity measured by the Ames/Salmonella test was determined for each sample. The amounts of MeIQx, PhIP, DiMeIQx and IQ increased with time and temperature of cooking. 3-Amino-1,4-dimethyl-5H-pyrido[4,3-b]indole (Trp-P-1), 3-amino-1-methyl-5H-pyrido[4,3-b]indole (Trp-P-2) and 2-amino-9H-pyrido[2,3-b]indole (A alpha C) were not detected in any sample. The mutagenic activity response measured for the meat extracts (TA98 revertants) was similar to the mutagenic activity calculated from the mass of heterocyclic amines present. The rate of formation of PhIP in a model system containing creatinine and phenylalanine heated in 80% diethylene glycol was compared with PhIP formation during meat frying. The apparent heats of activation were 6.5 kcal/mol in the model system compared with 6.0 kcal/mol in the fried meat patties. The increase in PhIP and MeIQx formation fitted an exponential function over the range 0 to 11 min and from 150 to 230 degrees C. This report shows clearly that increases in cooking temperature and time can have a profound effect on the amounts of heterocyclic amines generated and subsequently consumed in the diet.