The effect of processing conditions on the mutagenic activity and sensory quality of everyday food was studied by investigating grilled chicken samples seasoned with four different marinades and grilled at temperatures of about 110, 170 and 220 degrees C. The amounts of the heterocyclic amines 2-amino-3,8-dimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline, 2-amino-3,4,8-trimethylimidazo[4,5-f]quinoxaline and 2-amino-1-methyl-6-phenylimidazo[4,5,-b]pyridine were determined only in samples grilled at 220 degrees C, using a gas chromatography-mass spectrometry technique with negative-ion chemical ionization. Sensory quality was determined using the extended ranking test method and the mutagenic activity using the Ames Salmonella assay. At 220 degrees C one of the marinades decreased the mutagenic activity in the chicken samples compared with the unseasoned control or samples treated with the other marinades. Great variations, without any clear correlation with mutagenicity, were observed in the amounts of heterocyclic amines between chicken samples treated with the same or different marinades. At the grilling temperatures of 170 degrees C and 110 degrees C the mutagenic activities of the chicken samples were lower or they were non-mutagenic. There was no correlation between mutagenic activity and sensory quality of the products. The samples with high mutagenic activity were ranked to be as good as the samples with lower or no mutagenicity. The results show that it is possible to prepare grilled products with reduced mutagenicity without compromising their sensory quality. It was also evident that marinades can have a reducing effect on the mutagenicity of grilled chicken. Variation observed in the amounts of heterocyclic amines between equivalent products makes it difficult to estimate their concentration in everyday foods.