Heterocyclic amines (HAAs) and polycyclic hydrocarbons are suspected colorectal cancer (CRC) carcinogens that are found in well-done meat. They require metabolic activation by phase I enzymes, such as the smoking-inducible CYP1A isoenzymes. N-acetyltransferase 2 (NAT2) also play a role in the further activation of HAAs. We conducted a population-based case-control study in Hawaii to test the associations of preference for well-done red meat and HAA intake with colon and rectal cancers, as well as the modifying effects of NAT2 and CYP1A2. We interviewed 727 Japanese, Caucasian or Native Hawaiian cases and 727 controls matched on sex, age, and ethnicity. HAA intake was estimated based on consumption of meat and fish for each of several cooking methods and doneness levels. A subgroup of 349 cases and 467 controls was phenotyped for CYP1A2 by a caffeine test. We found that preference for well-done red meat was associated with a 8.8-fold increased risk of CRC (95% CI: 1.7-44.9) among ever-smokers with the NAT2 and CYP1A2 rapid phenotypes, compared to ever-smokers with low NAT2 and CYP1A2 activities and who preferred their red meat rare or medium. A dose-dependent association was also found between the HAA intake estimates and male rectal cancer, with a two- to three-fold increase in risk from the low (T(1)) to high (T(3)) tertile of intake for each HAA. This association was strongest for MeIQx. HAA intake was not associated with male colon cancer or colon or rectal cancer in women. These data provide support to the hypothesis that exposure to pyrolysis products through consumption of well-done meat increases the risk of CRC, particularly in individuals who smoke and are genetically susceptible (as determined by a rapid phenotype for both NAT2 and CYP1A2). An attempt to examine the risk associated with specific HAAs suggested that the main HAAs increase risk of rectal cancer in men and that they do not appreciably affect risk of rectal cancer in women or of colon cancer in either sex.