Issues of early fire use have become topical in human evolution, after a long period in which fire scarcely featured in general texts. Interest has been stimulated by new archaeological finds in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and also by major inputs from other disciplines, including primatology and evolutionary psychology. Evidence for fire is, however, often disputed, especially with regard to the early cases in Africa. Interpretations often struggle to take into account the implications of a huge bias in archaeological preservation, which means that our surviving evidence does not accurately map the past. Additionally, there is often a ‘yes-no’ presence/absence approach to fire, which does not recognise that earliest hominin fire use may have occurred in interaction with natural fire, and may not even have included deliberate hearth use in its first stages. Here we examine the need to integrate different approaches to the issues of early fire-use, considering especially the earliest archaeological evidence and the ‘cooking hypothesis’, while also tackling the issues of apparent differences in early African and European fire records.