While a chef’s knife can be used for a variety of kitchen functions, for precision cuts, you can’t beat a good paring knife. Many professional chefs call this versatile little blade the unsung hero of the kitchen. Considering that it’s probably the second-most important knife you should own, it’s essential to invest in a high-quality product. Luckily, you don’t need to spend a lot to get a paring knife that will last for years.
- BEST OVERALL: Mercer Culinary Genesis Forged Paring Knife
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Victorinox Swiss Cutlery Straight Paring Knife
- UPGRADE PICK: Shun Classic 4″ Paring Knife
- BEST JAPANESE: Professional Damascus Paring Knife
- BEST CERAMIC: Kyocera Advanced Ceramic Revolution Series 3-inch Paring Knife
- BEST SERRATED: Victorinox Rosewood 3.25 Inch Paring Knife with Serrated Edge
- BEST SET: WÜSTHOF Gourmet Three Pairing 3-Piece German Precise Laser Cut Knife Set
Types of Best Paring Knives
Paring knife blades generally come in four distinct shapes. Though the differences may be subtle, they can have a major impact on performance. Read on to find out whether a spear-point, Japanese-style, bird’s beak, or sheep’s foot knife will make the most useful addition to the kitchen knife block.
This versatile little knife goes by many different names, including “spear point,” “spear tip,” “Western-style,” “German-style,” or, simply, “classic” paring knife. It can be used for all manner of peeling, slicing, and coring tasks, and it’s likely the one most commonly used by both professional chefs and home cooks alike. Its curved blade allows for a slight rocking motion when mincing shallots or garlic. Serrated spear-point paring knives, which work well for slicing through tomatoes or removing the pith from an orange, also are available.
Some confusion surrounds the term “Japanese” when discussing knives. That’s because there’s actually a big difference between traditional Japanese knives and Western-style Japanese knives. You may see the traditional, single-beveled style behind the counter at your favorite sushi restaurant, but it’s unlikely to appear in the average home kitchen. On the other hand, Western-style Japanese knives are an incredibly popular and well-respected style. In terms of paring knives, the shape of a Western-style Japanese knife is similar to that of a spear-point knife, but with a slightly straighter blade.
The distinctive blade shape of the bird’s beak knife is intended for peeling and turning vegetables. Its curved shape provides a very precise cut along the peel or rind of certain types of produce. It also can be used for coring fruit. It’s typically a little bit shorter than a standard paring knife, and some people find certain kitchen tasks much easier with a bird’s beak knife. Consumers short on space could make do with other knives, but those who do a lot of produce preparation work may find this style of knife especially useful.
Those familiar with the santoku style of chef’s knife probably will notice that the sheep’s foot paring knife looks essentially like a miniature version of that type. Culinary expert J. Kenji López-Alt touts its praises on Serious Eats, citing its superiority over the more popular spear-point paring knife. He says that since minimal hand motion is the ideal way to use a knife, a straighter blade is superior. The sheep’s foot style has a straight blade that can make straight cuts. This style allows almost the entire length of the blade to rest against the cutting board. It’s a great tool for precisely julienning vegetables, but it also can be used for more traditional paring tasks.
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Paring Knife
Before shopping for a paring knife, weigh some key considerations. Though it’s easy to assume that all paring knives perform in a similar manner, there are several factors to consider. Read on to find out what to keep in mind when shopping for the best paring knife for your kitchen.
Three materials are commonly used for knife blades, each of which has benefits and drawbacks.
- Stainless steel blades are the top choice for the average home cook. They are incredibly sharp but also low maintenance. Stainless steel blades have a layer of chromium oxide that prevents oxidation and rusting. You won’t have to worry about any fussy care instructions with stainless.
- Carbon steel blades are often the choice of professional chefs because they’re unmatched in performance, because, when freshly sharpened, they’re sharper than stainless. Not only that, they stay sharp longer. The downside is that caring for them is more difficult. They must be washed and dried shortly after use to prevent discoloration and rust.
- Ceramic blades, which are typically made from zirconium oxide, are becoming increasingly popular. The material is hard and durable, and it won’t rust. They also tend to stay sharp for a long time. However, they’re tricky to sharpen without the help of a professional.
Once you’ve decided on material, it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty of blade characteristics.
- Length: The blade on a paring knife is typically between 3 and 4 inches in length. Any longer, and they become unwieldy.
Flexibility: Look for a blade that’s somewhat flexible. Since you’ll most often use it to peel vegetables, make sure it has some “give,” which makes it easy to maneuver.
- Edge: Of course, you want a sharp-edged knife. The style of the edge also can contribute to sharpness. The most commonly used type is the V-edge, though convex and beveled edges also make for sharp blades.
- Tip: You may want your paring knife to have a pointed tip. One disadvantage of the sheep’s foot style is that you lose the ability to use the tip for precision work.
- Construction: A forged blade is constructed by heating metal so it can be formed into the desired shape. A stamped blade is made by cutting the shape out of a large sheet of metal. Forged blades are generally considered superior, but through technological advancements, plenty of excellent stamped knives are available.
- Full tang knives have blades that extend the entire length of the handle, a feature typically found in high-end knives. The elevated price point is because additional steel is required to create a longer blade. This feature usually makes knives more durable because they don’t have a potential breaking point at the spot where the blade connects to the handle.
- Partial tang knives’ blades end partway through the handle. Also known as “half-tang” or “three-quarter tang,” they often are more affordable. However, they also tend to break more easily.
Weight and Balance
- Weight simply refers to the knife’s heaviness. Paring knives, unlike chef’s knives, should be lightweight because they’re often used for in-hand cutting.
- Balance refers to how the weight is distributed in a knife. In a chef’s knife, you typically want the blade and handle to be equally balanced. However, in a paring knife, you gain better control if the handle is heavier than the blade.
Though much of the focus when considering knives is on the blade, the handle is also important. An ergonomic handle that fits the contours of your hand leads to optimal control when chopping. This is especially important in a paring knife because of the precision needed to maneuver it. Also look for a textured handle, so it doesn’t become slippery while you’re working. Knife handles, constructed with wood, titanium, stainless steel, or carbon fiber, among other materials, are even filled with sand to achieve the ideal balance.
A paring knife can perform a number of functions, from peeling vegetables to processing seafood to undertaking detailed decorative tasks. Always consider how the knife will be used before making a purchase. While bird’s beak and sheep’s foot knives have unique functions, in terms of versatility, spear point and Western-style Japanese paring knives usually represent the better investment for a range of paring requirements.
Depending on how your kitchen is organized, a protective sheath may prove beneficial. If you don’t use a knife block and store the knives in a drawer instead, sheaths protect the knives from wear and tear and prevent family members from accidentally cutting themselves when reaching in the drawer. They’re also handy if you ever travel with your knives. High-end paring knives don’t usually come with a sheath, but many of the more inexpensive ceramic options do. If the knife you choose doesn’t come with a sheath, you can purchase it separately.
To ensure a knife’s longevity, make sure to regularly maintain it. However, maintenance depends on the type of knife you purchase. Stainless steel blades require the least amount of care; whereas, carbon steel must be washed and dried as soon as possible after each use to prevent oxidation. Ideally, all kitchen knives should be cleaned by hand rather than in the dishwasher. No matter its quality, every knife must be sharpened. Sharpen them yourself or take them to a professional.
Our Top Picks
The following recommendations consider all the information mentioned, including blade style and material, tang, balance, and manufacturing method. This list offers a variety of choices of top-notch paring knives to help you find the right one that suits your needs and budget.
The Mercer Culinary Genesis Collection knife offers plenty of traditionally high-end features at a reasonable price point. It utilizes the versatile German spear-point style, which means it’s appropriate for nearly any paring task. Forged with German steel, the blade has a high-carbon content but is resistant to rust and corrosion. It also features a full tang, meaning that it’s well balanced and made to last. The Santoprene handle is ergonomic, triple-riveted, and non-slip. Ideally, this knife should be washed by hand to ensure it remains usable for many years.
This Victorinox knife, which is made in Switzerland, is crafted with a stamped stainless steel blade. The 3.25-inch blade and ergonomic, polypropylene, non-slip handle make this knife easy to use and maneuver. It comes highly recommended by experts in the field who praise its light (28-gram) weight and thin blade, which lead to better control both in hand and board cutting. The Western spear-point design means this versatile little blade is up to almost any precise kitchen task. Considering the low price point, it’s a great pick if you’re not ready to make a substantial investment.
Shun knives are some of the most well-respected on the market. Those willing to make an investment in a top-quality paring knife may find this one is an excellent pick. It’s made with a core of VG-MAX steel, which contains higher levels of carbon, as well as chromium and vanadium, which make for ideal sharpness retention. Clad in Damascus steel, it’s hand-sharpened to a precise 16-degree edge. For those who find the 4-inch blade a bit too long, Shun also makes a 3.5-inch option, which may be more comfortable, depending on technique.
The outer layers of this Allwin-Houseware paring knife’s blade are made with 67 layers of Damascus steel, a forged steel with a distinctive pattern. The core of the knife comprises VG-10 Japanese stainless steel, which has a high carbon content. Measuring 18 degrees, the blade’s edge is incredibly sharp, and it should be able to go six months between sharpenings. The blade measures HRC 62 on the Rockwell hardness scale, which means it will stay sharp longer. It features a well-balanced, ergonomic pakka wood handle. It’s packaged in a sleek black box, making this knife a thoughtful gift for the gastronome in your life.
This ultra-sharp paring knife from Kyocera is made with their proprietary zirconia Z206. The blade, which is manufactured in Japan, retains sharpness longer because of the material and the diamond-wheel process the company employs to grind the finest edge possible. It’s resistant to rusting, remaining unaffected by acids, juices, oils, and salts. The blade is 3 inches long, and the knife is lightweight, allowing for greater ease of use. Like all ceramic knives, maintenance can be a bit tricky. To sharpen this knife, you need one of the brand’s electric sharpeners, or you can mail it directly to Kyocera to have it sharpened.
For slicing tomatoes without affecting their structural integrity or removing the pith from citrus fruits, a serrated paring knife makes a great addition to the knife block. This Victorinox knife is made with a high-carbon stainless steel blade, which means it’s harder and more durable than regular stainless. Its ice-tempered blade retains sharpness longer and features a full tang. It’s bolsterless: It lacks the thick junction connecting the blade to the handle, which means sharpening at home is simple. The rosewood handle is weighty for ideal balancing, though the construction means it’s not dishwasher safe.
Wüsthof is one of the biggest names in German-style knives. While their forged series is pricier, the gourmet series offers similar quality at a lower price point. This set comes with sheep’s foot, bird’s beak, and spear-point paring knives, so an option is available for every imaginable kitchen task. All three knives feature a full tang, dual-riveted synthetic polypropylene handles, and laser-cut stamped blades. The blades are constructed with high-carbon stainless steel, so they’re incredibly sharp and low maintenance. Though these knives are dishwasher safe, they should be washed by hand for maximum longevity.
FAQ About Your New Paring Knife
With all the choices available, finding the best paring knife can be a bit overwhelming. Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about paring knives.
Q. What is a paring knife used for?
A paring knife is used for peeling and coring fruits and vegetables, removing the seeds from peppers, deveining shrimp, and any other small kitchen task that requires precision.
Q. How long are paring knives?
The blades of paring knives are typically between 4 and 4 inches long.
Q. How do you use a paring knife safely?
The key to using a paring knife safely and effectively is ensuring you always retain full control over the blade and make your cuts slowly and deliberately.