You don’t need a huge collection of knives to be successful as a chef. Having a full knife block can help, don’t get me wrong, but there isn’t a group of kitchen police hiding in your cupboards waiting to burst out and arrest you if you use a chef’s knife for a task that’s slightly more suited for a shorter utility knife. When my friends ask me what knives they should spend their money on, I tend to suggest picking up a midrange chef’s knife, a nice pairing knife, and not much else. As long as my friends are equipped with chef’s and paring knives, I tell them that they’re good to go.
The reasoning is simple. You can use a large chef’s knife for pretty much every task that isn’t hindered by the length of the knife. This means that you can chop, pierce, slice, and even bone food quite easily with the big blade. The only tasks you need to switch knives for are those that involve materials you don’t want to cut (like bones) and tasks that require the increased dexterity of a small blade.
What Is A Paring Knife?
For tasks like peeling vegetables, making small, precise cuts, or using your knife to cut something you’re holding in one hand, you want a paring knife. Paring knives are short (usually between 3″ and 4″), small, and light. They’re perfect for cutting garnishes or trimming fruits and vegetables before presenting them to your guests.
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Paring knives aren’t quite as big as chef’s knives. This has a nice upside when it comes to their cost. Because they don’t require as much material to make, you can get a very nice pairing knife for just a few dollars. The knives below are some of my favorite tools to use in both home and professional kitchens.
There’s quite a big difference between a Japanese-style chef’s knife (sometimes called a Gyuoto) and a more traditional French or German style one. There isn’t as big of a difference as far as paring knives are concerned. Japanese paring knives are close mirrors to their Western counterparts. Paring knives from brands like Shun differ slightly in handle design and metal type but are otherwise very, very similar to knives from brands like Wusthof.
Zelite isn’t quite as prestigious as the brands above. They’re a manufacturer of very affordable Japanese-style knives that are made from impressively high-quality metal. This paring knife is no different.
It’s made from x50 Cr MoV15 high-carbon stainless that’s been heat treated to 56 Rockwell hardness C. This is actually fairly soft as far as high-end knives go, but it has the advantage of being very easy to maintain. It’s also practically impossible to chip, so you don’t need to worry too much about accidentally running your knife into a peach pit or another hard object.
One of the reasons I like this knife so much has to do with the design. Most paring knives are designed to be used off of the cutting board, meaning the blade is often flush with the handle. If you choose to use a paring knife to chop vegetables or perform another task that uses the cutting board as a backstop, you’ll have to tilt the knife quite a bit in order to avoid jamming your fingers into the cutting board. Zelite’s infinity paring knife has a little bit of blade that sticks out and helps mitigate this somewhat.
To be clear, this isn’t how you’re “supposed” to use a paring knife. It is, however, a thing that I find myself doing occasionally, and it’s definitely a thing that I’ve seen many of my friends do. When you’ve already got a smaller knife out for one task, it’s much easier to continue using that knife for the next task than it is to clean your knife, put it away, and take out a “better” tool for the job.
Comfort wise, you’ll absolutely love this knife. It’s got a thick, girthy handle with plenty of material in the middle for you to grip. This is quite important in a paring knife, as you’ll be frequently holding it via the handle while you cut food in your other hand. It’s not like a chef’s knife where you use a pinch grip on the cutting board most of the time.
This knife is not without its share of downsides. Chief among them is the size and shape of the blade. While I personally prefer the taller 4″ blade for some situations, it’s definitely a bit too long and too tall for others. If you find yourself wishing for a very short, thin blade in your kitchen, you may want to get one of the more traditionally shaped paring knives below.
Overall, this paring knife is definitely one of my top picks. It’s comfortable and designed to be used as an all-purpose utility knife as well as a paring tool.
Like Zelite, TUO manufactures high-quality Japanese style knives at a pretty low cost. This affordable paring knife comes with a beautiful wooden handle made with high-carbon German stainless steel. It’s pretty similar to the Zelite in terms of hardness, with the blade reaching 56 on the HRC scale.
The blade design on this TUO knife is fairly similar to the Zelite, too. It’s got a tallish blade that’s mostly straight, with a spear point for piercing food. It has the same downside of being slightly long and slightly tall for some delicate tasks, but I think in both cases you’ll be able to use the knife just fine.
The thing that really sells me on this knife is the beautiful, finely crafted wooden handle. It’s incredibly ergonomic and quite attractive, complimenting the shape of the blade very well. I think this is probably one of the best looking paring knives on the market, period.
If you’re after a fully-forged paring knife with a wooden handle, this TUO knife is one of your better options. It’s not quite as high-quality as a brand from a luxury brand like Wusthof, but it’s still perfectly fine for both professional and home use. You’ll appreciate the amazing aesthetics and sharp blade.
Chef’s knives are curved in order to enable a rocking-style cut on a cutting board. Paring knives do not need to rock, ever. While you can try to rock with a paring knife, you’re not really going to be accomplishing much. There’s simply not enough knife to make the technique effective.
This has led some knife experts and manufacturers to champion a “sheep’s foot” style of knife design. Sheep’s foot paring knives have curved tops and flat blades, meaning you can get the entire sharpened part of the knife in contact with the cutting board at once.
There’s certainly some amount of an argument to be had for this style of knife design. On the paring knives I like, however (and the others that I recommend), there’s not really a lot of belly. The tip won’t quite come into contact with the cutting board, sure, but you’re not really giving up a lot of knife.
If you’re a subscriber to the sheep’s foot school of paring knife design, I recommend this hollow-ground Wusthof with Scranton divots. It’s somewhat expensive, but that’s due to the prestigious brand, high-quality metal, and careful forged construction. This knife is lovingly made from a single piece of steel and comes with a lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects. It’s easy to maintain and will be one of your favorite knives for many years.
If you want something cheaper, this Victorinox knife is one of your best options. This is not a luxury high-end knife, certainly, but it’s a durable tool that sees a surprising amount of professional use, especially among people who shuck clams. It’s got a very thin stamped blade that slides through food with ease.
The downside, of course, is that this is a pretty cheap looking knife. You wouldn’t want to display it in your knife block alongside a $300 chef’s knife (or at least I wouldn’t). If you’re not too keen on aesthetics, however, this knife will be a great addition to your kitchen. Even if it won’t last for as long as the carefully crafted Wusthof above, you won’t mind replacing it in the event of a mishap.
If you’re not dead-set on the sheep’s foot design, this Victorinox is quite comparable to the knife above. The only real difference is the design of the blade itself. This knife has a slight curve to the tip and an elevated point. I personally prefer this style of paring knives very slightly, but not for any real reason. They’re just the tools that I’m more used to.
Again, this knife isn’t anywhere near as beautiful, comfortable, durable, or well made as the other options on my list. It is, however, dirt cheap, and it’s more than good enough for professional use. You can sharpen this to make it last for years or literally buy a new knife when it gets dull. If I was looking for a paring knife to use professionally, I would start by getting this knife and then decide which of the more expensive options to buy after using it for a few weeks.
JA Henckels makes quite a few paring knives. This particular model is my favorite due to its superior construction, low cost, and simple, elegant design. It’s a 4″ spear-point knife with a polymer handle that’s ideal for professional use. The high-quality stamped blade is thermally treated to a 57 on the HRC scale, meaning it will hold a finer edge for longer than the soft knives above.
The thing that really sells me on this knife is the brand. Henckels operates two separate imprints: JA Henckels International, for cheap, mass-produced knives, and ZWILLING JA Henckels, for high-end knives that are actually made in Germany. This Zwilling knife carries the full weight of the superior imprint. It’s subject to stricter quality control, made with the finest materials around, and designed to last a lifetime.
Now, those things alone aren’t enough to make me love this knife. The thing that really pushes it over the edge for me is the price. This paring knife tends to be cheaper than some of the JA Henckels International paring knives, despite the fact that it’s subject to stricter quality control and made in Germany. For me, this is a pretty big win. I can have my cake and eat it, too.
The only real “downside” to this knife is that it’s stamped, not forged. In a chef’s knife, you usually look for a thicker forged blade as a sign of better balance and durability. In a paring knife, you’re not really worried about these things. You don’t want a bolster, for one, and for two, you want a super thin knife for delicate cutting. Since stamped blades tend to be thinner, they’re absolutely perfect for paring knives.
The factory edge on this knife is very sharp at 15 degrees per side. With proper maintenance, this knife will be one of the sharpest blades in your collection for many years.
Dalstrong is one of my favorite brands as far as chef’s knives are concerned. This is because they offer well-presented, high-quality knives at affordable prices. This paring knife is no different. It’s a full-tang knife with a black pakkawood handle and a high-carbon stainless steel blade.
As far as design goes, this knife is somewhere in between a sheep’s foot knife and a spear point knife. It’s not quite totally flat, due to a bit of an upwards curve in the tip of the blade, but it’s much flatter than the other spear-point knives on this page. This is quite nice for someone who can’t quite decide between the two styles.
The blade itself is advertised as being tall enough to give you some knuckle clearance when you use it on a cutting board. I don’t personally find that this is the case. There’s more clearance than something like the Victorinoxes above, sure, but you still have to hold the knife a certain way in order to get it totally flat. I don’t think this is a downside. I do think, however, that the reality doesn’t quite match up with how the knife is advertised.
One of the things that I like the most about Dalstrong is how their knives are presented and packaged. This knife arrives with all of the fanfare of a much more expensive Dalstrong knife. This means you get a nice display box with magnetic closures, a Dalstrong pin, a sheath, and plenty of literature that describes how the blade is made. It’s honestly a surprising amount of celebration for a knife this cheap.
I’m a massive fan of Dalstrong overall, so it’s not a big surprise that this is one of my favorite paring knives. It’s not quite as beautiful as the TUO knife above, at least in my opinion, but its hybrid design, high-quality steel, and careful construction make it a great pick.
How To Use A Paring Knife
Paring knives are used for a huge variety of tasks. They’re the go-to tool for anything that requires a precise cut or any task where you’re cutting something off of the cutting board. Here are some tips on how to use your paring knife properly.
1. Peeling Potatoes
When you’re peeling potatoes (or ginger, or pretty much anything else you can think of), most people hold the potato in their non-dominant hand and the paring knife in the other. Grip the paring knife with your fingers, put the thumb of your knife hand on the potato, and squeeze the blade in towards your thumb. With practice, this technique becomes incredibly fast and safe. You’ll have lots of control of where the knife goes, enabling you to cut off just the right amount of skin.
It’s worth noting that you’re cutting towards your thumb. The key to safely mastering techniques like this is to always be thinking of where the knife will go if it suddenly slips. This means you’ll want to angle the knife slightly inwards as you peel. As long as it’s angled properly, it’ll go away from your thumb in the event of a mishap. If it’s pointed directly at your thumb, however, you may accidentally cut yourself.
To help avoid the risk of knife slips, always use a sharp knife. Sharp knives require less pressure and are much easier to control, making them far less dangerous.
2. Segmenting Oranges
Rather than peeling citrus in my hand, I prefer to lop off the top and bottom ends, place the citrus fruit flat side down on a cutting board, and use a paring knife to cut off the remaining skin and pith. This can be done with a small number of downward cuts. You won’t get something perfectly circular, but this technique is incredibly fast.
To remove the segments themselves, I like to hold the fruit in my hand and simply cut out each segment with a paring knife. Feel free to hold the knife in whatever way feels most comfortable to you. Try to leave as much of the membrane behind as you can while you work.
3. Delicately Slicing Garlic
You can apply this basic technique to things like ginger, herbs, and other flavorful aromatics that you need to cut into small pieces to flavor your food. Place the peeled garlic (or whatever you’re cutting) down on the cutting board, use your non-dominant hand to hold the garlic down and guide your knife, and draw your knife across the cutting board towards you. Keep the tip of the knife in contact with the cutting board the whole time. Slicing techniques like these are best suited for spear-point paring knives.
If you have a sheep’s foot paring knife, you may find slicing more difficult. Try chopping instead. Bring the paring knife off of the cutting board completely in between each cut and then bring it back down so the flat blade comes into full contact with the board’s surface.
In both cases, feel free to use whatever type of grip works best with your hands and knife. Some people will even use a pinch grip for more control while they slice garlic.
4. Preparing Peppers
Chop off the top (and bottom, if you’d like) of your peppers. Slice down the side to break the pepper into several sections. Discard the seed and stem. Lay each section out flat on your cutting board and use your paring knife to trim any remaining stem sections. Your knife will wind up mostly parallel to the cutting board as you do this. Then, cut your cleaned pepper sections into whatever size and shape you’d like.
5. Deveining Shrimp
It takes a single cut and a few seconds to devein shrimp with a paring knife. Simply make a shallow cut along the spine of the shrimp and then use the tip of the blade to pull the vein out. It’s really that easy!
6. Any Other Precise Task
Paring knives are my go-to for any other task that benefits from a small, thin blade. This means I’ll use mine to remove cakes from pans (my cheap paring knives, anyway), zest lemons, and remove the stems from strawberries. They really shine when preparing garnishes, finely slicing herbs (and garlic, see above) and peeling small pieces of ginger.
The Best Paring Knife: A Core Tool For Your Kitchen
When it’s time to core fruit, peel vegetables, or prepare garnishes, your paring knife is your best friend. The knives on this page are some of the finest options on the market in terms of cost-effectiveness (Victorinox), looks (Zelite and TUO), and fine German craftsmanship (ZWILLING and Wusthof).
Each and every one of these options is perfectly suited for all kinds of precise kitchen cutting tools. Be sure to examine all of your options and choose a knife that fits your kitchen and budget. Since paring knives are so affordable, you could even buy two!