There’s a widespread agreement among chefs and culinary enthusiasts that you don’t necessarily need a large, extensive set of kitchen knives. Instead, you’re better off investing in high quality versions of four types of knives: chef’s knife, serrated bread knife, boning knife, and paring knife. These four cover most of your basic food prep needs. In this guide, we’re going to highlight everything you need to know about paring knives so you can make an informed purchase and a paring knife that will last you decades.
What Is a Paring Knife, Exactly?
These small but versatile knives are a kitchen must-have, especially for dicing and mincing things that are a bit small for the chef’s knife. If you’re slicing strawberries, mincing garlic cloves, or chopping up fresh rosemary for a sous vide steak, your paring knife is the tool for the job.
Paring knives are usually around 3 ½” long. Small and maneuverable, their ever so slightly curved blade is ideal for a variety of kitchen tasks including peeling potatoes, chopping small vegetables, and coring tomatoes. These are tasks where a chef’s knife, your frequent go-to for vegetable chopping, is too large and unwieldy. Even if you’re a fairly casual home cook, a paring knife is something you need to have. You’ll get a lot of use out of a good one, and like chef’s knives, it makes sense to invest a little more for a higher quality knife.
Types of Paring Knives
There are quite a few different styles of paring knife that you can find in stores and online; they’re all similar in size, but the difference lies in their shape.
- Bird’s beak paring knives, also known as trimming knives, have a blade that’s concave. Chefs use these for trimming and peeling.
- Classic paring knives are the kind you’re most likely to get the most use out of.
- Sheep’s foot paring knives have a flat blade edge and a rounded spine close to the tip.
When to Use a Paring Knife
Paring knives are great for smaller jobs where a chef’s knife seems too big, as well as for any situation where you’re holding the item you’re cutting, rather than resting it on a cutting board. Here are just a few examples of relatively common kitchen tasks where a paring knife comes in handy.
- Coring tomatoes. Because they’re small and easy to maneuver, paring knives are perfect for this. Insert the knife about an inch or so into the tomato, and rotate it as you carve a full circle around the stem. Then, you can just lift out the core and discard it.
- Hulling strawberries. “Hulling” a strawberry means cutting off the green part at the top. This is one of those things where you’re working with a pretty small object, making a paring knife a more sensible choice than a chef’s knife. Angle the paring knife and cut slowly but firmly in a circular motion around the leaves.
- Zesting citrus fruit. Lemon zest or lime zest is a great way to add a bit of acidity, plus the sweet flavor of citrus, to a variety of dishes. Paring knives are best if you’re cutting large pieces of zest from the peel, like you might use to rim a cocktail.
- Peeling potatoes and sweet potatoes. Don’t have a potato peeler handy? You can use your handy paring knife instead.
- Mincing garlic cloves. The small size of garlic cloves calls for a paring knife.
- Julienning carrots or celery. For most chopping tasks, you’ll find yourself defaulting to a chef’s knife. But for delicately julienning vegetables, paring knives work better.
- Deveining shrimp. The tip of a paring knife is great for delicately removing the “vein” — which is really the digestive tract — from shrimp after peeling them.
- Prepping bell peppers. A gentle once-over with a paring knife loosens and removes the seeds inside. Then, you can trim away the “ribs,” leaving the good part of the pepper.
- Easing a cake or brownies out of the baking pan. Getting brownies or cakes out of the pan can be tough sometimes, even if you greased the pan properly. You can gently slide a paring knife around the edge of the cake to help ease it out without damaging it.
These are just a few examples of situations where you want to use a paring knife. When shouldn’t you use a paring knife? They’re not ideal for tougher vegetables, like celery root or parsnips, due to their light weight. Generally speaking, if you find yourself needing to press down hard or force the cut, the paring knife isn’t the right knife for the job.
What to Look For in a Quality Paring Knife
Here’s what you should look for in a good paring knife for your home kitchen.
- A 3-3 ½” blade. Paring knives come in different sizes, but the three to three and a half inch range is the most versatile and multipurpose.
- A grip that feels comfortable in your hand. You don’t want the knife slipping out of your hands. Make sure the knife is comfortable to hold and use.
- An agile blade. By “agile,” we mean the tip is just a little bit flexible, and the knife can handle detail work with irregular shapes and curves.
- Full tang, riveted handles. Full tang handles often have 2-3 steel rivets in the handle so you know they are solid. Since paring knives are not used as a workhorse, full tang may not be 100% necessary, however it will surely last you years longer than a cheaper quality one.
To get a good paring knife, you’re usually looking at a price in the $20-40 range. They’re pretty affordable, and the mileage you’ll get out of a paring knife in the kitchen is more than worth the price.
Top 5 Best Paring Knives
I’ve listed here my personal favorite paring knives, all of which contain riveted handles and high quality steel (most contain German steel). I use these paring knives regularly, especially during my sous vide cooking endeavors. You will absolutely be impressed with the quality of any of these paring knives!
J.A. HENCKELS INTERNATIONAL Classic 4-inch Paring Knife
Wüsthof Classic Paring Knife
Mercer Culinary Renaissance 3.5-Inch Forged Paring Knife
ZELITE INFINITY Paring Knife
DALSTRONG Gladiator Series Paring Knife
A Paring Knife is a Kitchen Essential
A paring knife, like a chef’s knife, is something every home cook needs to have. Ideal for smaller, more detailed tasks where a chef’s knife won’t do, paring knives are perfect for peeling, slicing, and dicing. No matter how casual you are about cooking at home, a paring knife is essential.