An Expert Guide to Paring Knives

Published on 12/25/2023 · 11 min readPerfect your kitchen skills! Explore our expert guide to paring knives, essential for precision cutting and culinary artistry in every dish.
Di Doherty, Kitchen Expert
By Kitchen Expert Di Doherty

Photo by Alice Day

TL;DR: A paring knife is a small multipurpose knife that’s best for peeling fruits or vegetables, dicing small veggies like garlic, and coring tomatoes or strawberries. When buying one, consider what material the blade should be made from, the length of the blade, and if you want a Western or Japanese blade.

I’ve been a cooking enthusiast for more than fifteen years, having grown up learning to cook from my mom. My love for knives, though, I got from my dad. As a kid, I collected pocket knives, and I now own a wide variety of kitchen knives. While I didn’t pick out most of my knives myself – many of them were gifts – I’ve used a wide enough variety to know what works for me and what doesn’t. My knife collection includes stainless steel, carbon steel, and ceramic knives.

I use my paring knives all the time and keep discovering new, handy things that they can do. If you're looking to add a paring knife to your collection, or are just curious as to why you should want one: keep reading.

What Is a Paring Knife?

Photo by K. Nelson 20

A paring knife is a small knife meant to be used for small or precision tasks. The blade is typically between 3-inch and 4-inch, and is meant to fit nicely in one hand. These knives excel at tasks like peeling vegetables, deveining shrimp, segmenting citrus, and coring strawberries. If your chef’s knife is too big for a task, then you can use a paring knife.

What To Consider When Buying a Paring Knife

A paring knife is considered the other must-have knife for anyone’s kitchen. They’re a versatile knife that’s going to get heavy use, so ensuring that you have a sharp, durable knife is very important.

What Blade Length Do I Want?

Photo by Marsan

Paring knives tend to come in three standard sizes:

  • 3-inch: This is a small blade, even for a paring knife, and best for really small tasks. If you have small hands, you may also want to opt for a knife this small.
  • 3.5-inch: The standard size for paring knives, with most of them being this length.
  • 4-inch: This is a longer paring knife. If you like to do a lot of chopping with your paring knife, or if you want more precision with the blade, then this is the size to choose.

What Material Should the Blade Be?

Photo by Candice Bell

The blade is the more important part of the knife. That means that picking the right material for your knife is imperative.

  • Stainless steel: The majority of knives these days are made of stainless steel due to its practicality. They’re durable, resistant to corrosion, and hold an edge.
  • Carbon steel: In the past, it was difficult to get stainless steel to hold a good edge, which is why carbon steel was common for knives. Its hardness still allows it to hold a razor-sharp edge, making it a great choice for those who prioritize knife sharpness. The metal is prone to corrosion, however, meaning that the blade needs to be dried immediately after use, and it’s not a bad idea to coat it in oil afterwards to protect it.
  • High-carbon stainless steel: Metallurgy (the study and practice of mixing and forging metals) continues to improve, and high-carbon stainless steel is the result of that. It holds an edge like carbon steel, but resists rust like stainless steel. It’s expensive, so it’s largely only used by high-end knives at this point.
  • Ceramic: This is a specialty material for knife blades. It’s extremely hard, meaning it can hold an extremely fine edge, but it’s also brittle and easy to chip. For an everyday knife like a paring knife, it’ll likely end up damaged.
  • Damascus steel: This material is made by folding layers of different types of steel over one another, then hammering them into shape. The process and acid etching result in lovely wavy patterns in the steel. As it’s primarily done for appearance, knives made this way tend to be pricey.

What Type of Handle Do I Want?

Photo by Eans

A paring knife should fit comfortably in your hand, so having a well-made handle is equally important.

  • Synthetic: Most knives have synthetic handles these days, partially because this is such a broad category. It includes composite (part wood, part plastic), carbon fiber, and fiberglass. These newer materials prioritize being attractive and easy to clean, but it depends on the material and your personal preference.
  • Wood: A wooden handle is still very common for expensive knives, as they’re beautiful and comfortable. It also has natural antibacterial properties, which help keep it sanitary. Some people don’t like it because you’ll need to oil it regularly to keep it from cracking.
  • Plastic: Plastic handles are most common on cheap, stamped knives. It’s dishwasher-safe, but tends to be unattractive.
  • Metal: Metal handles run the gambit from low-end knives to high-end ones. It’s durable and can go in the dishwasher, but not everyone finds it comfortable.

Do I Want a Western or Japanese Knife?

Photo by MDV Edwards

Many Japanese knife makers like Shun and Miyabi also make paring knives. Japanese paring knives, like most Japanese knives, use a thinner, harder steel. That means that they’ll hold a razor edge and be excellent for precise cuts, but the blade is easy to damage. Also, some will also have an offset bevel (the angle of the sharp edge) which can make it hard to sharpen at home.

Western-style knives tend to be thicker and more durable. They usually have a standard bevel, too, making it easier to care for them at home. But they’re less precise, and don’t hold quite as fine of an edge.

Different Types of Paring Knives

Paring knives come in a few different styles that have different strengths and weaknesses. If you’re a knife enthusiast, it’s a good idea to have more than one kind.

Classic

Classic carbon steel and ceramic paring knives. Note the pointed tip. Photo by Di Doherty

If asked to imagine a paring knife, this is the one that comes to mind. This knife has a pointed tip that makes it excellent for coring tomatoes. It can also slice and dice.

Benefits:

  • Great at coring strawberries, as well as removing eyes from potatoes.
  • Is the best general-purpose knife.

Be aware:

  • Has less surface area on the cutting boards, so less good at slicing.

Sheep’s Foot

A sheep’s foot style paring knife. The Zwilling Pro 3" Kudamono Paring Knife. Photo courtesy of Zwilling

Sometimes called a flat paring knife, this blade has a profile more like a santoku knife, as it has a curve on the spine of the blade instead of the sharp edge. Santokus are all-purpose knives similar to chef’s knives – though they're original Japanese.

Benefits:

  • Has more surface area for cutting, making this knife better suited to mince shallots and cut up fruits and vegetables.

Be aware:

  • The lack of a pointed tip means it isn’t good for coring.

Peeling Knife

A peeling knife: note how the blade is curved. Photo by Di Doherty

Sometimes also called a bird’s beak knife, this style of paring knife has a curved, sickle-like blade.

Benefits:

  • Curved blade allows you to remove a very thin peel.
  • Sharp tip is ideal for coring.

Be aware:

  • Curved blade makes it mediocre at slicing, and poor for dicing.

Serrated

A fully serrated paring knife. The WÜSTHOF Classic 3.5" Fully Serrated Paring Knife. Photo courtesy of WÜSTHOF

Paring knives with a serrated blade are uncommon, but they do have certain uses.

Benefits:

  • Excellent for slicing lemons and other citrus fruits.
  • Great for slicing through steak or other tougher meats.

Be aware:

  • Serrated edge is less precise for coring or mincing.
  • This type of blade is much harder to sharpen. It requires either sending it to the manufacturer, or getting a special honing rod for the purpose.

Features to Look for In a Paring Knife

As a paring knife is something you'll be using regularly, it’s a good idea to look for a high-quality one. Certain features make some knives stand out from their competitors.

Full tang

Almost without exception, getting a knife with a full tang is better. The tang is the part of the blade that attaches to the handle, and a full tang is one that goes all the way to the end of the handle. Many knives have a visible tang if it’s full, so you’ll be able to see a strip of metal down the center. Rivets in the handle are another indication of a tang, especially if they go to the end of the handle.

Full tangs are beneficial in two ways: durability and balance. The tang takes the strain when the knife is being used, so a full tang is able to distribute that strain over a wider area. In terms of balance, a well-balanced knife should be right where the blade meets the handle. A full tang tends to put the center of balance right where it should be.

Ergonomic Handle

I often use my paring knife in midair, either peeling an apple, pitting a cherry, or quartering strawberry. That means that it needs to fit well in your hand, and the handle should allow for a secure grip. Make sure that the handle feels comfortable in your hand.

Weight

While most well-made knives have a bit of heft to them, paring knives are diminutive. That means that they should be light and easy to handle. You often won’t be using this knife on a cutting board, so you want to be able to hold it comfortably aloft in one hand for long periods of time.

Sheath

While by no means a necessity, a sheath helps protect the blade – and you. If you want to store your knives in a drawer, it’s a must. It’s also highly recommended for more brittle blades like ceramic or Japanese knives.

How to Select the Best Paring Knife For You

Photo by Candice Bell

If you’re looking to add a paring knife to your collection, it can be difficult to figure out what the best options are. In order to help streamline the process, I’m going to describe three different people and what my top picks for them would be.

Tyrone: Cooking Novice Looking to Round Out his Collection

Tyrone only recently got into cooking for himself. He’s trying to focus more on his health, and he’s looking to build up a collection of decent knives to make the task easier. He doesn’t want to spend too much on them, as he’s not yet sure exactly what’ll work best for him, but he wants tools that’ll get the job done.

Features to look for:

  • Mid-range brands that offer good quality for the money, like Mercer, Misen, or Cangshan.

Recommended products:

  • Mercer Culinary Renaissance paring knife: Mercer is known for making high-quality knives at an affordable price. Their Renaissance series is forged from German steel with a full tang, making it well-balanced, durable, and able to hold an edge well.
  • Misen paring knife: This knife made the top list for Food Network and Better Homes and Gardens. Misen is another midrange manufacturer that makes good quality knives. This one is high-carbon stainless steel, meaning it can maintain a very sharp edge, and has a full tang.

Julia: Serious Home Cook Looking to Upgrade her Knives

Julia has been cooking for a long time, but she’d never put in the money or effort to get herself really good knives. She’d decided that now’s a good time, but wants to start with a paring knife because they’re less of an investment. She wants to see just how much of a difference a good knife can make.

Features to look for:

  • Knives made in Germany, Japan, or the USA, which ensures quality construction.

Recommended products:

  • WÜSTHOF Classic paring knife: A well-known German brand, WÜSTHOF makes their knives in Germany. It has a sharp tip that makes it good for coring and trimming, as well as slicing and peeling.
  • Shun Classic blonde paring knife: Shun is a well-regarded Japanese manufacturer. This knife is beautiful, and has a thin, very sharp blade that makes it excellent for precise slicing or coring.

Mary: Cooking Blogger Who Wants to Invest in Her Equipment

Mary spends a lot of time cooking and taking pictures of her creations. She wants not only well-made, good knives, but ones that are also photogenic. She’s willing to invest a lot of money in her equipment, as it’s part of her job.

Features to look for:

  • Knives that have an eye-catching design, such as Damascus steel, or a wooden handle.
  • High-end brands that are known for both quality and aesthetic, like Shun or Miyabi.

Recommended products:

  • STEELPORT 4" Carbon Steel Paring Knife: STEELPORT makes its knives in the USA, and this one is pure carbon steel, meaning that it can hold a razor-sharp edge. It's a handsome knife with a wooden handle, and its blade is deeper, leaving more room for your knuckles if you use it to chop. It comes with a wooden sheath.
  • Zwilling Euroline Damascus Collection paring knife: This knife is made out of Damascus steel, making it stand out from the competition. It can do anything a standard paring knife can do, such as dicing, slicing, and coring.

We Can Help You Find the Best Paring Knife for You

Finding just the right paring knife for you can be time consuming. If you’re not sure exactly what you need, or want recommendations, Curated Kitchen Experts offer free, personalized advice! Any one of our experts will happily answer questions and help you locate the perfect knife for you.

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Kitchen on Curated

Misen Paring Knife · 3.5 Inch · Blue
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