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Every well-equipped knife block should include a few key blades. Of course, the all-purpose chef’s knife is a must, as is a sturdy serrated bread knife for great crusty loaves. But don’t forget the small but incredibly useful paring knife. It might not be the most impressive blade in the bunch from a size perspective, but don’t underestimate how handy a great paring knife can be. These small, thin blades are easy to hold and great for maneuvering around delicate ingredients. From supreming citrus for a winter salad to prepping artichokes for grilling, you’ll reach for your paring knife more than you might think.
"The perfect sized paring knife is anywhere from 2.5 to 4 inches," says Jessica Woodford, personal chef and founder of Cooking by Jessica. "Use your hand size to determine which size to get. I have one 2.5-inch and one 4-inch paring knife and I use both for different jobs."
"I wouldn’t use a paring knife for mincing or cutting larger items," Woodford says. "Paring knives are great for those smaller items or jobs that need excellent attention to detail. They are great for precision cuts, or one-handed jobs like peeling an apple, venting pie dough, or even thinly slicing a garlic clove."
In this list, I include knives in several different sizes and for different budgets, as well as stainless steel and ceramic options. Here are the best paring knives for cooks of all levels.
Best Overall: Kuhn Rikon 4-Inch Straight Paring Knife with Safety Sheath
What We Love: Safety sheath included, dull-resistant stainless-steel blade, comes in various colors
What We Don't Love: Blade may chip over time
This petite but hefty paring knife from Kuhn Rikon is beloved by home cooks and professionals. It comes with a handy plastic safety sheath, which keeps the stainless-steel blade sharp and protected, plus it makes the knife more portable. You can stash this lightweight paring knife in a lunch bag or camping pack to slice fresh tomatoes for a sandwich or dice a banana into your overnight oats.
The knife comes in fun colors and the straight blade has a food-safe nonstick coating that helps make your cuts clean and easy. And its ergonomic handle means every slice is effortless. Not to mention, this is inexpensive and makes a great gift for the cooks in your life.
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 3.74 inches | Knife Length: 7.77 inches
Best Budget: Hammer Iron Alley 4-Piece Paring Knife Set
What We Love: Two sizes for different tasks, German stainless steel blade
What We Don't Love: Not as well balanced as more expensive options
This set of four paring knives is a great value, especially for large households. This comes with two 4.5-inch blades and two 4-inch blades, with a black and white ABS handle in each size. The knives' razor-sharp stainless-steel blades have a Rockwell hardness of 56 sharpened to a 15-17 degree angle on both edges.
The larger knives have a slight bolster to give you some leverage and to give your fingers room while cutting a mango or slicing an avocado. The 4-inch knives are designed with no bolster, making those better for peeling. If you’re looking for a one-stop buy to instantly fill your knife drawer, you can’t go wrong with this high-quality and affordable set of paring knives from Hammer Iron Alley.
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 4 inches, 4.5 inches
Best Serrated: Zyliss Comfort Pro 4.5-Inch Serrated Paring Knife
What We Love: Super-sharp German stainless steel blade, full tang for optimal balance
What We Don't Love: Handle might be too small for large hands
A serrated paring knife comes in handy for a variety of jobs, including breaking through taut tomato skin, slicing produce without damaging the flesh, and opening baked goods like bagels and muffins with ease. This blade has a comfortable ergonomic handle with a tapered bolster that’s easy to hold firmly and safely. The blade is made from ice-hardened 15-degree German stainless steel, which is very sharp and easy to maintain. You can easily sharpen this blade with an at-home electric sharpener or whetstone.
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 4.5 inches
Related: The Best Knife Sharpeners
Best Ceramic: Farberware 3.5-Inch Ceramic Paring Knife
What We Love: Dishwasher-safe, includes a blade sheath, nonslip handle
What We Don't Love: Blade may break on especially hard ingredients
This stylish ceramic paring knife is extremely comfortable to use, thanks to the soft-grip handle. And it's even easier to clean, right in the top rack of your dishwasher. This is a slightly larger and heavier knife than other options, in part due to its solid ceramic construction. Both the blade and handle are made from rust-resistant ceramic, which makes for clean, precise cuts, though it shouldn't be used on hard items like frozen food or nuts, as the blade may break. When used properly, however, this knife holds its edge extremely well and is great for small and precise cutting jobs.
Blade Material: Ceramic | Blade Length: 3.5 inches | Knife Length: 11 inches
Related: The Best Japanese Knives
Best Small: Victorinox 3.25-Inch Swiss Classic Paring Knife
What We Love: Extremely lightweight, spear point for poking and initiating cuts
What We Don't Love: Might be too light for larger hands
This minimalist paring knife from Victorinox is a great and inexpensive go-to tool for small jobs like hulling berries, peeling fruits and vegetables, and making other fine and delicate cuts. It’s incredibly light and easy to maneuver, but the blade maintains its sharpness well. The pointed end comes in handy for jobs like butchering and slicing tomatoes, to initiate cuts through tough produce skins or tendons. The plastic handle is comfortable to hold and comes in six bright colors, including neon yellow and hot pink, so you won’t have to worry about losing your favorite knife.
Blade Material: Stainless steel | Blade Length: 3.25 inches | Knife Length: 7.25 inches
Related: The Best Knife Sets
Fun color options and an ergonomic handle make the affordable Kuhn Rikon 4-Inch Straight Paring Knife with Safety Sheath (view at Amazon) our best overall pick for paring knives. If you're looking for a serrated version, look no further than the Zyliss Comfort Pro 4.5-Inch Serrated Paring Knife (view at Amazon).
What to Look for When Buying a Paring Knife
The two main materials used for paring knife blades are ceramic and stainless steel. Ceramic blades are very thin and super sharp. They can maintain that edge for a long time, which is a good thing since they can only be sharpened with a special diamond-studded tool. However, ceramic is not as flexible as steel, and can easily break or chip. For this reason, ceramic knives are better for slicing softer items like fruits and vegetables. Stainless steel blades are more resilient and easier to maintain, though they need sharpening more often. You can confidently use a stainless steel knife to cut through dense items like frozen food.
Full Tang vs. Partial Tang
Tang on a knife refers to how the knife blade and handle intersect. In a full tang knife, the blade extends all the way into the handle, so the handle material is wrapped around the knife blade. Sometimes, you can see a strip of the blade at the top of the handle. In a partial tang knife, the blade extends partway through the handle. Since they require more material and skill, full tang knives tend to be heavier and more expensive. But, a heavier handle provides more leverage to cut through hard-to-cut ingredients.
The word “balance” when it comes to knives refers to the weight of the knife and particularly the difference between the weight of the blade and the weight of the handle. Blade length, materials, and the size of the handle all influence a knife’s balance. A well-balanced knife feels comfortable in your hand and has enough leverage to work through food without a lot of pressure on your part.
How do you use a paring knife in the kitchen?
As the size of the knife may suggest, the paring knife is your friend for small tasks in the kitchen. Rather than dicing veggies or slicing large pieces of meat, your paring knife is best suited for delicate jobs that require a fine blade, like slicing a pie lattice or deveining shrimp.
What’s the difference between a paring knife and a utility knife?
A utility knife is a multiuse tool that works better outside the kitchen. While also small and portable like a paring knife, utility knives are better suited for a workroom. They tend to have very sharp, short blades that are great for making exact cuts in dense materials. Paring knife blades are longer and thinner, which makes them better for making long slices across more delicate surfaces.
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This article was written by Lizzy Briskin, a chef, food writer, and recipe developer who loves giving colorful paring knives as a gift.
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