Paring knives are often referred to as the “Jack of all trades” in the world of cutlery.
While they can be used for a variety of tasks, their primary use is for peeling, coring, de-seeding, and other tasks that require a lot of control over the blade.
The blade is small and thin, making it the perfect tool for intricate cutting.
What is A Pairing Knife and Material?
A Pairing Knife also known as a kitchen knife is any knife that is intended to be used in food preparation. While much of this work can be accomplished with a few general-purpose knives – notably a large chef’s knife, a tough cleaver, a small paring knife, and some sort of serrated blade (such as a bread knife or serrated utility knife) – there are also many specialized knives that are designed for specific tasks. Pairing knives can be made from several different materials.
A paring knife is a small all-purpose knife with a plain edge that is ideal for peeling (or “paring”) fruits and vegetables, and other small or intricate work (such as de-veining a shrimp, removing the seeds from a jalapeño, ‘skinning’ or cutting small garnishes). Paring knives are usually 6 to 10 cm (2½ to 4 inches) long. An alternative way to peel vegetables and fruit is to use a peeler.
16th century French bookbinders used a tool also known as a paring knife (couteau à parer) to thin the edges of the leather binding being prepared to cover a book in order to ensure it was neater and stuck better to the board. The knife was a large piece of steel, very thin at the cutting edge, with a wooden handle.
- Carbon steel is an alloy of iron and carbon, often including other elements such as vanadium and manganese. Carbon steel commonly used in knives has around 1.0% carbon (ex. AISI 1095), is inexpensive, and holds its edge well.
Carbon steel is normally easier to resharpen than many stainless steels, but is vulnerable to rust and stains. The blades should be cleaned, dried, and lubricated after each use.
New carbon-steel knives may impart a metallic or “iron” flavour to acidic foods, though over time, the steel will acquire a patina of oxidation which will prevent corrosion. Good carbon steel will take a sharp edge, but is not so hard as to be difficult to sharpen, unlike some grades of stainless steel.
- Stainless steel is an alloy of iron, approximately 10–15% chromium, possibly nickel, and molybdenum, with only a small amount of carbon.
Typical stainless steel knives are made of 420 stainless, a high-chromium stainless steel alloy often used in flatware.
Stainless steel may be softer than carbon steel, but this makes it easier to sharpen. Stainless steel knives resist rust and corrosion better than carbon steel knives.
- High carbon stainless steel is a stainless steel alloy with a relatively high amount of carbon compared to other stainless alloys. For example, AISI grade 420 stainless steel normally contains 0.15% by weight of carbon, but the 420HC variant used for cutlery has 0.4% to 0.5%.
The increased carbon content is intended to provide the best attributes of carbon steel and ordinary stainless steel. High carbon stainless steel blades do not discolour or stain, and maintain a sharp edge for a reasonable time.
Most ‘high-carbon’ stainless blades are made of more expensive alloys than less expensive stainless knives, often including amounts of molybdenum, vanadium, cobalt, and other components intended to increase strength, edge-holding, and cutting ability.
- Laminated blades combine the advantages of a hard, but brittle steel which will hold a good edge but is easily chipped and damaged, with a tougher steel less susceptible to damage and chipping, but incapable of taking a good edge.
The hard steel is sandwiched (laminated) and protected between layers of the tougher steel. The hard steel forms the edge of the knife; it will take a more acute grind than a less hard steel, and will stay sharp longer.
- Titanium is lighter and more wear-resistant, but not harder than steel. However it is more flexible than steel. Titanium does not impart any flavour to food. It is typically expensive and not well suited to cutlery.
- Ceramic knives are very hard, made from sintered zirconium dioxide, and retain their sharp edge for a long time. They are light in weight, do not impart any taste to food and do not corrode. Suitable for slicing fruit, vegetables and boneless meat. Ceramic knives are best used as a specialist kitchen utensil. Recent manufacturing improvements have made them less brittle. Because of their hardness and brittle edges, sharpening requires special techniques.
- Plastic blades are usually not very sharp and are mainly used to cut through vegetables without causing discolouration. They are not sharp enough to cut deeply into flesh, but can cut or scratch skin.
How to pick out the best pairing knife
knives seem like such small and inconspicuous little knives that many people have asked me, “Why are you planning to write a buying guide for paring knives?” The truth is that paring knives aren’t as simple as they first appear to be.
Of course, many of the things you should consider when purchasing a paring knife are the same things you should consider when purchasing any knife, such as balance and quality of steel.
Still, I believe it is important to remind ourselves of these considerations every now and then.
In addition, paring knives come with their own set of “‘rules”, so to speak, which should be followed.
Since there are four different types of paring knives, I have written another entire article focused on differentiating between the appearance and uses of each of those different knives.
If you are not already familiar with the different types of paring knives, you may want to head over to our “Types of Paring Knives” page now to learn a little bit about them, since this article will be referring to them.
This article is dedicated to helping you find the best paring knife to suit your needs by teaching or reminding you about the various things you should look for in a paring knife.
We will cover basic considerations which should apply to anyone thinking of purchasing a paring knife, as well as considerations specific to how you intend to use your paring knife.
4 types of paring knives
When you go to buy a paring knife, you’ll generally have a choice of four different types:
1. Spearpoint/spear tip paring knife
Often called the “classic” paring knife, with its smooth, short and outwardly curved blade. Enables the chef to apply less pressure and let the knife do the work.
Some spear point products come as a serrated knife that allows the cook to use a sawing action.
Best used for: Peeling, slicing and coring fruits and vegetables Pros: Multi-purpose knife good for most jobs Cons: Small cutting edge for slicing | Some cheaper knives may be too flimsy for more heavy-duty tasks Global GSF15 Peeling Knife Spearpoint Blade 8cm (£37.46)
2. Bird’s beak paring knife
Have a concave, sickle-shaped blade and a very sharp tip.
Best used for: Peeling and coring fruits and vegetables, trimming, delicate decorative work Pros: Rounded blade allows for a style of cut that reduces waste Cons: Difficult to sharpen with an electric knife sharpener Wusthof Classic Peeling Knife 7cm (£36.57)
3. Sheep’s foot paring knife
Smooth, flat, straight blade and rounded tip means only the point of the blade touches the board during the chop.
Best used for: Julienne cutting (chopping vegetables and fruits into long, thin strips), cutting soft and hard cheese Pros: Stay sharper for longer Cons: Rounded tip lacks the sharpness of other types of knife Global NI Series GNFS-01 Paring Knife 9cm (£49.96)
4. Western-style Japanese paring knife
Shaped like a spear point paring knife but with a less-curved blade. Usually made of harder steel, which makes for a much sharper edge.
Best used for: Intricate cutting and carving, decorative garnishing Pros: Allow for greater control Cons: Razor-sharp, which can make certain tasks quite perilous | Generally expensive Kasumi Titanium Paring Knife 8cm (£36.00)
How to Use a Paring Knife?
Once you become comfortable with your paring knife, you’ll find more and more tasks to use it for. It’s a dream for meal prep, especially when you’re prepping fruits, vegetables and meats. The following are some of the most popular uses for paring knives.
1. Deveining shrimp
One time my stepfather called me in a panic because he was deveining shrimp for the first time. I talked him through the process—find the dark vein, slice with a paring knife, pull out the vein, move on to the next. He called me back screaming an hour later because I didn’t tell him the vein was actually full of shrimp… excrement. He was hurt and offended that I was allowing him to touch shrimp poop.
No one enjoys deveining shrimp—my stepfather in particular—but with your paring knife, it becomes a manageable task. Grip each shrimp and find the dark line running down its back—this is the intestine, and it needs to go. Use your paring knife to make a small incision, then pry the line up with the tip of your blade.
2. Peeling ingredients
Paring knives are great alternatives to conventional peelers. However, there’s a bit of a learning curve when you’re using a knife to peel for the first time.
As you would with a peeler, hold the food firmly in one hand, then grip the handle of your paring knife. Slowly move the blade toward your body, cutting under the skin of the ingredient. Move lightly, or else you’ll take off more than just the peel.
3. Coring tomatoes
To core a tomato with your paring knife, insert the tip about 1 centimeter to the left of the core. Dig down about one inch, then saw your way around the core. The circle should pop out when you’re done.
4. Decasing sausage
Most sausage links come encased in delicate sheaths, which keep the ingredients contained, but can pose problems when cooking, especially if you’re breaking sausage into smaller pieces. Using your paring knife, you can lightly draw a line down one side of the sausage—not enough to slice deeply, but enough to break the skin. Once you’ve made it all the way down, peel the casing back and discard it.
5. Hulling strawberries
If you’re baking with strawberries or, let’s be honest, eating them straight from the container, you’ll get more from the fruit if you properly hull it. Similar to when you’re coring a tomato, insert your paring knife to the side of the strawberry stem, then carve a circle around it. Pop it right out, and enjoy your treat.
6. Scoring meat
Certain cuts of meat have fatty pockets that you’ll want to leave in while cooking. If you’re roasting, for example, this fat provides delicious flavor that seeps through the meat over the course of several hours. Instead, you’ll just want to score the meat.
To do this efficiently, use your paring knife to draw lines through fatty sections. The technique will vary depending on the type of meat you’re preparing—pork chops, for example, require two equal cuts on the fatty edge.
What to Look for When Buying a Paring Knife
- Look for a 3- to 3 1⁄2-inch blade. This size is just right for a variety of cutlery tasks.
- Choose a blade with agility. A sharp, agile blade, which can fit into tight corners and can handle tight curves when peeling and paring, is much more important than weight and balance. The blade of a paring knife should be somewhat flexible for easy maneuvering into tight spots (such as tomato cores) and for handling curves when peeling and paring.
- Look for a comfortable grip. The handle should allow you to perform a variety of tasks nimbly.
How to Grip a Paring Knife
You want to be in total control of the blade, whether you’re peeling, slicing, or trimming. The grip should be comfortable, and you want the knife to feel balanced and ultrasecure in your hand.
Go at your own pace. The best paring knives won’t slip, no matter if you’re cutting in the hand or on a cutting board. Our collection of common paring knife techniques shows the many ways you can wield your paring knife.
For maximum kitchen safety (and cooking success), make sure you take the time to keep your knives sharp.
Best Way to Safely Store Paring Knives
All manner of small, sharp objects like paring knives (as well as fondue forks and skewers) can present a danger when tossed haphazardly into a kitchen drawer. The next time you reach into the drawer, you’re likely to get poked.
Here’s a handy trick: SECURE THOSE POINTY TIPS IN LEFTOVER WINE CORKS, which not only protects hands but also keeps sharp edges from getting dull.
Paring Knife Usage and Maintenance Tips
The standard way to use a paring knife is to cut towards your body and move your thumb along the piece of food you’re cutting, keeping it out of the way of the knife’s blade. Of course, you can still use a paring knife with a cutting board when the occasion calls for it.
Sharpen your paring knife regularly using just as you would your chef’s knife— a sharpening stone or a honing rod. Sharpening actually decreases the chance of cutting yourself— still a big concern with paring knives— because you don’t have to use as much force, so it’s harder to slip or lose control of the knife.
Just like a chef’s knife, make sure to store your paring knife with the blade facing down in a block or on a magnetic rag, or covered if it’s in your drawer. The last thing you want is to cut yourself right when you’re about to cook!