Slipping in to deliver where the standard chef knife falls short, the paring knife is one of the most accurate and under-appreciated kitchen knives. Good quality paring knives can take your kitchen game to the next level and have your dinner guest in awe of your finely sliced peeled tomatoes.
Humor aside, paring knives are extremely effective at what they do – delicate and precise kitchen work. Want to peel a grape or devein a shrimp, a paring knife is your best bet. Along with their precision and accuracy, paring knives are also incredibly versatile. They can be used to open packages and do tons of light utility work around the kitchen.
Paring knives are the lightweight, smaller, shorter, and easier-to-use cousins of the famous chef knife. They’ll make delicate cutting far easier and have you speeding through your meal prep with a touch of class. Let’s answer this “what is a paring knife?” question, look at how to use them right, and show you exactly how they can fit into your kitchen. Let’s dive in!
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What Is a Paring Knife?
As we’ve already hinted at, the paring knife is an essential kitchen knife. They’re smaller and lighter than a standard chef knife, meaning they’re easier and safer to use for more accurate and delicate cutting. Sure, you can use a peeler for potatoes and carrots, but what do you do when you need to skin a grape or quickly trim meat?
Despite their smaller blade length and light weight, these versatile knives can handle some heavier duty kitchen work – though they shine when used for anything delicate. Most paring knives have a 3-4” blade, commonly sitting at around 3.5”. This is the sweet spot if you want a healthy balance between accuracy and cutting power.
You can find longer and shorter paring knives, but they tend to be more specialized and aren’t as great for general kitchen use. Most paring knives are full tang. They need this added strength to keep the blade stable when it’s being used to dig into tougher fruits and veggies. They have ergonomic handles that are quite large, considering the size of the blade.
You’ll have plenty of handle space to work with, and pinch grips are easy to find – even if you have larger hands. Paring knives have extremely sharp cutting edges and tough steel. This makes them a little harder to sharpen, but they have excellent edge retention and give you a smooth cutting experience.
The blade’s tip is oftentimes curved, with a wicked sharp edge to help you trim meat and hollow our various vegetables and fruits. Let’s take a look now at when you should be using a paring knife instead of the other knives in your collection!
Why You Should Use a Paring Knife
If you’re trying to decide whether your kitchen would benefit from a paring knife – the answer is an astounding yes! There’s a huge gap between what knives like the boning knife and peelers can do, and what a standard chef knife does. A paring knife is the pro chef’s first choice to fill this void.
You’ll be using your paring knife for all cutting and utility work that needs a delicate touch. Trimming a piece of turkey or beef? Deveining a shrimp? Coring jalapeños? A paring knife handles these kinds of tasks with ease. While 5” and 6” chef knives can handle these types of tasks if they’ve been well-sharpened – the paring knife is far easier to work with.
They are far lighter than chef knives, and the shorter blade is easier to be accurate with. You’re less likely to slip up and accidentally cut yourself. This might seem like a minor benefit, but you’re bound to notice and appreciate this plus-factor while actually working. I’ve cut myself several times trying to skin a tomato or a grape – especially when using a knife that isn’t as sharp as it should be.
The ergonomic handles of the paring knives make getting a balanced pinch grip easy and intuitive. The shorter and often forward-curving blades make working on fish, fruits, vegetables, and other meats and riskless breeze. Your hands and arms can quickly tire and seize up if you try to use your standard chef’s knife for delicate cutting.
The paring knife is perfect for slicing and dicing garlic (and even crushing it with the butt of the handle). If you’ve never had a quality paring knife in your kitchen, you’ll be surprised how versatile these unassuming knives can be. Once you’ve got used to it, it’s hard to imagine an efficient kitchen without a paring knife!
What to Look for in a Good Quality Paring Knife
While there are quite a few decent cheap paring knives, you should try to go for a higher quality knife (if you value your cooking experience). Weight, ergonomics, and steel quality are probably the most important factors, followed by others like out-of-the-box sharpness, aesthetics, etc.
Make sure the paring knife you choose is lightweight and that the handle doesn’t pack any unnecessary weight. This would negate the advantage paring knives have over short 5” and 6” chef’s knives. Check to see that the handle is ergonomically designed, comfortable to hold, and is made from slip-resistant material.
Don’t worry too much about getting bacteria-resistant handles, as you should have a good care and maintenance routine in place already. Ensure the tip is sharp, as you’ll be using a lot (pull cuts, trimming, and parallel slicing). This also ties in closely with steel quality and edge retention.
Paring knives rely on being sharp to work at their best. AUS-10 steel is a great option if you don’t know what to choose. You’ll get a great balance between price, durability, and performance. This steel is used in a couple of Dalstrong Damascus knives – you’ll get premium performance and fantastic usability.
If you’re pondering “What is a Damascus paring knife?” it refers to the pattern on the steel as a result of the layered steel. They’re stunning and extremely durable. Make sure there isn’t too much flex in the blade either.
Paring knives should be able to take a little bit of bending, but too much flex and make it harder to stay accurate, and likely to warp over time. Keep these factors in mind and balance them out (according to how important they are to you) with the price of the knife. It’s a foolproof way to get excellent value for money and a great, long-lasting knife!
How to Use a Paring Knife the Right Way
Getting a good grip on your paring knife is the first step to learning to use it the right way. Most paring knives are best used with a firm (but not iron-tight) pinch grip. If you’re using a standard paring knife (no curved blade or tip), then a common pinch grip is perfect. This gives you the best control and accuracy over the knife.
When you’re using a paring knife with a slanted tip or curved blade, the grips can vary slightly. The biggest and most unusual change is to use your index finger on the spine of the blade. Start in the standard pinch grip and extend your index finger until it’s resting about halfway up the blade.
Many Japanese chefs use this technique so the knife is accurate and easy to control – with a little practice. Here are a couple of other pointers to keep your technique clean:
- Don’t press down or push too hard while cutting – if you are then it means your blade isn’t sharp enough
- Never use a paring knife to pry anything open as the blade won’t take a lot of lateral or twisting pressure
- When peeling fruit, always use small slicing motions, constantly moving your thumb away from the cutting edge
- Learn and master pull-cutting (or the back slice) to make the most of your paring knife
Keep these pointers in mind and you’ll get the best possible results from your new paring knife!
Paring Knife vs Utility Knife
These knives are very similar to each other and are often mixed up and/or misused. The utility knife has scalloped edges and its use falls somewhere between a paring knife and a slicing knife. You’ll find most utility knives to have a longer and heavier blade compared to the paring knife.
Utility knives are larger and heavier than a paring knife. They’re excellent for slicing fruits and vegetables while packing enough cutting power to be a versatile utility knife.
We’ve covered quite a bit of information in this guide. Bear in mind that you’ll start to make better choices once you’ve got a little experience with paring knives. Once you get one of these extremely versatile knives in your kitchen, your meal prep will be faster and more enjoyable – and your food will taste better.
Hopefully, you can answer our “What is a paring knife?” question with confidence. You’ll be in total control of your kitchen in no time!