Best Overall: Wusthof Classic High Carbon Steel Paring Knife
Wusthof’s classic series knives are a fine-tuned combination of sharpness, balance, and comfort. Made of stain-free high carbon steel, they boast impressive durability and edge retention, too. If you’re looking for a paring knife that will give faithful service for decades, Wusthof’s Classic 3.5 inch paring knife is the way to go.
The sharpness in the Wusthof Classic paring knife is a result of the high quality steel used for the blade. High carbon steel is harder than stainless steel, giving it a sharper edge. Wusthof then finishes this with computer-controlled sharpening. That gives a consistently sharp blade that will keep its edge through months of use.
I recommend the Wusthof Classic series paring knife to beginners because of its heavy bolster. This bolster protects your front finger from slipping into dangerous cutting territory. A double benefit of the bolster is the added weight it gives, creating a well-balanced knife that’s a pleasure to use.
That ergonomic handle shape makes it easy to use Wusthof’s paring knife in two ways. First, you can lay down a small cutting board for mincing garlic or slicing shallots. But also, you can comfortably grip this paring knife in your dominant hand and use your other hand for making precise mid-air cuts.
Though it’s more expensive than many paring knives, the Wusthof Classic 3.5 inch paring knife is worth the investment. As well as its impeccable design and performance, it’s covered by a limited lifetime warranty. If a defect threatens to derail your paring knife, Wusthof will replace it at no cost to you.
What we like
- High carbon steel blade is razor sharp and durable
- Comfortable handle for firm gripping
- Heavy bolster for balance and protection
What We don’t
- Pricey compared to many paring knives
Most Affordable: Henckels Kudamono Paring Knife
If you’ve already invested a lot in a chef’s knife for your kitchen, you’ll probably want to save money on the paring knife you buy to complement it. The Kudamono paring knife by J.A. Henckels is an excellent choice. It’s surprisingly well-made given its low price. With a hollow ground blade and heavy forged bolster, it feels like a knife that should cost twice as much!
The Henckels Kudamon 3 inch paring knife is a prime example of the “sheep’s foot” style. A completely straight blade with a rounded back edge on the tip makes it especially well suited to peeling and mincing. The sheep’s foot blade makes the Henckel paring knife a great choice for anyone who would rather work on a cutting board than in mid-air.
A high carbon stainless steel blade means that Henckels’ paring knife will be razor sharp right out of the box. You’ll notice the indentations along the blade — a style known as “hollow ground” that prevents the knife from sticking to what you’re cutting. This is especially nice when you’re cutting fruits and vegetables. It lets you work quickly and efficiently without needing to brush each slice off of your knife.
The durable forged bolster is what makes the Henckels 3 inch paring knife feel like a pricier knife. As well as protecting your front finger from slipping, it gives great balance to the knife. That leads to more control and more precise cuts.
Overall, I would recommend the Henckels Kudamono paring knife to at home cooks who are looking to start a knife set with minimal investment. Keep in mind, though, that it’s best for people who prefer cutting on a board — not trimming things you’re holding in mid-air.
What we like
- Excellent quality for the price
- Forged bolster gives great balance
- Hollow ground blade glides through cuts
What We don’t
- Blade style is not to everyone’s tastes
Best Upgrade: Shun Classic Limited Edition Paring Knife
Made with the traditional methods of ancient Japanese swordsmiths, Shun’s Classic paring knife is a work of art in miniature. Its 4 inch Damascus steel blade puts it in a league of its own. Paired with its traditional D-shaped Japanese handle, it’s every bit as finely tuned as the most expensive chef’s knives. If you have a few dollars to spare in your kitchen budget, it’s a remarkable piece of equipment that you’ll always be happy to use.
Let’s talk about the steel used in Shun’s paring knife. By folding and shaping 34 alternating layers of low and high carbon steel, the resulting Damascus steel has the best sharpness and edge retention of any paring knife I’ve seen. In short, precise cutting, mincing, and peeling for fruits and vegetables is a breeze with Shun’s paring knife.
The D-shaped handle for this paring knife makes it comfortable no matter what grip you take. It’s made of pakkawood, a wood fiber and resin composite that’s sanitary and durable. Whether you prefer to cut on a board or while holding fruits and vegetables in your off hand, the Classic paring knife by Shun will work beautifully.
Attention to detail is what separates this paring knife from its competitors. This is most apparent in the well-balanced and ergonomic bolster. The forged bolster has a groove on the right side, giving you perfect finger placement and protection from accidental slips.
Shun’s 4 inch paring knife is a luxury kitchen tool that you’ll want to pass down through generations of your family. And since it’s covered by a lifetime warranty, you can rest assured that your investment will be worth it.
What we like
- Ultra sharp and durable Damascus steel blade
- Well-balanced and comfortable bolster
- Use any grip you want with it
What We don’t
Runners Up: Great In Their Own Way, But Not the Best
Each of the paring knives featured above represents the absolute best in their respective categories. Here are a few of the other knives I considered, as well as why they didn’t make the cut.
I strongly considered the Kuhn Rikon Colori paring knife as my “most affordable” pick. It’s inexpensive, and the non-stick coating is a nice touch. But what turned me off to this knife is the handle. Made of a lightweight plastic polymer, it throws off the balance of the knife and makes it harder to chop or mince on a board.
Kuhn Rikon’s serrated paring knife suffers from the same balance issues as the straight-edged Colori paring knife above. I appreciate the non-stick coating and storage sheath, but the lack of weight in the handle really drags these knives down.
Dalstrong is a dark horse in the Japanese knife market. They’re definitely well made, with high quality steel and a refined balance. But in the case of their paring knife, I don’t find the price justified for the performance. For the same cost, my “best upgrade” pick pays much closer attention to detail in its construction.
Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose the Best Paring Knife
In considering knives for this article, I compare my experience and preferences with each knife’s unique attributes. Here are the categories I pay attention to most closely.
Before you can get into specific knives, you’ll need to decide which type of paring knife suits you best. There are three main styles to choose from:
Classic paring knives are shaped like scaled-down versions of chef’s knives. They’re the easiest for beginners to use, and can be used on a board or in mid-air.
Sheep’s foot paring knives are different because of the flat blade edge and rounded back. They look like small santoku knives, and need to be used with a cutting board for best results.
Bird’s beak paring knives are curved like a sickle. They’re great for making precise peeling motions, but you’ll have to use them mid-air. That’s why I don’t recommend them for at-home cooks.
How your paring knife is made will determine the results that you get from using it. I look for attention to detail on three main design features:
The most important quality for a paring knife is the type of steel used for its blade. High carbon steel will yield the sharpest and most durable blades. That’s why, no matter what paring knife I choose, I look for high carbon steel.
You’ll also need to decide on what length of blade is best for you. Paring knife blades range from 3 to 4 inches in length. I’ve found that 3.5 inches is the sweet spot where anyone can handle a paring knife with control and precision.
Different handle materials will drastically change your experience with a paring knife. Look for dense handles with ergonomic designs that are shaped for a variety of hand shapes and sizes. Avoid lightweight plastic handles, as they strongly degrade the balance and usability of a paring knife.
Weight and Balance
Because you’ll be using a paring knife on a board or in mid-air, its weight and balance is of particular importance. Heavier paring knives give you more control over your cuts, and prevent you from the dangerous practice of having to “muscle through” a cut. Look for paring knives with heavy forged bolsters that provide extra weight, control, and balance.
How much do you really need to spend on a paring knife? Thankfully, not as much as a chef’s knife! Good paring knives will cost between $25 and $50. Any less than that and you’ll likely get a lightweight knife that dulls quickly. Pay just a bit more, and you’ll get a long-lasting high carbon steel knife.
Unlike chef’s knives, you won’t have to worry as much about maintenance for paring knives. They’re seldom used heavily enough to damage or dull them quickly, so a sharpening every 3 to 6 months will keep them in great shape.
Paring knives do have a way of getting lost, though. Make sure you have a safe space for storage. If you don’t already have one, it’s worth getting a knife block to safely and securely store your knives when they’re not in use. For anyone short on counter space, a knife bag is an alternative that can stow away flat in a drawer.
Frequently Asked Questions About Paring Knives
Closing things out, let’s take a closer look at some of the most common questions that come up about paring knives.
What Is A Paring Knife Best Used For?
Because of their shorter blades and smaller handles, paring knives are a perfect partner to chef’s knives. Where a chef’s knife can handle big chopping and slicing jobs, a paring knife lets you hone in on detailed cuts. This makes paring knives great for any small cutting task.
It’s easier to peel fruits and vegetables, mince garlic and shallots, or julienne carrots for a salad with a paring knife. Think of your paring knife as a go-to blade for anything that your chef’s knife is too big for.
How Do You Use A Paring Knife Safely?
Paring knives get a bad rap for causing kitchen accidents. But in my experience, that’s more a result of using low quality paring knives. Choose one with a slippery lightweight handle, and you’ll almost certainly end up cutting your fingers.
Using a paring knife safely, then, comes down to choosing a high quality blade with a comfortable handle. The more snug your grip on the handle is, the less likely you will be to have an accident. Pair this with a sharp blade and a heavy bolster, and you’ll be able to make cuts effortlessly and avoid any unsafe situations.
What Are the Main Drawbacks of Paring Knives?
Even the best paring knife is no substitute for a full knife selection. Beginners will try to use paring knives to cut foods that they’re not suited for, such as dense root vegetables. The main drawback for paring knives, then, is that they’re only useful for cutting small pieces of food. If a food item is larger than the length of your paring knife’s blade, it’s much better to use a chef’s knife instead.
How Long Are Paring Knives?
Paring knives are commonly equipped with blade lengths from 3 to 4 inches. Similarly, paring knife handles almost always measure around 4 inches. Altogether, paring knives will measure between 7 and 8 inches.
I would consider a paring knife to be one of the five most essential knives that deserve a place in your kitchen.
Once you know your budget, finding the right paring knife for your needs is straightforward. You can either invest in a knife that will last for generations, or go the cheaper route for a knife that will last for a few years before you replace it.
If you’re willing to invest in a top quality knife, the Wusthof Classic High Carbon Steel Paring Knife is my top recommendation. For a few dollars more, though, you could also get the beautiful Shun Classic Limited Edition Paring Knife. Anyone on a tighter budget should look towards the Henckels Kudamono Paring Knife instead.
Thank you for taking the time to research and find the best knives for your kitchen. I’m confident that if you use the advice I’ve given here, you’ll be happy with the results!