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June/July 2017

Paring Knives

For precision cuts, call on the (cheap) little guy.

How We Tested

A good paring knife is a small but mighty addition to any knife collection. Its diminutive size makes it more maneuverable and better able to hug curves than bigger knives. We choose a paring knife over a chef’s knife for three primary tasks where control is paramount. One: poking things without stabbing too widely or deeply, as when scoring chicken skin to help the fat render, piercing boiled potatoes to gauge doneness, or nipping into salmon fillets to see if they’re cooked through. Two: surgical incisions, such as splitting open dates to fill with blue cheese for our Devils on Horseback, slicing pockets into pork chops to stuff them with herbs and cheese, hulling strawberries, or coring tomatoes. And three: peeling fruits and vegetables such as apples, oranges, or stubborn celery root (whose skin is too tough for a peeler).

To find the best paring knife, we tested eight models priced from $8.76 to $49.95, including our previous winner from Wüsthof and our previous Best Buy from Victorinox. We limited our testing to knives with blades 3 to 4 inches long, as we know from past testing that shorter blades can’t reach through the food and longer blades are difficult to control.

First off, all the knives we tested were at least decent. We favored one knife that excelled at every task we threw at it, but I’d bet you $100.00 that if you stopped a stranger on the street and asked him/her to choose one of the knives we tested to take home, he/she would choose the wrong one. That’s because—there’s no other way to say it—our winning paring knife looks cheap. And it is cheap, selling for less than $10.00. It’s light and small with a plastic handle and none of the heft, snazzy looks, or authoritative air some of the other knives have. But it was the best performer nonetheless.

What separated this small, unassuming blade from the pack? For one, the slight, no-frills plastic handle was comfortable, a quality that might be more important for a paring knife than for any other knife. That’s because, unlike chef’s knives, paring knives are often used in the air, off a cutting board: You hold a strawberry in one hand and hull it with the knife held in your other hand. Thus, using a paring knife requires the user to cut in different directions on different planes, swerving this way and that around, say, bumps on a piece of ginger root or the curved exterior of an orange. When we made these cuts with heavier paring knives or with those that had larger handles, our hands got tired. Fatigue wasn’t an issue with our light, slim winner.

We also liked its blade, which was sharp and felt particularly smooth in use: “I’m not pushing, just guiding,” said one tester. All of the knives were sharp out of the box; a few were less so at the end of testing, possibly due to the lower quality of their metal. Sharp knives are easy to work with and safe—the risk of injury increases when using a dull blade because you have to push harder than you would with a sharp blade.

A few other factors made some knives easier to work than others. One was flexibility; with a chef’s knife a firm, rigid blade inspires confidence, but with paring knives you want some flex so the blade can worm its way into tight spaces or conform to curves for cleaner cuts. Knives with stiffer blades were harder to turn and took off a bit more fruit with their peels.

Spine thickness also had an impact on our preferences. The spine is the top of the blade, opposite the sharp edge. When peeling apples and oranges, we noticed that knives with thicker spines, around 1.5 millimeters, felt duller because we had to pull more metal through the fruit than we did with knives with slimmer spines of about 1.3 millimeters or less.

Finally, tips matter with paring knives. You use the tip of a paring knife a lot, and we preferred those with pointy, sharp tips. One knife had a notably dull, rounded tip, and it cored strawberries like a shovel.

One knife, the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 3 1/4” Spear Point Paring Knife ($9.47), edged out the competition (including a few $50.00 knives) to take the top spot. “I feel like I’m splitting cells,” said one tester. “I think it’s giving me better knife skills.” What more could you ask for?

Methodology

We tested eight knives priced from $8.76 to $49.95, all purchased online. We rated them on comfort, sharpness, and agility and had multiple testers evaluate the knives. They appear below in order of preference.

Comfort: We rated the knives on how secure and comfortable they felt, as well as how their working weight impacted performance.

Sharpness: We rated each knife on sharpness when it was brand-new, as well as after each test. We conducted a final paper sharpness test at the conclusion of testing and rated the knives accordingly.

Agility: We evaluated the knives on balance, length, and shape.

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The Results

Note: Cook's Country continuously updates our equipment reviews and taste tests. The written content below is the most up-to-date information available and may not match what appears in the video segment.

Key:
Good
Fair
Poor
Winner
Highly Recommended

Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 3 1/4" Spear Point Paring Knife

Buy For $7
Purchased for $9.47 at time of testing

Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 3 1/4" Spear Point Paring Knife

This knife was “superadept”; its sharp, flexible blade nimbly hugged curves, so we could surgically remove peels or cores without plunging too deeply. It was the lightest knife we tested, with a slim handle that a few testers found insubstantial but most praised for its ability to disappear in your palm and become an extension of your hand: “There’s no disconnect between my brain and the blade.”

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
Purchased for $9.47 at time of testing
Recommended

Wüsthof Classic 3 1/2" Paring Knife

Buy For $50
Purchased for $39.99 at time of testing

Wüsthof Classic 3 1/2" Paring Knife

Our old winner had a comfortable handle, but it felt a hair less sharp and agile for certain tasks. It was great for slicing cheddar and crunching down through apple cores, but for more nuanced jobs, like sliding between the skin and flesh of fruit, its thick spine and rigid blade made it feel a bit “like a bulldozer.” That said, its sturdy design and weight inspired confidence on the cutting board.

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
Purchased for $39.99 at time of testing

Zwilling J.A. Henckels Four Star 3" Paring Knife

Buy For $45
Purchased for $49.95 at time of testing

Zwilling J.A. Henckels Four Star 3" Paring Knife

This “razor-sharp” little knife earned praise for its edge, which arrived and remained impressively keen throughout testing. But it was more rigid, so it was less adept at hugging curves and removed slightly fatter peels. Its blade was the shortest in our lineup, at 3 inches, so testers struggled to cleanly quarter whole apples and often had to make two cuts. A minority of testers found its handle a bit too plump.

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
Purchased for $49.95 at time of testing
Recommended with Reservations

OXO Good Grips Pro 3.5" Paring Knife

$11.46

OXO Good Grips Pro 3.5" Paring Knife

This knife was the heaviest we tested and the second longest, so it crunched through apples with confidence and ease but felt “a little remote” on more delicate tasks, “like I’m trying to use a chef’s knife to do paring tasks,” said one tester. Its weight also tired our hands eventually, and while its stiff, thick-spined blade was quite sharp, it wasn’t flexible, so it struggled on turns.

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
$11.46

KitchenAid Professional 3 1/2" Paring Knife

$44.84

KitchenAid Professional 3 1/2" Paring Knife

This knife looked like a miniature chef’s knife, with a wide triangular blade. Its blade was strong and sharp, so it made straight cuts extremely well. We docked minor agility points because the blade was also thick and stiff; we could feel it “trailing” around curves, and its weight tired our hands after a while. A few testers thought the slightly rotund handle was harder to grip, but most found it okay.

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
$44.84

Mercer Culinary Millennia 3" Slim Paring Knife

$8.76

Mercer Culinary Millennia 3" Slim Paring Knife

We really liked this little knife at first. It looked just like our winner. But its edge didn’t last; by the end of testing, it couldn’t cleanly slice paper. We measured the blade at 3.25 inches, so its length wasn’t problematic—it just didn’t stay sharp enough. Its handle was also slightly bigger than others, and some testers complained that it didn’t sit as comfortably in their palms.

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
$8.76

Dexter Russell Sani-Safe 3 1/4" Cook’s Style Paring Knife

$9.20

Dexter Russell Sani-Safe 3 1/4" Cook’s Style Paring Knife

“Is that an oyster knife?” asked almost every person who walked by this knife in the kitchen. The answer is no, but it does look like one, and much like an oyster knife, its tip wasn’t very sharp, so it couldn’t hull strawberries as deftly as others. The rest of its blade was reasonably sharp, but its fat handle felt cumbersome for some.

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
$9.20

Shun Sora Paring Knife

$31.95

Shun Sora Paring Knife

This long, skinny knife was very sharp, but its handle was off. It was too long, was broader at the end, and tapered as it approached the blade, which gave it a weird momentum, like our hands were always sliding toward the blade. It was heavier, too, which was taxing after a while. It wasn’t very flexible and had a thicker spine that dragged when we peeled fruit.

More Details
Agility
Comfort
Sharpness
$31.95