When it comes to making quick work of small tasks like mincing a shallot or making perfect orange segments, only a sharp paring knife will do. After spending more than 45 hours on research and testing knives on a variety of fruits and vegetables, we think the Victorinox 3¼-Inch Paring Knife is the best choice for the money. It’s comfortable, sharp, and comes with an agreeable price tag of $8. It’s also a top pick at Cook’s Illustrated and Good Housekeeping, and it’s a favorite of culinary professionals throughout the industry.
Coming in a close second was the Wüsthof Pro Paring Knife. This offering from Wüsthof is strikingly similar to the company’s Silverpoint II, only it’s $1 cheaper (the silver medallion must cost a few cents to add). With its sharp edge and a comfortable grip, it sailed through most of our tests, which included peeling an apple, mincing shallots, segmenting oranges, and hulling strawberries. Its shorter blade, 3 millimeters smaller than the Victorinox, couldn’t cut apples with one stroke. If our pick sells out, this would make a decent substitution.
The MAC Professional is a hefty knife that features a bolster, full tang, and riveted Pakkawood handle. The well-made knife is ideal for board work, but it can be quite precarious for in-hand work because of its wider blade and razor-sharp edge. If you require something that is more luxe and will last a lifetime, this is a good choice.
I have an extensive culinary background that spans almost two decades. I cooked in the kitchens of brewpubs, small cafes, and fine dining restaurants. I also did some catering, which gave me opportunities to work behind the scenes at really cool parties like Elton John’s 60th birthday gala. I’ve peeled and deveined cases upon cases of tiger prawns, removed hulls from mountains of strawberries, and spent hours making perfect orange supremes for parties of up to 800 people. I also spent six years in a test kitchen, developing recipes for food stories that appeared in national magazines.
In addition to my own experience, I also interviewed experts such as Brendon McDermott, chef instructor at Kendall College; Levon Wallace, executive chef at Cochon Butcher in Nashville; Charlyne Mattox, food and crafts director at Country Living and the author of Cooking with Seeds; and Nora Singley, NYC-based culinary producer and food stylist. We scoured editorial resources like America’s Test Kitchen, Good Housekeeping, Serious Eats, and Saveur.
Any chef will agree: A paring knife is an important part of your knife set. It’s crucial for in-hand work—those jobs where you hold the object you’re cutting instead of resting on a board—and it’s convenient for small jobs when you don’t want to pull out a larger chef’s knife. You should think about replacing your paring knife if the one you currently own is dull beyond repair, nicked, or rusted. The good news? A paring knife is inexpensive and shouldn’t set you back more than $10. Although paring knives are pretty straightforward, there are a few different types:
The perfect paring knife must be sharp with a pointed tip. It should be comfortable and lightweight, with a blade that’s 3 to 4 inches long. It’s not necessary for a paring knife to cost more than $10, and stamped blades are just fine. Remember, these are for small jobs like mincing a shallot, trimming green beans, and hulling strawberries.
Sharpness is key. The sharper the blade, the more control the cook has. These knives are meant for small jobs, which means your hand is close to the blade. Sometimes you’re even holding the object you’re cutting. A fine, pointed tip is very important because you want to be able core a tomato, hull a strawberry, or slip the knife underneath a shrimp shell for easy peeling and deveining. These things are all very difficult to do with a rounded tip.
Comfort is almost as important as sharpness. Handles should be easy to grip; blades should be comfortable to choke up on without nicking your gripping hand. The knife itself should be lightweight since some jobs are done away from the board. Heavy knives are not any fun to use while peeling 5 pounds of apples.
A great paring knife needs to have the right blade length. Cook’s Illustrated and my interviewees prefer a blade length of 3 to 3½ inches. Any longer than that and it gets difficult to do in-hand work. Once you get longer than 4 inches, you start getting into utility knife territory. On the flip side, you don’t want anything too short, or you can’t cut through an apple or orange in one slice.
There is really no reason to spend a lot of money on a paring knife. Inexpensive stamped knives with plastic handles that cost $10 or less do the job quite nicely and are a favorite with pro chefs and home cooks alike. Knives like the Victorinox or the Wüsthof Pro take care of small jobs just as well, if not better, than their more expensive counterparts. True, they are not at all sexy. If you’re a connoisseur of high-end cutlery, this will look a little out of place on your magnetic strip. But we’re not here for fashion.
We asked Brendan McDermott, chef instructor at Kendall College in Chicago, what he preferred to use. “When it comes to a paring knife, I’m a little less selective compared to my chef’s knife,” he said. “The chef’s knife is really the knife that’s key, and that’s the one that I’ll spend more money on. But as far as a paring knife goes, I own a little Victorinox, plastic handle, stamped blade, which I really, truly love. If you’re buying a set of knives, and you want all of the handles to line up, with everything from the same line, then a forged paring knife is the way to go. But, honestly, a Victorinox is pretty awesome.” Chef Levon Wallace agreed: “The standard, classic Victorinox can accomplish any of the tasks a specialized paring knife can.”
When we first wrote this guide in 2014, we chose to not include Japanese paring knives in the testing lineup. While Japanese Western-style knives are very popular with professional cooks, including a couple of my interviewees, they require a lot of attention and care to keep the edge sharp. Some have a different style of beveled edge that requires special expertise to sharpen.1 While we still believe them to be high maintenance, we thought we’d add the MAC Professional and Global paring knives—both with Western-style even bevels—to the mix for the 2016 update to see how they would compare with the less expensive contenders.
In the end, we settled on eight samples total that met our requirements, all European-style knives except for the MAC and the Global. Each knife in the testing lineup has a fine tip and a blade that measures 3 to 3¾ inches. Five out of the eight are priced below $10. The most expensive knives that made it into the testing sample are the two German forged knives, costing about $40 each. For this update, we put the knives through a series of tests that would give us a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. With each knife, we peeled and minced a shallot, peeled and cored an apple, peeled and segmented citrus, and hulled strawberries. These tests are a good mix of common tasks that show a knife’s abilities in hand and on a board.
It’s been two years since we first published this guide, and the Victorinox 3¼-Inch Paring Knife is still our favorite. The plastic handle is very comfortable in the hand. The point where the slender handle and blade join feels almost seamless. The Victorinox has a very fine, pointed tip and a sharp blade that pierces the skin of fruits and vegetables without resistance. The 3¼-inch blade is comfortable for detailed in-hand work, and it excelled with board work. The thin, stamped blade was easy to control and made quick work of delicate tasks. It has received glowing reviews from other publications and culinary professionals alike, and it costs less than $10.
Because the knife is comfortable to hold, in-hand work like hulling strawberries was easy. The sharp blade and pointed tip allowed me to remove the hull in one smooth, circular action. These qualities were also crucial for the shrimp test. It was easy to slip the knife into the head-end of the shrimp and pull up through the shell. This test was for control more than anything, because you’re holding the knife in a different position than usual, pulling up instead of slicing down.
The Victorinox’s super-sharp edge is key to getting a perfect mince all the way to the root of a shallot. But sharpness is also very important for in-hand work because sharpness equals control, and control means safety. A dull knife can send you to the ER pretty quick, no matter what size it is.
The thin blade peeled an apple very smoothly, the skin coming off in one continuous spiral while taking off very little flesh with it. In contrast, the MAC knife, while being sharp, had control issues. It took off more apple flesh than other knives. And testers were afraid of cutting their hands when they choked up on the knife due to the heel of the blade extending farther than the handle. The length of the blade was just long enough to slice medium-large apples in half, and I had a lot of control removing the core from quartered sections whether on the board or in hand. When it came to peeling an orange, the Victorinox sliced the peel and pith with one smooth motion, whereas less sharp blades like the Chicago Cutlery knife sawed through flesh. The Victorinox also effortlessly sliced through the orange for supremes (skinless citrus segments).
For the price, you can’t get a better-performing knife. There are better places to spend your money, like a chef’s knife for instance. Make like the pros and buy this knife.
You will not get the lifetime of service with the Victorinox knife that you can get from a knife made of harder steel and constructed with a riveted handle and full tang. But you can buy six Victorinox knives over the course of 30 years for the same price as our luxe pick.
If the Victorinox is sold out, consider the lightweight and agile Wüsthof Pro, which came in a close second place in our testing. It has a sharp, stamped blade with a pointed tip and costs $2 more. It had one literal shortcoming: The blade is 3 millimeters shorter than the Victorinox, which made cutting apples and oranges a two-stroke affair.
Testers praised how well it peeled an apple and minced shallots. When it came to cutting orange supremes, it made smooth cuts without needing little back-and-forth saw motions. The blade, though, was a little too short to break down an apple for coring and slicing as quickly as the Victorinox.
We brought in two budget offerings from Wüsthof this year, the Pro and the Silverpoint II. These two knives are almost identical in every way, except the Silverpoint II has a medallion embedded in the butt of the handle and costs $1 more. If it so happens that our top pick and runner-up are sold out, you would do fine with the Silverpoint II.
If you need every knife in your arsenal to look expensive and pretty, the MAC Professional fits the bill. It features a bolster, full tang, and a riveted Pakkawood handle. Its heftier, sturdy design makes it an excellent choice for board work. It minced shallots finely and evenly, it maneuvered around the curves of an orange with precision, and it broke down an apple to thin, coreless slices effortlessly. While it excelled on the board, when it came to in-hand work that required us to choke up on the knife, we were a bit wary of cutting ourselves on its sharp heel. But this shouldn’t be an issue if you do mostly board work.
The MAC Professional is constructed of a molybdenum high-carbon steel, and it has a razor-sharp edge that will impress even the most jaded cook. Even though it’s quite expensive, this is a knife that will last a lifetime with proper care and regular sharpening. The Pakkawood composite handle won’t melt if it comes in contact with a hot pot, but it will warp in the dishwasher. Basically, treat this knife like a chef’s knife. Wash it by hand, use a cutting board, and maintain the edge.
Knives can dull with improper handling. Luckily, taking good care of a knife isn’t difficult. If you follow a few rules, your knife will give you many years of service.
First of all, please stop throwing your knife in a drawer. It gets banged around and rubs up against other things made of metal, which makes it dull. Also, we’re talking about a small knife, so if you’re digging around for a bottle opener, it’s really easy to cut yourself on a camouflaged blade waiting to attack your digits. I highly recommend a magnetic strip for knife storage. I have one and it’s perfect for a small space.
To keep your knife sharp, we highly recommend a honing steel. Your edge will keep longer with regular use. Run your knife on a steel whenever you feel the blade isn’t as sharp as it should be. There’s no formula or rule of thumb on how often you should hone your knife, but when you see how sharp your edge is after honing, you will want to use a steel almost every time you cook. Feeling a bit squeamish about using a steel or insecure about your technique? Here’s a very informative video.
Honing your knife isn’t the same as sharpening; it’s more like maintaining an edge. Regular usage can cause a knife’s edge to bend, making the blade seem dull, but the edge may just need to be realigned. When you get to the point where honing doesn’t work anymore, it’s time to actually sharpen the knife, which means grinding metal on a whetstone to create a new edge (or bringing your knives to a professional sharpener).
Please don’t put your knives in the dishwasher. The knocking around in the machine is a one-way ticket to dullsville. I know some companies say their knives are dishwasher safe, but putting them in a dishwasher will still shorten the life of that prized factory edge. Also, don’t let your knives sit in the sink—your knives aren’t that stainless. Wash your knives by hand in warm, soapy water and dry with a soft and clean towel.
We didn’t test serrated knives for a couple of reasons. Those teeth can be helpful for piercing through tomato skin or the crust of a small loaf of bread, but from a chef’s point of view, a serrated paring knife is not adequate for cutting delicate herbs or even mincing a shallot efficiently. Knife skills instructor Brendan McDermott mentioned serrated knives when we spoke, and he dismissed them as something that bartenders have on their station to cut through huge amounts of citrus.
However, if you’re going to pick one up as an addition to a set, Cook’s Illustrated recommends the Victorinox serrated paring knife. Sweethome editor Christine Cyr Clisset has also recommended this knife in the past, and I agree wholeheartedly. The Victorinox serrated paring knife is a regular go-to in my kitchen for cutting citrus, a small baguette, or some leftover cold steak as a snack. It’s also a handy tool for picnics or outdoor cooking. I’ve prepared many camping meals with a Victorinox serrated paring knife. I have the rosewood-handled one, and I love it.
Our former upgrade pick, the Wüsthof Classic, is razor sharp out of the package, but loses its edge pretty quickly. We still like its comfortable handle, but unless you’re into sharpening your own knife frequently, it’s not as good as the MAC.
While I like the Global 3-Inch paring knife, the handle is just a little too odd to grip. I personally liked it, but our assistant kitchen writer, Michael Sullivan, thought it was too heavy. The dimpled handle is polarizing. The blade is pretty short, too. The Global did excel at making orange supremes. Honestly, if I had a job where I had to segment a case of oranges a week, I’d have this knife just for that one task.
The Mercer Millennia paring knife has a handle that is simply too big. It made in-hand work cumbersome. The edge wasn’t very sharp, so cutting was more like sawing than slicing.
The OXO Good Grips paring knife was okay. It has a cushy handle that’s easy on the hands, but the blade wasn’t quite sharp enough to compete with our picks.
In the 2016 testing lineup, the offering from Chicago Cutlery was the worst performer. It was dull and hard to maneuver. It failed every test.
The Wüsthof Gourmet is a stamped paring knife. It felt a bit flimsy in the hand, but the sharp tip slipped under shrimp shells and hulled strawberries with precision. The blade, however, wasn’t very smooth. Apple peeling was choppy, and mincing a shallot was a bit rough.
The Zyliss paring knife with sheath was huge. The blade is so big that it’s uncomfortable to choke up on. It took huge sections out of the strawberries. Cutting through shrimp shells and peeling an apple didn’t go so smoothly, either. What I think this knife is perfect for, though, is a picnic or office desk knife. The plastic sheath makes it safe for transport. If all you’re looking to do is cut up a cucumber or cheese for lunch, this is a good choice.
The same was true for the Mercer. It made orange segments that looked torn and sloppy. When peeling an apple, the action was jerky, and the skin came off in 1-inch pieces with a lot of flesh attached. The handle was bulky and uncomfortable to hold onto. If I had to peel enough apples for a pie with that thing, I might wind up hurling it across the room. (We neither condone nor recommend the throwing of sharp objects.) The basil test was also a fail; the cuts were imprecise and crude.
The Dexter-Russell has a fine, sharp tip, and slightly less curve to the blade, but the edge doesn’t make for smooth slicing action. While the handle of the Dexter-Russell was a little more ergonomically shaped, it wasn’t much more comfortable than the Mercer. Its performance echoed that of the Mercer, yielding an apple with gouged out flesh and messy orange segments. It was very efficient at cutting through shrimp shells and hulling strawberries, though.
The J.A. Henckels Four Star 3-Inch was just adequate all around. It was the least sharp out of all the testing subjects, and it needed a little more pressure to pierce the tomato skin. The duller blade also made peeling and apple and cutting herbs more difficult. While the 3-inch length was great for in-hand work, it was a bit short for board work.
The Shun Classic 3½-Inch is a Western-style Japanese knife with a hefty price tag. After holding it at the store, I decided it was too much knife for the everyday home cook.
The Victorinox Swiss Classic 4-Inch paring knife’s blade is a bit too long for in-hand work.
The J.A. Henckels Classic 4-Inch is another case of the blade being just a bit too long.
The Kuhn Rikon Nonstick 4-Inch is a picnic knife, at best. I have a few of these in my drawer because they are a popular gift. I never use it to cook; only to tote to the beach or the park.
The Wüsthof Classic Ikon comes with a differently shaped handle and costs $10 more than its Classic sibling.
The Kyocera 3-inch White Ceramic knife is very fragile. You can’t flex the blade, and if you drop it, you’re out of luck. We wanted a durable knife that would last for years.
The J.A. Henckels Pro was more expensive than the Four Star at $60, and the blade is too long to be ideal.
The Wüsthof Grand Prix II 3½-inch paring knife was a close contender, but without the glowing reviews for the Classic.
I have some experience with the Calphalon Katana Paring, and I found that it doesn’t hold an edge.
(Photos by Michael Hession.)
Originally published: March 4, 2016