From Season 7: Best Beef Stew
In the test kitchen, most of our tasks require one of three knives: a chef’s knife, serrated knife, and paring knife. The paring knife is not just for “paring” tasks—peeling an apple or turnip, carving the rind off an orange, coring a tomato but also for jobs suited to a mini chef’s knife or a boning knife—dicing a shallot or slipping the blade into the nooks and crannies of a chicken thigh.
But there are dozens of versions with blades and handles in different sizes and shapes and made from different materials. Some are marketed for specific tasks such as trimming, fluting, mincing, and peeling round items, but most are designed to be “all-purpose.” Prices vary from a modest $5 plus change to a grand $50, which invites the obvious question for a home cook: Is the most expensive knife really 10 times better than the cheapest model? To find, out, we gathered a group of ten “all-purpose” knives and put them through their paces.
After pretesting knives with blades of various lengths, we decided to stick with those having blades measuring as close as possible to 3 1/2 inches, which we determined to be the most versatile size. We also decided to steer clear of knives with serrated edges because they cannot be honed with a steel or run through most home electric knife sharpeners.
Our next decision was whether to test knives with forged or stamped blades or to test both types. Forged blades, which are generally more expensive and considered to be of higher quality, are made by heating a crude piece of steel to more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and beating it into the shape of a blade using a mold and a forging hammer. It is then ground down, tempered by repeated heating and cooling, sharpened, and finished in many, many time-consuming, labor-intensive, expensive steps. One sign that a knife has probably been forged is the presence of a bolster, a thick collar of metal between the blade and the handle. Stamping, on the other hand, is less expensive, starting with a large sheet of metal from which crude blades are cut out, much like cookie shapes are cut from rolled dough. The finishing steps are similar to those of forging.
In the final analysis, we decided to test knives across the range of price and quality. As a result, our final lineup forged, high-carbon stainless steel knives with ergonomically molded handles as well as inexpensive knives with stamped blades and handles made variously of plastic, wood, and rubber.
To our surprise, forging and stamping were not determining factors in the performance of a knife. Unlike a chef’s knife, a paring knife is by its very nature used for lighter tasks, where weight and balance are not crucial (it doesn’t take a huge effort to peel an apple or slice a tomato). So our testers found that the extra weight and balance afforded by the forging process and the bolster did not add up to a distinct advantage.
It turned out that what mattered most is the feel of the knife in your hand. Is the handle smooth or rough? Comfortably shaped or awkward? Do your fingers rest safely on the handle, or are they threatened by the blade in any way? Does the knife as a whole feel solid or flimsy? This important factor, however, is also the most open to subjective interpretation. For most of the knives we tested, assessments of handle comfort varied from user to user, so this is where you should acknowledge your own personal preference when shopping.
Another important performance factor was maneuverability, which was determined largely by the relative flexibility of the blade. Flexible knives were the easiest to work into tight spots, such as tomato cores and orange sections, and around the round surfaces of turnips and apples.
As with any kind of knife, of course, sharpness was also an important factor. The factory edge on each of the knives tested, forged and stamped alike, was sharp enough to use without incident. Regardless of the factory edge, however, any knife will dull with use, and some dulled so quickly during testing they would require constant sharpening to be of any use.
Victorinox (formerly Victorinox Forschner) 6-inch Straight Boning Knife: Flexible
The nonslip grip and narrow, straight blade let testers remove the smallest bones with precision and complete comfort. Perfectly balanced with enough flexibility to maneuver around tight joints. The low price was a bonus.
|★ ★ ★||★ ★ ★||$19.95|
Wüsthof Classic Boning Knife
Hefty in weight, this knife was a solid performer when removing poultry bones, and the handle was easy to grip, even when covered in chicken fat. Piercing silver skin was a challenge since the tip wasnt sharp enough and the long narrow blade produced slightly jagged cuts.
|★ ★||★ ★ ★||$99.95|
|Recommended with Reservations|
Mundial Boning Knife: Flexible
The sharp tip performed well when removing silver skin, but it was too flexible when maneuvering around poultry joints, leaving testers feeling a lack of control. The heavy handle was slightly unbalanced and became slippery once covered in poultry fat.
|★ ★||★ ★||$19.95|
Shun Gokujo Filet Knife
Designed to replicate a samurai blade, this expensive knife was a disappointment. It struggled to pierce the silver skin, although long cuts were smooth and even. Minimal flexibility and extreme curve got in the way when maneuvering around joints. The smooth handle was hard to grip and slippery.
MAC Boning KnifeChef Series
The large, cumbersome handle reminded testers of an outdoors knife for fishing and hunting. The blade was too wide to maneuver around joints and it struggled to pierce silver skin. Unlike other knives, this boning knife could only slice in one direction, making intricate cuts around joints difficult.
Messermeister San Moritz Elite Flexible Boning Knife
The blade was so flexible it led to erratic cuttings; testers said the knife was hard to control. The blade was not sturdy enough to maneuver around joints and the lightweight handle felt flimsy and unbalanced.