For precision cuts, call on the (cheap) little guy.
Last Updated Mar. 1, 2021. Appears in Cook's Country TV Season 11: Summer Steak and Salad
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,” sa...
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Hannah is an executive editor for ATK Reviews and cohost of Gear Heads on YouTube.