Precise and delicate―it's the expert of the knife family.
Credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner

With its blade of 2 1/2 to 4 inches, this looks like a miniature chef's knife, but its use is very different. The paring knife is great for peeling fruits and vegetables; slicing a single garlic clove or shallot; controlled, detailed cutting, such as cutting shapes or vents into dough; and scoring designs and patterns on surfaces of food. Use it for any job that requires precise and delicate work, like removing the ribs from a jalapeño or coring an apple.

Unlike the chef's knife, which is always used on a cutting board, you can cut with the paring knife while holding it aloft, as though it is an extension of your hand. The small handle gives the cook maximum control over the tip and the edge of the blade.

Three More Tasks for a Paring Knife

Hull strawberries: Use the tip of the knife to remove the stem and carve out the white center core from the stem end of each berry.

Section an orange or lemon: Hold the fruit over a bowl to catch all the juice that drips down. Peel the fruit to the flesh, then cut between the white membranes to extract each section. Because you hold the fruit as you cut it, this job is much safer when performed with a paring knife than with a chef's knife.

Devein shrimp: Cut a shallow slit down the outside curve of the shrimp; remove the dark vein, and rinse the shrimp under cold water.

What To Look For
Most professional cooks use a high-carbon steel, forged knife with a full tang, meaning the blade metal runs from the tip of the knife through the handle to the opposite end.

The Blade: In a forged knife, the blade is formed from heated metal and is individually hammered. The best blades are made from a mixture of alloys that help a knife take and hold a sharp cutting edge and resist corrosion. Look for a high-carbon stainless-steel blade with a Rockwell rating of at least 55, which indicates the knife sharpens easily and holds its edge. The Rockwell Scale is a measure of steel hardness, and it should be listed on the knife's product description.

Handle: Look for a handle with a precise fitting and no gaps or burrs. It should feel comfortable and secure. Materials range from wood to Bakelite to stainless steel and should have enough weight to balance the blade.