Assistant chefs hail paring knives as an essential element in the kitchen. They perform almost all the tasks a chefs knife does, but at a closer, more personalized level. The term refers to a broad collection of knives that are easily underutilized or misused due to a lack of knowledge of their capabilities.
The versatility of these tools makes answering the question, “What is a paring knife used for?”, a broad topic that might not be exhausted in one session. We consulted with our panel of cooking knife aficionados and renowned chefs and compiled this list of the most common applications of paring knives.
We were amazed by some of these applications as they seem very straightforward, but we hadn’t realized we could do that before. Stick around if you truly want to maximize the output from your paring knives. They say there is no magic in a knife, that it is the chef who uses it that adds value to the knife.
We will start by identifying paring knives so you can tell them apart from the rest of the cutlery in your kitchen.
They typically have slim, evenly sized yet powerful blades with pointed tips. These short blades measure between two and a half to four inches. Their handles fit your grip, enhancing blade control while slicing and dicing. Their micro size makes them ideal for cutting hard-to-reach places or handling assignments requiring precision, where the standard chef knife will not fit.
Paring knives are also generally lightweight and can be easily held with one hand and used without cutting boards. The lightness promotes dexterity which makes them ideal for intricate, detail-oriented cuts that are delicate or require extra precision.
Let’s look at some of the most popular reasons paring knives are considered a meal prep gem by many seasoned chefs internationally.
Paring knives work exceptionally well as peelers because, like conventional peelers, you don’t need a cutting board to peel your ingredients. Their lightweight and ergonomic handles allow you to use one hand and slice lightly, so you don’t take off more than the intended peel.
The most convenient way to peel is by holding the food in your hand. Paring knives leave one hand free to handle the ingredients. With a sharp paring knife, you will handle thin-skinned fruits and vegetables like a master, cleaning out the peel neatly without shaving off chunks of the ingredient.
This process removes the unwanted cores or centers of fruits like apples, pears, or pineapples and vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, and cabbage. They are considered inedible as they are either tough and fibrous or contain small seeds. Proper coring leaves the rest of the ingredient intact after taking out the unappetizing core.
You can use the small and thin paring knives to target the interior without compromising the structure of the ingredient. They will fit in and cut around the core easily, releasing it from the main structure. You can make impressive celery boats and garnish your fruits and vegetables like a pro.
This action needs extra precision, so you don’t touch seafood excrement or soil the rest of the meal with it. The sharp tip of your paring knife blade can pry out the entire intestine neatly without contaminating the rest of the food.
Many chefs benefit from using a paring knife to de-case sausages because its small size and light weight allow them to maximize their dexterity. They are used to draw lines down the sides of sausages that are just light enough to break the skin without slicing the sausages.
You will be able to break the sausages into as many pieces as you want to without interference from the sheaths. You can peel off the entire casing after slicing it and discard it.
Fruits like strawberries require their persistent calyx removed to enhance the elegance of their presentation and make them easier to eat. You should do this with minimal damage to the fruit to preserve as much of it as possible.
A light, pointy, sharp paring knife can be inserted using one hand (naturally, the dominant one) right next to the stem cap as you hold the strawberry with the other hand. If you turn the strawberry round, it will cut around the calyx, getting the stem and the tough bits just below it without sacrificing much fruit.
Hulled strawberries shine, and you can serve them just as they are, accompanied with cream or balsamic sugar. They are also included in salads or as part of the ingredients in baked foods.
Scoring meat is a chef’s solution for a myriad of obstacles. You do it by cutting light slits across the grain of the meat. It allows seasoning and spice rubs to penetrate the meat and provides an avenue to insert aromatics like garlic and ginger. It exposes a larger surface area of the meat to the heat, facilitating an even cook and preventing the meat from curling under the heat.
Scoring meat also severs the long fibers that make tough cuts hard to chew and allows excess fat to drain off from fatty cuts. You don’t have to shave off the fatty pockets, and their delicious flavors can seep through the meat throughout your cooking.
A sharp kitchen knife is required to make the cuts clean. It should also be light, so you can feel the cuts, ensuring you don’t go deeper than intended. The knife should be easy to maneuver as the cuts should be evenly spaced and deep. This combination of attributes should be sufficient to explain why a classic paring knife is used for scoring meat.
Check out this informative video on choosing paring knives and how to use them from Cutco’s Josh Mueller for a real-life demonstration.
Paring knives are classified based on the style of their paring knife blades. It helps to know the impact of different blades so you can pair them well with specific tasks to maximize output.
Victorinox 3.25-Inch Swiss Classic Paring Knife come with long, thin blades which curve towards the point and have wavy teeth for the cutting edge. The teeth enable them to cut food without crushing it. Serrated paring knives will do a good job slicing through tough surfaces like hard sausages or baked goods like bread.
The sawing motion breaks the surface easily, facilitating slicing through the tough skins of citrus fruits without damaging the soft flesh inside. This makes them ideal for cutting ripe berries, tomatoes, and mangoes when you don’t want the juices leaking all over the workspace. They will come in handy when you are making a salad.
They are also great for trimming cake edges, cutting soft cheese, and slicing through chilled dough as they won’t interfere with the shape. These ingredients will stick to a regular blade before you can finish cutting them.
The DALSTRONG Gladiator Series 2.75” Tourne Peeling Paring Knife made of premium high carbon German steel
The curved tip paring knife is also referred to as the bird’s beak paring knife because the sickle-shaped blade resembles a bird’s beak. The short, concave blade has a sharp tip, making it ideal for delicate cutting and trimming.
It is efficient for intricate cuts, including carving out unwanted pieces, like when fluting mushrooms and peeling fruits and vegetables.
The WUSTHOF Classic Ikon 3” Flat Cut Paring Knife has a double bolster design which enhances balance while improving aesthetics.
This style of paring knife features a blade with a flat cutting edge, which is the spine that curves towards the pointed tip. Because almost the whole blade can be in contact with the cutting board at the same time, you don’t need to hold the knife too high up at an angle when cutting. The ability to cut with minimal hand motion enhances speed and improves cutting accuracy.
These knives are great for peeling because they enable you to cut thin slices off the top, retaining as much of the ingredient’s flesh as possible. You can also use a paring knife as a tomato knife, cheese knife, boning knife, or any job a larger knife would be too much for.
Straight-edged paring knives are versatile and can be used for everything else, from peeling and slicing to chopping.
After considering what different paring knives are used for, they seem to be miniature versions of chef’s knives reserved for the delicate parts of cooking. The same level of thought and consideration should go into their selection so that you get the right tool for the job at hand. Even the learned folks at Iowa State University recommend that you use the correct knife for the task at hand.
That said, you can use each paring knife for multiple tasks around the kitchen. These tasks often crisscross each other, but you should know their limits.
It is not safe to use a small knife for a big knife job. You shouldn’t use paring knives for heavy-duty tasks like hard vegetables (carrots, beets, squash, etc.) and meats. This will push you to employ amounts of force that are unsafe for such small and light blades. You should also limit their application to food prepping; avoid using them for other household tasks like opening packages.
There are heavier forged knife blades that are better suited to perform these tasks.