If the chef's knife is the workhorse of the kitchen, the paring knife is the thoroughbred -- lighter, more maneuverable, and suitable for fine work like peeling apples or coring strawberries. Blades range in length from 2½ inches to 5 inches and come in a variety of shapes. The editors of Cook's Illustrated, who know a thing or two about cooking, say 3 to 3½ inches is the best length. Longer blades, while handy for slicing cheese, are awkward for detail work.
In one detailed comparison test, the top paring knife is the Wüsthof Classic 3½-inch Paring Knife (*Est. $35). While its price may seem high for such a small knife, testers say it excelled at all tasks, from peeling apples to mincing shallots. This knife features a narrow blade angle -- 14 degrees on a side -- that testers say delivers excellent precision. Owners at Amazon.com and Cooking.com agree, awarding the Wüsthof near-perfect ratings in more than 75 reviews between the two sites. They find it well balanced and solidly built, and more than one described the balance as "just about perfect." Owners say they use it for everything from filleting small fish to removing the eyes from potatoes.
The J.A. Henckels Four Star 3-inch paring knife (*Est. $30) comes in a close second in the same professional test. While it doesn't quite match the Wüsthof for cutting performance and ease of use, it does do a better job of holding its edge. Testers find the slightly longer blade of the Wüsthof knife more versatile, but they prefer the grippy handle of the Henckels knife. The entire Henckels Four Star line gets good marks in another professional test for both performance and comfort, with very good marks for balance. Amazon.com users like both the grip and the length, but a few say it needs sharpening too often.