While a chef’s knife is the golden child of a chef’s tool arsenal, a paring knife is a bartender’s best friend. A sharp one makes quick bar tasks a breeze, from halving lemons or peeling an orange skin for an Old Fashioned garnish. Just like a shaker or a jigger, a paring knife is a bar essential, ready to whip your garnishes into shape with a sharp swipe.
Best of all, these paring knives are very often inexpensive, so you don’t have to worry about losing one to a dishwasher or breaking a blade. If you do want to spend the extra money, well-made (albeit pricier) options, like our top choice the Jackson Cannon Bar Knife, are crafted to last you a lifetime. Regardless of your budget, we called upon our favorite bartenders to find you the best paring knives to get right now.
Best Overall: Jackson Cannon Bar Knife
"I have had a Jackson Cannon knife at both my home bar and professional bar for the last 8 years and I absolutely love them,” says Paul Gonzalez, the beverage supervisor at Delta Hotels Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites. “These may be a slightly higher price point than other cheaper brands but they are very high quality and will last forever and stay very sharp."
Built specifically for the bartender, this line of knives from R. Murphy is designed in collaboration with mixologist Jackson Cannon. The blade is made with high-carbon stainless steel with a precision-ground, hand-edged blade that resists the acid in citrus. Note the square tip: Use it to scoop out seeds from fruit or notch a citrus peel. All products are crafted in the United States.
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Best Set: Kuhn Rikon Paring Knives
“Here at J. Rieger & Co. we spend a LOT of time in the kitchen,” says Andrew Olsen, the distillery’s beverage director who oversees the cocktail program at both bars and the tasting room. “So we love the Swiss company Kuhn Rikon, for several reasons including that they are both inexpensive and incredibly sturdy. Running at a pretty affordable price, the plastic handle and thin blade is perfect for cutting through citrus, preparing garnishes, and perfecting manicured twists.”
This set includes three straight paring knives with matching safety sheaths. Consider this an all-purpose bar knife: use it to cut garnishes, or for the host, the ultra-sharp Japanese stainless steel blade also does a number on vegetables, cheese or other snacks. Available in a rainbow of colors, pick up these knives if the aesthetic is important.
Most Unique: Kiwi Chef’s Knife
“The Kiwi chef’s knife is my favorite for affordability,” declares Dean Hurst, the beverage director at Tampa’s Datz Restaurant Group. “These may lose their edge a bit faster than more expensive knives, but they are really easy to sharpen. I recommend buying two or three so you always have a new blade at the ready.”
Anthony Escalante, the bar manager of the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix, also reaches for a Kiwi knife. “This may sound a bit silly but one of my all-time favorite knives in my bag is easily the most inexpensive and most talked about piece. It is Kiwi’s bladed miniature cleaver: Each time I use it behind the bar to shape garnish or cut small fruit it immediately becomes a conversation starter amongst the guests. It also has a very thin blade that can be sharpened so it is perfectly sharp for intricate slicing and detailing.”
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Best for Prep Work: Cocktail Kingdom's Ikura Bartender’s Utility Knife
"In terms of knives, in general, I love working with the Ikura bar knife from Cocktail Kingdom,” describes Josh Batista, the beverage director of New York City’s Moonrise Izakaya. “It's a 7-inch, Japanese-style knife that allows me to do all of my bar prep (and kitchen work, too!), not just garnish work.” And it’s designed for such: Cocktail Kingdom tapped pro bartender Aaron Polsky to help craft this bartender’s knife.
The blade features a 50/50 edge made from forged steel attached to an elegant black walnut handle. Note this blade does need to be washed by hand in between use. This knife is longer than most bar knives—that means it does make a serious statement at the bar, but it does not store as compactly as other bar knives.
Best Ceramic: Kyocera Ceramic Paring Knife
“I prefer a ceramic paring knife for sure!” says Ellen Talbot, the lead bartender at Fable Lounge in Nashville. What’s the difference between a ceramic and stainless steel knife? It’s not the same ceramic as a mug—it’s made with zirconium oxide. This type of ceramic is far stronger than steel, plus it won’t rust or absorb any funky odors. This knife also stays sharp for longer than an average stainless steel or carbon steel knife, though note once it does dull, it’s tough to sharpen at home.
This is an excellent entry-level ceramic knife, lightweight and easy-to-clean with a 3-inch paring blade.“They take a little extra care when cleaning, but certainly remain sharp without regular honing, and they come in a variety of colors that can match a bar’s theme,” says Talbot.
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Best Japanese: Kikuichi Paring Molybdenum Stainless 3.2" Knife
Gavin Humes, the food and beverage director of Scratch Bar & Kitchen in Los Angeles, “prefers the Japanese petty knives for my small knife work. Specifically, right now I’m using a Kikuichi Warikomi paring knife. It’s a beautiful knife made with high carbon steel that holds its edge like a champ. It requires a bit of maintenance, but it’s exceptionally worth it in my mind.” (The knife requires hand washing to upkeep the rust-resistant blade).
If you’re looking to spend a little more on a knife that will last, trust Kikuichi. The brand is over 700 years old, renowned for making samurai swords and traditional Japanese knives in the fashion of samurai swords. Each paring knife is still made in Japan. This one features a stamped 3-inch blade with a plastic and resin handle. Note the chrysanthemum on the blade: it’s a symbol of the emperor.
Most Durable: Mercer Culinary Renaissance Forged Paring Knife
Chelsea Napper, the bar manager of Yūgen in Chicago, “would suggest the Mercer Culinary Renaissance Forged Paring Knife. I used Mercer in culinary school and I have always really liked their knives, as long as you take care of it and sharpen it.”
With a triple-riveted, ergonomically-designed handle, “the paring knife slices citrus and any fruit with ease,” continues Napper. “The length makes it versatile enough to use a multitude of garnishes.” A short bolster allows you to sharpen the blade—it’s made with high-carbon, stain-resistant German steel—with ease. The blade is finished to resist rust, corrosion, and discoloration accumulated over time. The triple-rivet handle fits comfortably in your hand for extended cutting.
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Best Splurge: Kikuichi GYUTO Molybdenum Stainless Knife
“It’s not a paring knife per se,” explains Pete Stanton, the head bartender at Ai Fiori at The Langham, “but the only bar knife I’ve used in over a decade is the Kikuichi Molybdenum 7-inch Gyuto, or chef’s knife. It’s the most versatile knife for behind the bar, from razor-thin peels to tough pineapple skin. Cutting citrus every day can beat up cheaper knives in short order.” So he opts for this pricey knife, made with top-quality molybdenum stainless steel.
“The Kikuichi Molybdenum Gyuto is a perfectly balanced knife. It’s extremely durable and easy to sharpen. While more expensive than your cheap bar knife, my Kikuichi Gyuto has lasted every service for almost 10 years spanning six bars and it will easily perform perfectly for at least another 10.” This knife is packed in a gift box with full sharpening and care instructions.
Best for Travel: Opinel No.8 Folding Knife
“My go-to bar knife has to be safe,” advises Bill Brooks, the beverage director of NYC's Torch & Crown Brewing Company. “I'm always throwing it in my bag, or grabbing it for a quick class or demo for my staff. With that reasoning, I use the Opinel No. 8 folding blade. It's sharp and keeps an edge, plus it’s foldable so it can go in bags without having to worry about getting stabbed or putting a hole in my backpack. Did I mention it’s cheap? If I lose it, forget it somewhere, I can replace it without breaking a sweat.”
Founded in 1890 as a do-everything peasant’s knife, Opinel has since become the gold standard for pocket knives: transportable enough to throw in a rucksack with a chef-approved blade perfect for cutting and carving. Brooks agrees. “It’s great as an all-purpose pocket knife.”
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Kate Dingwall is an experienced spirits writer and glassware collector. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for five years, including coverage on the subject of glassware.