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Bird's Beak Paring Knives

Published January 2020

How we tested

Unless you’ve gone to cooking school, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of a bird’s beak paring knife. A relic of the French culinary system, this knife features a small curved blade shaped like a bird’s beak. Like all paring knives, it is primarily intended for tasks that are done off the cutting board and in your hand. Historically, it was used for making decorative cuts and garnishes that are now rarely seen outside of banquet halls: transforming radishes into florets and tomatoes into roses, fluting mushrooms, and “turning” vegetables into seven-sided barrels—a hallmark of classical French technique. (It is for this last task that these knives are sometimes called tourné knives.)

Today, fans of these knives—many of them former restaurant cooks—use them for two basic types of jobs: peeling fruits and vegetables and precise detail work such as trimming brussels sprouts or removing the eyes from potatoes. We don’t think a bird’s beak paring knife will ever replace a conventional paring knife; these knives are just not as versatile. They aren’t meant to be used on a cutting board and can’t make precise straight cuts as easily; such cuts are important for cutting lime wedges, slicing small blocks of cheese, scoring roasts so the fat cap can render, and cutting pockets in pork chops. But we were curious to see if any of these specialty knives deserve a place in our kitchens, so we bought eight models, priced from about $15 to about $85, and pitted them against our favorite paring knife, the Victorinox Swiss Army Fibrox Pro 3¼″ Spear Point Paring Knife, as we hulled and quartered strawberries, cored and peeled tomatoes, peeled and segmented lemons, removed the eyes from whole peeled pineapples, and peeled ginger. 

A Sharp, Narrow Blade Is the Most Critical Feature

We were quickly impressed by how well many of the knives performed at the tasks we tried. In fact, for every off-the-board job, we preferred using most of the bird’s beak paring knives to using the standard paring knife. Why? Because the blades of the bird’s beak paring knives were, on average, about an inch shorter than that of the standard paring knife, they stayed closer to our hands and were thus easier to control when making the tiny incisions needed to hull strawberries or remove pineapple eyes. And because the blades are crescent-shaped, they maneuvered more nimbly around round or irregularly shaped foods such as lemons and ginger, hugging curves more closely. 

Still, a number of features separated the good models from the bad. Somewhat to our surprise, we had no real preferences when it came to the curvature of the blade, which is the knife’s most distinctive characteristic. Our favorite model has a modestly curved “beak,” but the blades on some of the other models we liked have more sharply curved arcs. 

Instead, other factors took precedence in our ratings. First, sharpness. Sharpness is perhaps the most important characteristic of any paring knife blade, since the paring knife’s small size means it can’t rely on its heft to force its way through the food the way a chef’s knife or cleaver can. Sharpness is especially important for bird’s beak paring knives, since their curved blades are difficult, if not impossible, to sharpen at home. Electric sharpeners can’t accommodate blades of this shape, and even experienced whetstone users might require extra practice to handle them. While the perceived sharpness of a blade is often dictated by the angle of its cutting edge, the edge angles of the bird’s beak paring knives we tested ranged from 14 to 18 degrees. Instead, the sharpness of these knives was determined entirely by how keenly they were sharpened at their factories. Disappointingly, not all the knives were sharp from the start; when we initially tested their blades by using them to slice through a piece of paper, a few couldn’t immediately slice it and dragged a bit. That slight dullness was especially noticeable when we tried to hull strawberries, core tomatoes, and remove pineapple eyes: We had to work harder to force dull blades through the fruit, ripping or mashing it instead of cleanly slicing around the part we wanted to remove. When we repeated the paper test at the conclusion of our testing, we noticed no obvious changes in sharpness.

A few factors also made certain blades more precise than others. While we liked that the short blades of the bird’s beak paring knives were easier to control than the longer blade of the regular paring knife, within the array of the models we tested, shorter wasn’t always better. The shortest blades were too small for larger-handed testers to comfortably choke up on when doing detail work such as quartering larger strawberries; we generally preferred blades on the longer end of the spectrum. 

We also liked blades that were narrow from tip to heel. A narrow tip is important for doing detail work, since you’re only inserting the top quarter- to half-inch of the blade when coring tomatoes or hulling strawberries. Narrow blades made precise incisions when hulling strawberries, leaving more fruit behind than blades with wider tips, which made bigger holes and swung around less nimbly.

But it was important that the blade be narrow at the heel, too. Blades with wider heels felt clumsy when we used them to peel pieces of ginger and were more likely to break off a knob or two. With one of the narrowest tips and the narrowest heel, our favorite bird’s beak paring knife excelled at both detail work and peeling.

Knife Weight and Handle Size Matters

When it came to comfort, the weight of the knife was critical. We vastly preferred lighter-weight knives; while an ounce might not seem like much, knives weighing more than that fatigued and cramped our hands during repetitive tasks such as removing pineapple eyes or hulling strawberries.

We liked knives with medium-length handles; shorter handles were too small for larger-handled testers to hold securely, and longer ones felt off-balance and banged into our wrists when we choked up on the blades for detail work. It was important that the handles not be too thick, either, since these were harder to hold for long periods without our hands cramping. Finally, we liked handles that were made of textured materials—metal and slick plastic were slippery, especially when wet.

The Best Bird’s Beak Paring Knife: The MAC Paring Knife, Bird’s Beak 2½″

By the end of testing, most of us were completely smitten with these unusual knives. If you do a lot of detail work with your paring knife, we think the MAC Paring Knife, Bird’s Beak 2½", would be an excellent addition to your knife collection. Featuring a relatively long, very narrow, razor-sharp blade, it effortlessly peeled, hulled, cored, sliced, and removed eyes from all the produce we put in front of it. And because it was lightweight, with a relatively grippy plastic handle, it nearly disappeared into our hands, making it especially easy to use. We wanted to see what else this nimble knife could do, so we used it to peel garlic and shallots, slice peaches on the pit, halve and quarter avocados, trim artichoke stems, and remove blemishes from apples—all tasks it performed to perfection. And it excelled at cleaning shrimp: Its tiny curved tip angled nimbly under the veins without nicking them. If you get a bird’s beak paring knife, you may reach for it more often than you’d think.


  • Eight knives priced from about $15 to about $85
  • Use to hull and quarter strawberries
  • Use to core and peel tomatoes
  • Use to peel and segment lemons
  • Use to remove the eyes from pineapples 
  • Use to peel ginger
  • Ask users of different dominant hands and hand sizes to hull strawberries
  • Winner only: use to peel garlic and shallots, slice peaches on the pit, halve and quarter avocados, trim blemishes from artichoke stems and apples, and clean shrimp

Rating Criteria

Sharpness: We rated the knives on how sharp they were from the beginning to the end of testing.

Agility: We evaluated the knives on how nimbly they variously peeled, cored, hulled, quartered, segmented, and removed eyes from produce.

Comfort: We rated the knives on how comfortable they were to hold and use.

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.