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Can Openers

By Cook's Illustrated Published April 2015
Update: January 2017
After hearing feedback from test cooks that our winning can opener could not open certain cans, we gathered more than 110 different products from 41 different brands— including cans varying in size from 3.75 ounces to 40 ounces--and used one of our winning Fissler Magic Smooth-Edge Can Opener to open them all. After opening more than 100 cans, we only found two products the Fissler could not reliably open: Nestle Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk (14 ounces) and Hunt's Diced Tomatoes (14.5 ounces). The Fissler was able to open all other products by Hunt's or Nestle, including the 28 ounce size of Hunt's Diced Tomatoes. Despite this, we found the Fissler opener remarkably easy, safe, and comfortable to use, even after 2 years of daily use; it remains our winning can opener, but we have downgraded its rating from Highly Recommended to Recommended.

How we tested

Ezra J. Warner patented the first U.S. can opener in Connecticut in 1858, made from a bayonet and a sickle lashed together. At the time, most cans were about 3/16 inch thick and were typically opened with a hammer and chisel. Luckily for our equipment testers, technology has improved.

Our past winners have been discontinued or redesigned, so we took a fresh look. In our last testing, we looked at safety openers and traditional models. The former cuts into the side of the can, leaving dull “safe” edges; the latter cuts into the top of the can, leaving jagged edges. We didn’t prefer one style to the other, so we again included both in our lineup of seven openers, priced from roughly $15 to $30. Our goal: to find one that attached and detached easily, was comfortable to operate, and dealt safely and easily with the severed lid.

We enlisted testers—large and small, lefty and righty—to open hundreds of cans: squat cans of tuna fish, small cans of tomato paste, medium cans of chickpeas, and large cans of whole tomatoes. We evaluated each model during every step. First, attaching: All the traditional openers attached the same way—their two straight arms opened and clamped the gears onto the can. Having grown up with this style, our testers found these openers intuitive.

As for the safety openers, there were two different designs. The first housed the circular blades that clamp onto the can underneath the head; the second housed them on the side. The openers with blades underneath were harder to attach because the blades are hidden, so it often took multiple attempts to correctly align the openers. The side-style openers solved this problem—the blades were visible for easy alignment, and a thin metal railing propped the opener at the correct height.

Next, smoothness and ease of operation, or how easy it was to drive the openers around the cans. If the handles were too thin or round, they cramped our hands. We preferred straight, oval handles. We also liked textured handles or those coated in a tacky rubber for traction; one opener made of slick plastic felt like a slippery fish.

The rotating handle that you turn to move the opener around the can is called the driving handle. The best were longer for better leverage and easier turning, with ergonomic grooves that securely braced our thumbs.

Finally, we evaluated detaching, safety, and lid disposal. We docked safety points from the one traditional opener that didn’t have a lid disposal device. The others all did: Two had small pincers, two had magnets, and two used their blades to pull off the lid. The pincers were finicky. The magnets were inconsistent; one was too weak and the second too strong. Testers preferred the two whose blades and gears automatically clamped onto the lid and removed it when it was completely severed—safe, clean, and simple.

We asked a lot of our lineup, and almost all the contenders failed. But one tester summed up our thoughts on the sole successful model, asking: “Can you be in love with a can opener?” We think so. Our winner is a safety-style opener. It was easy to attach and operate, tidily and safely disposed of lids, and is dishwasher-safe. Compared with a sickle and bayonet, this opener practically is magic.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

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.

$248.64*
Recommended

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.

$141.90*
Best Buy
Recommended

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.

$67.99*
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.

$49.93*
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.

$129.95*

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.

$99.95*

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.

$24.99*

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.

$35.88*