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.