The Best Can Openers | Serious Eats

The Best Can Openers | Serious Eats


[Photographs: Vicky Wasik. Videos: Serious Eats Video]

Peek into the Serious Eats pantry, and you’ll see plenty of cans. There’s no shame in using them. While tomato season is justifiably exciting, it’s also fleeting—the rest of the year, you’ll need a can opener to make flavorful tomato sauces. As much as we prefer to start with dried beans, sometimes the speed of using canned ones wins out. And don’t forget about that lunchbox stalwart, the tuna salad sandwich; the main ingredient still usually comes in a can. The humble can opener is a culinary key, breaching the tin lids of each of these products to free the preserved contents trapped within.

We won’t lie—a can opener is hardly an exciting piece of kitchen equipment. But we’ve all spent enough time fumbling with janky ones to know the minor frustration that’s possible. And a truly terrible one? A can opener that warps the metal instead of cutting through it, or one that can’t navigate the rounded corners and variable curves of rectangular and oval tins? That kind of can opener can derange a person. Before you know it, a well-adjusted individual with no criminal history at all will be driven to commit 10 different violent felonies against the can, employing an ever more creative range of household weapons just to get inside.

We don’t want that to happen to you. To find can openers that latch on easily, cut quickly, turn corners without going off track, and are comfortable to use, we tested 28 models, ranging in price from around $5 to $55. The group included traditional rotary can openers that slice down through the top of the can, safety can openers that cut through the side of the lid for a less jagged edge, and fixed can openers with no moving parts.

Our Favorites, at a Glance

The Best Traditional Rotary Can Opener: EZ-Duz-It Deluxe Can Opener

With a classic shape that’s intuitive to use, the EZ-Duz-It was among the fastest models we tested. This well-built opener grabs onto cans easily, has a balanced weight, and cut smoothly through every size tin we threw at it. The top of the can is tricky to lift after cutting because, like all traditional rotary openers, this model puts a sharp edge on the lid.

The Best Ambidextrous Traditional Rotary Can Opener: Nogent Classic Service Super Kim Can Opener

At around two inches square, the French-made Super Kim fits into the most packed kitchen drawer. While it requires a use or two before latching it on becomes second nature, this model’s rubber-coated thumbwheel is comfortable to twist and turns smoothly. The Super Kim cuts about as quickly as the full-size versions we tested. While it’s ambidextrous, lefties have to crank toward themselves to use it, which might feel awkward at first.

The Best Safety Rotary Can Opener: Kuhn Rikon Auto Safety Lid Lifter

The Kuhn Rikon has an intuitive design that makes latching onto cans a cinch; while safety can openers are usually a little harder to turn than traditional rotary-style ones, the Kuhn Rikon is about as easy as a safety can opener gets. It also has built-in metal pincers that lift the lid off without getting your hands messy.

The Best Ambidextrous Safety Rotary Can Opener: Bartelli Soft Edge 3-in-1 Ambidextrous Safety Can Opener

The Bartelli opened every size can we tested, leaving a smooth, reusable lid each time—perfect for kitchens in which lefties and righties have to coexist. Latching onto the cans takes some getting used to, but the large thumbwheel is easy to turn for both left-handed and right-handed users.

The Best Fixed Can Opener: Gangy Japanese Can Opener

The Gangy uses a single tooth-like blade to repeatedly puncture the can’s lid and has no gears where food, water, or grease can accumulate and get funky. The opener’s wide, rounded metal body is comfortable to hold, and, while it’s not as fast as a rotary version, with practice you can work around a can fairly quickly. The dishwasher-safe body also includes a bottle opener.

The Best Compact Fixed Can Opener: US Shelby Co. P-51 Can Opener

American soldiers used a smaller version of the P-51 to open canned rations in the field from World War II into the 1980s. Like the can openers found on Swiss Army knives, it uses a sharp tooth to pierce the lid, though its small size means it takes several cuts to complete the job. With a fold-flat blade and a body that’s about as heavy as a pair of nickels, it’s the perfect size to toss into a camping backpack, emergency kit, or knife bag.

The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great Can Opener

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For a can opener to earn a spot in our kitchen drawer, it has to open a wide range of tins, from tall, round ones filled with tomato paste to squat imported oblongs of delicacies like roasted eel. (We’re not kidding.) A good can opener clamps onto the vessel without much fuss—though some are more intuitive to use than others. Once you start cutting, the opener should follow the edge of the can without losing its grip. The tool should be easy to hold (and squeeze, depending on the design), and advancing the cutter shouldn’t require a herculean effort. If the opener has a thumbwheel, it should be comfortable to twist, and cutting the lid should never send shards of metal into your food.

For this review, we looked at three types of handheld can openers.

We tested three can opener styles, including (from left) fixed, traditional rotary, and newer, safety-style rotary openers.

While canning dates back to the late 1700s, tools designed specifically for opening metal cans followed much later as tin cans replaced iron ones, which would have been opened with a hammer and chisel. One of the oldest can opener designs, often called the “level style,” was patented in Waterbury, Connecticut, in 1858 and features a metal fang that punctures the top of the lid as you pivot the tool down. While they’re not as popular today, we included a few similarly “fixed” models, based on a similar principle, in our tests.

Fast-forward to Kansas City, Missouri, in the mid-1920s, when Charles Arthur Bunker added gears and a squeezable, pliers-style grip to a compass-like rotary-style can opener that had been invented 50 years earlier. That became the basis for the traditional design most of us grew up with. Later, in the 1980s, a new version of the rotary can opener came along. Often called a “safety opener,” this design cuts just below the rim on the side of the can, creating a smooth lid with no sharp edges. Not only is the lid safer to handle, but it can be reseated on the can for short-term refrigerated storage of the unused portion. The bulk of the models we tested are examples of these two rotary styles, which are the most popular.

While the safety-style rotary opener creates a smooth lid that can be reseated on the can, it can’t cut as deeply as the traditional style, which means it might last only a couple of years. The traditional rotary opener cuts better and longer, but it leaves behind a sharp lid that can slice your finger open.

While researching models to test, we read a Wirecutter review that described the safety-style can opener as less durable than the conventional rotary design. To find out why, we asked OXO, one of the only manufacturers to make both styles. Mack Mor, a senior product engineer at the company, told us that safety-style openers fail sooner because of the depth of the cut.

Among OXO’s tools, the safety-style opener punctures the thicker side of the can about 0.25 millimeters deep, a distance that is fixed. But on a traditional rotary opener, the blade cuts through the thin top side of the can up to 12 times deeper, depending on how tightly you squeeze the handles. Though the blades on both styles are made from the same steel, the conventional-style opener’s deeper penetration and its easier task of cutting through thinner metal mean that it performs better over the long haul—even as the cutting wheel wears down with use, it has much more of a buffer before it fails to successfully breach the can. That said, some users prefer the smooth-edged, reusable top the safety-style opener creates and are willing to take the risk of having to buy a new model every few years or so.

We recruited three people to act as testers, a mix of righties and one lefty, with varying hand sizes and strengths. In the end, we found things we liked about each style of can opener. Overall, the traditional rotary-style openers usually cut the fastest through the thin lids, requiring the fewest thumbwheel rotations. Not surprisingly, this most common type of opener tends to be the most intuitive to use. The exception is our winning compact Super Kim, which takes a little getting used to before latching it onto the can becomes second nature.

The safety can openers were often slower, and the thumbwheel, while smooth, required more effort to turn; this makes sense, since they were cutting through a thicker band of metal. Because they usually mount on top of the lid, with the thumbwheel positioned like helicopter blades, you can open nearly any size can while it rests on the countertop, without the thumbwheel bumping the work surface. That means less chance of spilling the liquid inside, which can happen when you’re trying to open a very short can with a traditional rotary opener: To keep the thumbwheel from hitting the countertop, you’re forced to hold the can aloft as you open it, increasing the spill potential.

If you prize portability—and the ability to clean the can opener without fear of rust jamming up the gear system that rotary openers have—then fixed can openers work well. Their simple design, with nothing more than a sharp tooth and catch for leverage, has no tight spaces or gears that can trap food or liquids, and they can be washed without any risk.

To select specific models to test, we cross-referenced reviews on Amazon, America’s Test Kitchen (subscription required), Consumer Reports (subscription required), The Wirecutter, Fine Cooking, and Epicurious.

The Testing

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Opening Cans

A good can opener has to work on a wide range of cans. We tested with standard-size cans of tomato paste, pitted olives, kidney beans, peas, and tuna. The cans ranged in circumference from 2 1/8 inches to nearly 10 1/2 inches. When America’s Test Kitchen evaluated can openers, they reported some difficulty opening 14-ounce cans of Nestle Carnation Sweetened Condensed Milk and 14.5-ounce cans of Hunt’s Diced Tomatoes, so we made sure to include those in our tests. Beyond the standard supermarket offerings, we scoured Asian markets for imported cans, like fermented mustard greens from Thailand and roasted eel in oblong tins from Taiwan, to see if they posed a challenge. We also included rectangular containers of anchovy fillets, which we tested all our winners on.

We lined up testers, a mix of righties and lefties, and noted how many turns of the thumbwheel each model needed to completely sever the lid. (For fixed models, which don’t use a thumbwheel, we counted how many individual lid punctures were required.) The good news is, most openers made it around a standard-size can of olives in four and a half to seven rotations. We disqualified any particularly slow models. Our winning rotary-style openers fell in the five- to six-and-a-half-rotation range.

The Chef’n model, which inched around the can with each squeeze of the handle, required nearly 20 cranks to do the job—a serious pain in the hand. Both of our winning fixed openers required more than a dozen punctures to open the olive can, but testers got faster with them over time.

Latching On

After a few rounds of testing, which narrowed the field to the faster-cutting models, we opened some more cans, this time adding imported and oblong-shaped cans. In these rounds, testers assessed how well each model gripped the cans.

The traditional-style can openers had a clear advantage here and latched on the most easily. It took a couple of uses of many of the safety-style openers to achieve the same level of ease. Because many safety openers mount to the top of the can, your line of sight is often obscured as you latch on. That forces you into some weird can-opener-yoga poses as you duck down to look under the tool, trying to nail the alignment.

The EZ-Duz-It was effortless to get started, as was the Super Kim, at least after a few uses. Our winning Kuhn Rikon safety opener takes the guesswork out of placement with cutouts on the tool that help you align it with the round can top. The Bartelli’s turning wheel and cutter are visible as you position the tool on the can, which is helpful. Latching on, and not slipping off, is the hardest part of using the fixed-style openers, which employ a small hook to hold on to the can. We found that the models with a deeper hook are easier to control.

Handle Shape and Material

Whether you’re squeezing the handles or pushing a thumbwheel, the design of the parts you touch and hold makes a big difference. Handles and thumbwheels on the models we tested ranged from bare metal and plastic to rubbery grips over metal or plastic. Both righty and lefty testers assessed the openers for comfort.

Testers preferred handles covered in rubber, which are more forgiving when you squeeze or press on them, or those made from hard plastic, which can be molded into larger grips that don’t force you to close your hand tightly. For thumbwheels, size matters: Larger designs give your hand more real estate to press against, which is always more comfortable. Our winners feature grippy rubber or wide plastic handles and thumbwheels that are cushy or large. The only exception was our favorite compact fixed cutter, which is only two inches tall, so it can be uncomfortable when you’re opening several cans.

How We Chose Our Winners

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While all the models tested will open a can of beans, our winners distinguished themselves on speed, ease of use, safety, or with a space-saving design. During research, rusting came up as a common can opener complaint. Though we didn’t experience any rust issues after washing the models during our tests, we’ll continue to use our winners and update our review on further use.

The Best Traditional Rotary Can Opener: EZ-Duz-It Deluxe Can Opener

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The sturdy EZ-Duz-It is, true to its name, easy to turn and use. The opener latches on without fuss, and squeezing the grippy rubber handles together forces the cutter down through the lid—and, if you listen closely, you’ll hear the can hiss. The manufacturer doesn’t skimp on using metal, including full tangs in the handles. That helps make this model the third heaviest we tested, at just over 10 ounces, but the weight feels balanced.

The gears come together smoothly, and the roomy thumbwheel needs only five turns to open a can of tuna. This model had no issues with any of the cans we tested. As with all traditional, side-mounted rotary openers, you have to lift some shorter cans, like tuna, off the counter to clear the thumbwheel (that, or you have to work off the side of the countertop).

And, as with all traditional rotary can openers, the opened can ends up with a sharp-edged lid that poses a minor safety risk.

Our only real complaint about the EZ-Duz-It is the slop in the hinge, though it doesn’t seem to hinder effectiveness.

The Best Ambidextrous Traditional Rotary Can Opener: Nogent Classic Service Super Kim Can Opener

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Once you’re familiar with latching the Super Kim onto a can, which took us two or three tries to get right, it cuts fast. Instead of the circular blade most can openers use, this model pulls a single tooth-like metal knife through the lid with each turn of the thumbwheel, which results in a very smooth (but still sharp-edged) cut. It needed six and a half rotations to work around a tuna can.

Unlike other rotary models that turn the can as you crank the thumbwheel, the Super Kim crawls around the lid, which means you have to hold the can still with your other hand. When holding oval cans, which might deform depending on where you squeeze them, it’s easy to spill the contents, as we did opening roasted eel. But both righty and lefty testers found this model pleasing to use, though lefties have to turn the thumbwheel toward themselves, which isn’t initially very intuitive.

The Best Safety Rotary Can Opener: Kuhn Rikon Auto Safety Lid Lifter

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If a smooth-edged lid that can be set back onto the can is your top priority, the Kuhn Rikon was the best safety model we tested. Requiring just six and a half turns to open the tuna can—the fastest of the safety-style models—the Kuhn Rikon distinguished itself with details that made it easier to use. Notches on top of the tool help you align it with the rim of the can, and it was relatively easy to start cutting. It also has a pair of pincers on the side that clamp onto the lid, helping you lift it off. Only a few models we tested included a lifter, and the Kuhn Rikon’s design was the best of the bunch.

Compared with a traditional rotary cutter, it requires more effort to turn the Kuhn Rikon’s thumbwheel, since, as described above, safety models cut through a thicker band of metal than traditional ones do. But the grip is large, curved, and easy to hold. While the handle is basic plastic, it’s wide enough that testers found it comfortable.

The Best Ambidextrous Safety Rotary Can Opener: Bartelli Soft Edge 3-in-1 Ambidextrous Safety Can Opener

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While most safety-style openers obscure your view as you attach the tool to the top of the can, the Bartelli has an opening that makes alignment easier. The thumbwheel is also mounted to the side, not the top (which is more common for safety openers), so you sacrifice some clearance when working on shorter tuna cans. Testers commented on the generous size of the plastic thumbwheel, which helps, since there is no grippy rubber.

The Bartelli needed seven and a half turns to open a can of tuna. We wish there was some way for you to lift the lid off the can, but it adds utility in other ways, thanks to built-in bottle and jar openers. Lefties can use this model by twisting the thumbwheel toward themselves, which might require some getting used to. While it worked on nearly every can we tested it with, the Bartelli was the only one of our favorite openers that couldn’t open the rectangular can of anchovies.

The Best Fixed Can Opener: Gangy Japanese Can Opener

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While it’s slower than rotary openers, requiring about 13 lid punctures to open a standard 14.5-ounce can compared with the EZ-Duz-It’s five thumbwheel rotations, the Gangy opener might be the most fun to use. Once you latch the hook onto the rim of the can, you pivot the cutter down to puncture the lid, then lift, rotate the can counterclockwise, and repeat. The tool was easy to keep latched onto the side of the can, and it’s a breeze to clean; with no gears or moving parts, there’s also not much of a rust concern, as long as you don’t leave it sitting out wet for ages.

The metal body also includes a bottle opener and an angled corner that can slip under a just-opened lid to help pry it up (better than using your fingers). On the downside, the lid this style of cutter leaves behind is not just sharp but also jagged.

The Best Compact Fixed Can Opener: US Shelby Co. P-51 Can Opener

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The P-51 is a larger version of the P-38 can opener American soldiers used to open canned rations starting in World War II. (The two sizes are sold together.) While it’s the most portable opener we tested—it’s small enough to carry on a keychain—you sacrifice speed and comfort. The opener latches on easily and cuts smoothly, but the two-inch-long body offers little surface area to press against with your fingers.

It’s the perfect size to toss into a glove box, knife kit, or emergency kit, but you’re in for a hand cramp if you have to open more than a couple of cans with it at once.

The Competition

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A few quick notes on the other can openers we tested:

  • The OXO Good Grips Can Opener is about $5 less than the brand’s SteeL version (at the time of testing), which has stainless steel handles, but these two performed the same. Both were among the fastest openers we tested, needing just five and a quarter turns to open a can of tuna. While they have wide, comfortable handles and large thumbwheels, they didn’t latch onto the oval cans as easily as our winner. Another OXO model, the Good Grips Locking Can Opener, cuts just as quickly as the other two, but the spring-loaded button that locks the two handles together onto the can doesn’t always catch.
  • We disqualified Amco’s Swing-A-Way because the cutting wheel fell apart when we turned the thumbwheel counterclockwise, but this model was only a half turn behind our winning traditional rotary in speed trials. The brand’s other model, the Swing-A-Way Ergo Can Opener With Silicone Handles, was disqualified because the grippy handles spin around the shafts they cover, which makes the tool uncomfortable, and the magnetic lid lifter holds tenaciously.
  • Both of the Cuisinarts we evaluated are dishwasher-safe, but the tank-like Zinc Alloy Can Opener was the heaviest model we tested (over 11 ounces). While it worked around cans quickly, it was tiresome to crank. The other Cuisinart model, the Barrell Handle Can Opener, has a less-than-secure grip: It dropped a can of tuna onto the countertop after the third turn of the thumbwheel.
  • The pricey Rösle Stainless Steel Can Opener With Pliers Grip was the second most expensive model we tested and near the top in weight, which is what did it in. The heavy handle tipped over a can of olives when we set them both on the countertop.
  • The KitchenAid Can Opener was near the top in speed trials, opening a can of tuna in just over five turns, but 31% of its ratings on Amazon were one star, with many complaints about the tool not working after less than a year.
  • The two models we tested from Joseph Joseph are basically the same build, but one features a longer handle. Both were done in by the same design flaw. The Can-Do Compact Can Opener and the Can-Do Plus are lightweight and fast and latch onto cans easily, but the testers balked at the stubby, uncomfortable thumbwheel on top.
  • We also tried a few exclusively lefty can openers, though none of them ended up among our top ambidextrous picks. Both the Sieger Left Handed Can Opener and the Left Handed Manual Can Opener, from the aptly named Lefty’s The Left Hand Store, come covered in a lot of plastic, and you can feel it. We have doubts about the long-term durability of these two models.
  • While the left-handed, German-made Monopol Can Opener feels more robust—which, considering it cost $54 at the time of testing, it should—it’s too difficult to turn.
  • Nogent’s Super Kim is one of our winners, but the brand’s left-handed fixed Classic Mini Kim is harder to latch onto the can and slips off easily.
  • We tried several safety-style can openers, including three minimalist designs that appear to be made at the same factory. The Fissler Magic Smooth-Edge Can Opener, Zwilling J. A. Henckels Twin Pure Can Opener, and Rösle Stainless Steel Can Opener are all smooth operators that are a tad on the slow side. These three were some of the more expensive models we evaluated, with pricing (at the time of testing) ranging from $29 to $43. The Fissler was the slowest of the three, but all of them required multiple attempts, over several rounds, before we learned the trick to latching them onto cans.
  • OXO’s Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener has markings built in to help align the can and cutter. While it works smoothly, it requires more turns than average and hogs up drawer space.
  • We tested two Zyliss models, and we’re fans of the pliers-like handle on the safety-style MagiCan Can Opener. This model latches on easily and is fast and lightweight, but the thumbwheel is on the small side, and it was one of the only models we tested that sliced through the can’s paper label. The way-too-strong magnet on the brand’s traditional rotary-style Lock N’ Lift Can Opener didn’t let go of the lid, even after we’d repeatedly pressed the release button.
  • The Chef’n EZ Squeeze Can Opener was the only model we tested that ratchets the turning wheel when you squeeze the handles closed. Testers complained about having to squeeze the handles 19 times to open a can of tomatoes.



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