The Best Can Opener
After speaking to home cooking pros, researching and testing for nine hours, and opening 54 cans with 17 different can openers, we’ve determined that OXO’s $17 Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch is the best one for most people. It locks on to cans, cuts through their lids with ease, and lifts the cut tops off with a magnet. Both our left-handed and right-handed testers found it a pleasure to use. A smoothly spinning knob with a soft-touch finish makes it comfortable as well.
In most cases, electric openers aren’t necessary. But those who prefer them or need one because of mobility or hand strength issues can safely select Hamilton Beach’s Smooth Touch Can Opener, an affordable model at $28.
Our testing session was graciously hosted by the the Friends of Night People shelter in Buffalo, NY, who helped us open the 954 ounces of vegetables and beef stew, which we then donated for the evening’s service.
How we picked
We based our initial list of testers on interviews with experts in the home kitchen, as well as reviews from sources we trust, including Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required) and Consumer Reports (subscription required). We also sought the advice of some culinary experts, which usually means chefs, but not in this case. Because restaurant chefs are often working with cans on a totally different scale than home cooks, they’re generally not using consumer-level openers.
Instead, we interviewed people who know food inside and out, but who aren’t working in professional kitchens. We spoke to Lynne Rossetto Kasper, winner of both James Beard and Julia Child Cookbook of the Year awards for The Splendid Table, and host of American Public Media’s The Splendid Table, “the radio show for people who love to eat.” We also chatted with her co-creator and the managing producer of the show, Sally Swift.
Additionally, we reached out to some of the top names in food podcasts, including Dan Pashman of The Sporkful, which has been nominated for a James Beard Award, and Matthew Amster-Burton, the author of Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater and Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo, as well as the co-host of Spilled Milk. We also sought out the collected wisdom of Amazon reviews to see what people who’ve used the openers think.
At first, there was some debate over whether it was worth testing “normal” can openers (which cut lids off and leave sharp edges) when there are plenty of safety openers available (which undo the seam and leave smooth edges). After all, if you don’t have to deal with a sharp lid, why would you? But few of our experts recommended the safety models, whereas they did talk up non-safety models, so we decided to test a mix of the two styles.
We also debated whether it was worth checking out electric openers, given that even the most difficult manual ones aren’t that difficult to use. Culinary author and podcast host Matthew Amster-Burton says of them, “I don’t think electric can openers make sense unless you have a medical condition that makes it difficult to use a manual can opener. They take up more space, require an outlet, and have more parts that can fail.”
Those are all fair points, including the medical condition part. The latter helped us decide it was worth including at least a few electrical options.
How we tested
We wound up with 17 openers to check out—11 manual and 6 electric. So I (along with a left-handed friend with chronic hand pain) took the openers and about 60 pounds worth of 14.5-oz. cans of veggies and 24-oz. cans of beef stew to Friends of Night People, a shelter that cares for the poor and homeless in Buffalo, NY and set to work.
In an effort to minimize hand fatigue, we tested an electric opener after every two manual openers. With each, I first tested a small can, then a large can, then had my assistant open a small can for a second opinion and to see if there were any glaring comfort or hand strength issues. Some of the openers gave us problems during the can-opening process, and we couldn’t retest those cans even if they weren’t totally opened. They were put to the side, and then opened at the end. For each opener, we measured how many full turns of the knob it took to open the can—how many seconds for the electric openers—and the overall difficulty and comfort levels of each.
As far as can openers go, the OXO doesn’t look radically different than the rest of the market. It’s 7” long, 4.25” wide, and 3” tall, an opener that’s set up in a mostly traditional style. It’s a touch wider than the average opener thanks to the magnet, but about the same height. The body is made of black plastic and augmented by soft-touch rubber where it’s held: the handles, and the knob. Immediately above where the thumb rests, there’s a grey button. This is a release for the locking mechanism which secures the opener onto the can, a feature we only saw on one other opener. It has a pretty compact profile, so it will fit comfortably in the kitchen tool drawer.
While the OXO isn’t technically a safety opener, it does have some very effective safety features. The cutting edge leaves a sharp edge around the perimeter—an issue we address further below—but the built-in magnetic lid lifter means you probably won’t ever have to touch it. Positioned to the left of the blade, it’s situated at the end of an opening that allows you to see through and line everything up. While it’s not particularly strong, we found it worked well enough in holding the lid, preventing it from falling in, and lifting it away; a thumb-operated lever helps with that.
A lifting release allows the lid to fall right into the recycling bin. This addresses a concern we heard from many of our sources, including Pashman from The Sporkful: “I do think that the issue of getting the top off and out is a valid,” he said. When the lid falls in, “it is a little bit annoying…it would be nice if that never happened.”
Like all OXO products, this opener comes with a satisfaction guarantee, renewable anytime. If you’re dissatisfied, you can return the product to the company for refund or replacement.
Who else likes it?
Not only did the Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch meet all of our criteria and perform well in our tests, it’s one of the few can openers that actually gets consistent praise from outside sources.
In Cook’s Illustrated’s tests, the previous version of this OXO opener earned the top spot with a recommended rating, with the sharp edges left on the lid listed as the only downfall. Even though their review focused on safety openers, a standard top-mounting opener won.
“In opening over 120 cans, we found that there isn’t a single style of opener that works best. Our surprise winner left sharp edges, but its lid-catching magnet made disposing of the lid easy and safe. This opener was intuitive, comfortable, and efficient,” wrote Cook’s. A January 2014 update notes that that model was discontinued, but it’s clearly the predecessor to our pick, which has been streamlined since.
Kasper later clarified that she was referring to the model with the lid lifter, not the one without. “You want something really easy on those hands. I find that this particular can opener locks in really nice, holds onto that can, and then I twist, and it works very smoothly.”
Although Consumer Reports didn’t do full reviews or offer a pick for best can opener, Daniel DiClerico did note in his brief roundup that he liked that the “Cushioned handle locks shut to hold the can secure as you turn the knob, and the magnetic arm keeps lid from falling into can.”
Finally, the OXO opener has a high rating among Amazon reviewers. Of its 44 reviews, 26 are five-star reviews, and the average rating is 4.3.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although we found this particular OXO opener to be the best of them all, it wasn’t without some minor issues. Again, many will cite the sharp edge as one of the biggest problems, but thanks to the magnet, it’s not a dealbreaking fault. Yes, it’s not the clean, smooth cut you get from a safety opener, but because you don’t have to worry about fishing the lid out of the can, we can forgive this.
Also, it took a bit more force to lock the opener onto the larger cans we tested, although it wasn’t impossible for either myself or my testing partner. For the average 14.5 ounce cans, there were no issues. We found the same result with the Zyliss opener, but the other traditional (non-safety) didn’t pose any problems.
Long-term test notes
After six months of using the OXO Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch as our go-to can opener, it’s still working as well as when we first got it. We’re very happy with the performance, and it maintains its status as our top pick.
In our tests, Zyliss’ gears put up just the least bit more resistance. The biggest difference is with the magnet. Instead of placing it to the left of the blade, Zyliss put its lifter at the nose of the opener. The location makes it so that you have to finish opening the can, then turn the knob out of the way, then try to lift with a weak magnet. It’s a good idea, but the execution just doesn’t live up to OXO’s. The Zyliss comes with a 5-year limited warranty.
Sally Swift of The Splendid Table likes the Zyliss Lock-n-Lift, although in her opinion, the magnet is “kind of useless” because it’s not strong enough.
Also great for those who need electric
Hamilton Beach’s Smooth Touch Can Opener. The $28 price puts it towards the high end, but its unique safety opener design, ability to work with large and small cans with ease, and 4.3-star rating over 1,300 reviews makes it the winner.
The Hamilton Beach is the one model that really stood out from the crowd in any sort of way in that it pops the top off at the seam instead of cutting through it. This was the only model that left a safe, smooth edge.
As for size and appearances, the Smooth Touch is a little over 10” tall and is made of a combination of plastic colors and finishes: glossy and matte black, and a chrome-like silver.
This model is really popular with Amazon customers who praise its cleanliness and ease of use. John Boland says, “These “other brands” had the typical “blade” that cut into the top of the can and the blade TOUCHED the food inside the can…THIS ONE DOES NOT GET ANY FOOD ON ANY BLADE.” K. C. Lee says, “I’ve had this can opener for 2 years now and it is the best can opener I have ever owned. I have never had a problem with it. It is fast and best of all, no blade to clean or corrode, or pop the liquid back up on your countertop (like tuna water – yuk!)!”
Of course, there are some trade-offs. Not only is the Hamilton Beach opener more expensive, it also takes up much more space. It’s not going to slide into your kitchen gadget drawer, and it requires an outlet, which are often at a premium in many kitchens.
We’d suggest our pick for manual opener for those who can comfortably use one, and the electric opener for those who can’t.
We began our testing with Kuhn Rikon’s Slim Safety Lid Lifter and were immediately disappointed with its performance. On the can of mixed vegetables, both testers found it very hard to get the opener to work properly, and the design was confusing overall. Because the can isn’t pierced, there’s no clear sign to indicate when it’s actually been opened; you may go to pull with the claw mechanism (another downside) and find the lid still attached.
Progressive’s Safety I-Can Opener was next, and it was pretty much the same thing, albeit with a long arm instead of a short, squat knob. In fact, the two appeared to be using the exact same opening mechanism, but with different bodies and handles. If a simple can opener causes frustration in two competent adults, it’s not worth considering.
OXO’s Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener ($22) connected more easily than the previous two models, but still wasn’t as easy as others in our tests. It’s also considerably bulkier than most.
Five more of the openers were based on the same design, with the $6 Amco Swing-A-Way Can Opener the most basic and least expensive among them. Also in that group is the Swing-A-Way Easy Crank Can Opener ($10), with a 4” long crank handle that may be easier on some peoples’ hands, OXO Good Grips Can Opener ($14), WMF Profi Plus Stainless Steel Can Opener ($20), and KitchenAid Gourmet Soft Handle Can Opener with Magnet ($15). All of these worked fine, requiring between five and seven full rotations of the knob or handle to open a can, and cutting through the metal smoothly. Of the bunch, only the WMF model lacked a padded knob. They were all good options and a lot of people, including The Splendid Table’s Swift, are quite happy with the inexpensive Swing-A-Way; it’s the model we had on hand prior to testing. None of them was the best option though, as they leave sharp edges but don’t have any lid catch, and they weren’t any easier to use than our top pick.
As rightfully noted by some of our commenters, we initially passed over the highly-rated, $9 EZ-DUZ-IT can opener. Our main reason for skipping it was how similar it is to the Swing-A-Way, which was called out by name by several experts, and its lack of otherwise distinguishing features. John J. Steuby Co., the company behind EZ-DUZ-IT, used to manufacture components for the Swing-A-Way before its production was moved to China in 2008, according to a representative of the John J. Steuby Co.
Supporters say it has a higher build quality than the new Swing-A-Ways. With its extra 40 grams of mass and smoother grips, we found that the EZ-DUZ-IT does feel more solid. However, this style still can’t beat the OXO opener because there’s no magnet, so the lid can still fall into the food. Oh, and those rumors that it’s been to space? According to program manager Brian Smith of John J. Steuby Co., “The EZ Duz It can opener has never been in space to my knowledge.”
The Good Cook’s Classic Safe Cut Can Opener ($16) worked well on both small cans and large cans, spinning smoothly for both testers. The only issue was in separating the lid from the opener; it took more jiggling and jostling than we would like.
We skipped four models that Cook’s Illustrated called “recommended with reservations”: Chef’n EzSqueeze One-Handed Can Opener ($20), CIA Masters Collection Side Can Opener ($16), Zyliss Safe Edge Can Opener ($20), and MIU France CanDo Safety Can Opener ($20). Because they weren’t in contention for the lead, and the models we selected had higher ratings on Amazon, we chose not to test them.
Four of the six electric openers had the traditional blade-and-magnet style. They all leave sharp edges, but have magnets to lift them away. West Bend’s Electric Can Opener ($36) was the first, and it’s a totally fine option, opening cans in as little as seven seconds. The big problem is the price, which is $20 more than OXO’s manual opener, and $11 to $20 more than the other electric openers we tested. It doesn’t provide any extra bang for the buck.
Hamilton Beach’s Classic Chrome Heavyweight Can Opener ($20) couldn’t support the weight of the 24-ounce can, tipping over when it was attached.
We tried the $20 Handy Can Opener just because its design was so unique. While it worked fine enough in our tests—you put it on the can, press the button, and then watch as it dances around the edge. We ruled it out of contention because requires two AA batteries (which aren’t included) and took about three times as long to open cans as our fastest model. It also has almost as many 1-star reviews as 5-star reviews on Amazon.
What makes a great can opener
Rossetto Kasper concurred. “I don’t think there’s a perfect can opener out there,” she told us. “The perfect can opener, to me, would be one where you…have a clamp, and essentially with very little effort on your own, but with some form of energy that you’re not plugged into the wall, the can opens easily, it’s clean, there’s no sharp edges, there’s no metal in your food, and the lid of your can doesn’t not drop into your food.” She stressed the importance of a comfortable, easy to turn opener, especially for those who have issues with their hands.
America’s Test Kitchen/Cook’s Illustrated listed attachment issues, ease of operation, and safety as its main concerns. Emma Christensen is the recipe editor for The Kitchn, and she told us, “The biggest feature I look for is, ‘Will it open this can?; Second, ‘Will it fit in my tool drawer?’”
Different types of can openers
There are two main variations of manual can openers today: classic models and safety models.
Classic rotating wheel openers have two arms, a circular blade that pierces the top panel of a can, and a serrated feed wheel below it, with gears behind the two round elements. As a knob attached to the lower gear is twisted, it spins the can, cutting through until it reaches the starting point and the lid can be lifted away. The ubiquitous supermarket Swing-A-Way is a classic opener.
Safety openers are a more recent innovation, designed to do away with the sharp edges that come from cutting metal with metal. Instead of cutting through the top of the metal lid, they run along the outer edge, splitting the seam where the lid is attached to the body of the can. Some models have an integrated metal claw, used to pull at the can’s upper lip and pull it off.
In addition to can openers that are powered by people, there are electric openers that usually get plugged in, and sometimes have batteries. They generally have triangular blades, rather than round ones. The blade stays in one place while the can itself spins, opening. Oftentimes, there’s a magnet to hold the lid when the can is lifted away, so that you don’t have to fish it out of your SpaghettiOs once it’s disconnected. Electric can openers come in both standard and safety styles.
Justin Chapple is the test kitchen associate editor for Food & Wine Magazine, and told us pretty much the same thing. “I don’t prefer to use electric can openers. More often than not, there’s significantly less control of the can and opener than with traditional hand-held versions. Plus, removing the cutting wheel for cleaning can be an annoying task!”
Swift was equally blunt. “I am all about less is more and the idea of taking up that much extra space for a device to open cans makes me laugh out loud!”
At Friends of Night People, Chef Matt Santora was kind enough to welcome us into his kitchen and provide some insight about opening cans on a much larger scale than most home cooks ever will. He even showed us his $1,200 Edlund electric can opener, a beast of a machine with two speeds: fast, and ridiculously fast.
He told us anecdotes of some of the electric models we tested dying after just a few hundred cans. He goes through far more cans than most civilians do, but it’s still something to be aware of.
Care and maintenance
Most can openers, including our pick, aren’t dishwasher-safe. Although they must be washed by hand, they’re generally not going to get too dirty. The tip of the blade might need to be cleaned off, but the magnet, knob, and arms are generally going to stay clear of debris. Put it away dry to avoid rusting. Electric can opener blades can be wiped clean.
While no can opener is perfect, OXO’s Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch is as close as you can get. With it, most people will be able to quickly and easily open up cans of various sizes without having to fish out the lid. It’s relatively inexpensive and won’t take up too much room in a drawer.
(Special thanks to Friends of Night People for letting us into their kitchen. Our small donation was only a fraction of what is needed to feed its clients on a daily basis. Here’s more info on how you can help them.)
Originally published: March 30, 2014