Can Openers

Sunday, 3 May 2009 | Tags: ,

One of those basic tools you probably don't pay much attention to, a can opener is a kitchen necessity. But they definitely aren't all created equal. We take a closer look at the can opener and find out which one should be in your kitchen drawer.

The Basics

  • There are a number of different types of can openers to choose from:
    • Manual openers require elbow grease (some openers more than others), but they do the job well. Two handle arms swing apart to allow you to mount the cutting wheel and cog wheel onto the can, and then you turn the crank to cut.  Some manual can openers have a magnet to grab the lid.

    • Electric openers are simpler and easier than manual, but electric can opener use is dwindling, whether due to counter space issues or lack of stylish options. They are great if you have arthritis, or a lot of cans to open.

    • Top cutters or lid cutters are the more traditional type, leaving you with a lid that has sharp edges and a can that has smooth edges.

    • Safety or lid Lifters are a new design that is meant to be safer, and also works well for left-handed people. The blade cuts below the lid lip giving you smooth edges on both the can and the lid. Be sure you’re buying a safety opener, not a side cutter (see below).

    • Side cutters were popular at one point, but they are still dangerous. They work the same as a manual, but the sharp edge is transferred to the side of the can rather than the lid.

    • Heavy-duty can openers mount on the side of a counter and are typically used in commercial food prep or restaurant settings because they can be used on many sizes of cans, including very large bulk cans.

    • Swiss Army Knife can openers are a variation on the simple, puncture-type openers used by the military, campers, and survivalists. They require a lot of elbow grease to work the blade all the way around the lid, and you end up with a lot of sharp points on both the lid and the can.

  • The quality of the cutting wheel is the key to a good can opener. The cutting edge should be stainless steel with chrome and carbon content for a harder blade. The carbon content also helps prevent corrosion.

  • Most can openers are designed right-handed. Side cutters can be easier for left-handed people since it can turn either clockwise or counterclockwise once secured to the top of the can.

  • If you’re weighing manual vs. safety models, consider that manual are typically less expensive and more intuitive, but leave jagged edges. Safety are more expensive, but could be worth it if you have children that will use it. They also don’t come in contact with food so are easier to clean.

  • Can openers with magnets to hold the lid once it is detached from the can are very handy for keeping your fingers clean and avoiding the need to fish the lid out of the food.

  • Some safety models have mini-pincers, like pliers, to help you grab the lid easier.

  • Stainless steel blades are durable and rust-resistant. High-carbon stainless steel blades keep their sharp edge longer.

  • Look for handles that are coated with non-slip material like silicone or grippy plastic.

  • Make sure you hold the opener in your hand to ensure it feels comfortable. Handles should be rounded and tapered. Flat-edged handles will dig into your hand, and big handles, while providing extra power, might be hard to hold if you have small hands.

Other Considerations

  • Keep the cutting wheel clean, especially when it comes into contact with acidic foods like tomato sauce, to help maintain the all-important cutting edge.


We took a selection of openers to a Meals On Wheels facility and asked the preparers to try them out for a few days and pick a winner.

  • Swing-A-Way (AMCO) (traditional top cutter): $11.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Zyliss Lock & Lift (ergonomic top cutter): $21.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • OXO Good Grips Smooth Edge (safety): $29.99
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com
  • Kuhn Rikon Ergo (safety): $27.50
. . Amazon.ca Amazon.com

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Can Opening Test

  • The Swing-A-Way is not as comfortable in the hand as others, but it really dug in and did the job.

  • The Zyliss beat out the Swing-A-Way in terms of comfort; the handles were long and felt good in the hand. It was very easy to use, and the magnet feature was handy. 

  • OXO’s opener worked well, but the design makes it big and bulky. It might be tough to fit in a utensil drawer.

  • The Kuhn Rikon was very uncomfortable to use. The handles were too short and our knuckles kept getting hit by the turning crank.


The Swing-A-Way got the budget vote, but we also really liked the Zyliss. Since a can opener is something you only buy once in a while, buying the more expensive Zyliss might be worth it in the long run, especially if you usually open a lot of cans.


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  • Courtney

    Great article, thanks.