Electric can openers make a difficult job easy, but some models are unreliable. Could we find one that works flawlessly every time?
Published Apr. 15, 2021. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Vindaloo and Chana Masala
Whether you open a ton of cans, find it uncomfortable or difficult to operate a manual can opener, or simply prefer automatic appliances, an electric can opener is an appealing option. There are two styles: small countertop appliances and even smaller battery-powered models that sit on top of cans. To find the best openers, we assembled a lineup of eight models (five countertop and three battery powered), ranging in price from about $16 to about $50. Testers, including one with arthritis, used them to open more than 100 cans of varying sizes—from 5-ounce cans of tuna to 28-ounce cans of tomatoes. We even included dented cans and cans with pull tops, both of which can be difficult to open. We evaluated how easy the openers were to operate, their cutting styles, and their durability.
The countertop models all operated similarly. They each have a lever and a circular blade that latches on to the can’s rim, suspending the can in midair. Once you’ve positioned a can in place, you push down on the lever to engage the blade and the opener spins the can, cutting as it goes. When it’s done, you lift the lever, extract the can, and then remove the opened lid.
To use each battery-powered opener, you position it on a can’s rim and press a button on the device that causes the opener to slowly make its way around the rim, cutting as it goes (no hands needed). After the opener has completed a full revolution, you press the button to turn off the opener (or it will continue spinning and cutting), and then you remove it along with the opened lid.
A can opener’s success depended in large part on how well it latched on to cans. Five models were difficult to use; they required that cans be positioned just so, without clear indicators for ideal placement. The three other models latched on to cans with ease.
We also noticed that some models were more stable than others. All the countertop models required us to keep pressure on their levers in order to operate their motors; lighter models started to topple over when we took our hands off them, threatening to spill a can’s contents and even cut us with blades or sharp can lids. Only the heaviest models were sturdy enough to suspend 28-ounce cans of tomatoes when we took our hands off them. Two of the battery-powered openers often wobbled on the cans’ tops and nearly fell off. The third was stable during each revolution.
Opening a can should be quick, but opening speeds varied among models. The countertop models took an average of 12 seconds to open a 28-ounce can of tomatoes, whereas the battery-powered openers took 34 seconds on averag...
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Chase is an associate editor for ATK Reviews. He's an epidemiologist-turned-equipment tester and biscuit enthusiast.