A can opener's task seems pretty simple, but expert tests confirm what many of us already know: Plenty of can openers simply don't work. Their blades dull; their gears chew up the labels and spit them into our food; they gunk up and rust; and their cutting wheels slip off the can or refuse to turn, no matter how hard we crank the stiffened-up handle.
The Oxo Good Grips Locking Can Opener with Lid Catch (Est. $17) is the refreshing exception. It wins three expert tests. "The [Oxo] Good Grips Locking Can Opener, that's the one I use the most," says Lynne Rossetto Kasper of NPR's The Splendid Table, in an interview with TheSweethome.com. "It works very smoothly." The Oxo sailed through TheSweethome.com's tests at a New York soup kitchen, opening can after can quickly and comfortably for both right- and left-handed testers.
The Oxo is a traditional top-cut can opener (it cuts around the top of the lid and leaves a sharp edge) but with a built-in magnetic lid lifter and release, so you never have to actually touch the lid. "Fingers never came in contact with the lid," confirm testers at The Wall Street Journal, where the Oxo earns a top recommended spot. The magnet "catches the lid to prevent it from dipping into your beans" -- another can-opener pet peeve. Oxo offers a satisfaction guarantee, so you can return its products for a replacement or refund if fails to perform as expected.
For a cheaper alternative, owners say they've found a real gem: the EZ-DUZ-IT Deluxe Can Opener (Est. $10). Remember the old American-made, handheld Swing-A-Way can openers? Your mother or grandmother most likely had one in her kitchen drawer (and used it for 30 years or more -- those things were almost indestructible, owners say). Well, you can still buy the Swing-A-Way Portable Can Opener (Est. $13), but it's made in China now. Plenty of experts and owners are perfectly satisfied with the new Swing-A-Ways, but some customers at Amazon.com say they're just not as well made as they used to be. They prefer the American-made version -- the EZ-DUZ-IT.
"The John J. Steuby Co. out of Hazelwood, Missouri was the actual manufacturer of Swing-A-Way can openers for Amco, for nearly 50 years. So they decided to just start making them again, and instead of stamping 'Swing-A-Way' on them, they are stamping their own brand on them: 'EZ-DUZ-IT,'" says a Chowhound.com contributor who tests the EZ-DUZ-IT against an original 20-year-old Swing-A-Way.
The verdict? Yep, the EZ-DUZ-IT is the classic Swing-A-Way reborn. "I gave it the ultimate test, which is to open a can in the air (i.e., without supporting the can on a table). If it doesn't slip off the rim of the can and/or leave any piece of the lid uncut then it is working perfectly, and this EZ-DUZ-IT is working perfectly."
Note that the EZ-DUZ-IT doesn't have a magnet like the Oxo, so the lid can still fall into the food. It also lacks a lid lifter and release lever, so you'll have to handle the sharp-edged lid.
Prefer a smooth-edge safety can opener? Unfortunately, most miss the mark according to the feedback we spotted. However, one safety model, the Zwilling J.A. Henckels Twin Pure Can Opener (Est. $35), impresses experts in two top tests.
"With its single, sleek handle and its lack of sharp or serrated wheels, you may not immediately recognize the Zwilling as a can opener (or even know how to use it)," says Michael Sullivan at TheSweethome.com. "But once you've removed a few lids with it, we don't think you'll ever go back to traditional openers that messily cut into cans."
Unlike traditional can openers, the Zwillng doesn't cut through the metal at all. Instead, it pries apart the seal between the can and the lid, leaving no jagged edge and never touching the food. You never have to touch the lid, either; the Zwilling hangs onto it until you turn the knob counterclockwise to release the lid.
Sullivan likes the Zwilling's smooth action, easy-to-turn knob and space-saving design, too: Its single handle takes up less drawer space than a traditional two-handled can opener, and a hole on the handle allows you to hang it on a hook if you prefer. Also -- unlike many can openers -- the Zwilling is dishwasher-safe.
Of course, there's a learning curve. Since there aren't two handles, you don't clamp the Zwilling onto a lid like a traditional can opener, and some owners at Amazon.com and elsewhere simply couldn't figure out how to use it. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with instructions (TheSweethome.com posts photos of the Zwilling in action, which is a big help for novices.)
But the main problem, owners say, is that the Zwilling wears out after several months, or a year or two -- a common problem with safety openers. About one in five Amazon.com reviewers downgrade the Zwilling to just one or two stars, usually because it has lost the ability to open cans. Zwilling offers a lifetime warranty, but only against defects in materials and/or craftsmanship, not wear from normal use.
Jar openers help arthritis sufferers and others with hand or wrist issues conquer even the tightest lids. Our top pick is the handheld Swing-A-Way Comfort Grip Jar Opener (Est. $10). Although the most recent models don't live up to the legendary, decades-long lifespans of older Swing-A-Way kitchen tools, the Comfort Grip's all-metal construction still proves better than plastic when pitted against stubborn jars. It adjusts quickly to fit all lid sizes and requires only minimal grip and effort, reviewers say.
The Swing-A-Way jar opener wins an expert test of jar openers, easily unlocking jars of all shapes, sizes and materials -- from tiny plastic-lidded vanilla bottles to the big metal lids of tomato sauce jars. Owners at Amazon.com say it's great for arthritic hands -- easy to store and easy to use. Just put it on the jar, squeeze the handle and turn.
That said, the Swing-A-Way jar opener isn't perfect; experts say it takes a few tries to get the hang of using it. We found a few scattered complaints that it tends to rust. Some owners say the unpadded top grip occasionally pinches their hands.
Handheld jar openers do require the use of both hands. For some people -- those with a broken hand or arm, for example, or those with very limited grip strength -- a cabinet-mounted jar opener may work better (and those are covered in our section on Under Cabinet Can Openers).