Many of us have learned to accept the risk of sharp, jagged edges when opening metal cans, but side-cut or smooth-edge can openers change that by cutting along the side of the lid, splitting the seam where it joins the can and leaving smooth edges on both pieces.
Far safer than traditional top-cutting models, smooth-edge can openers are more popular with parents of small children. They're also a great choice if you're buying for an elderly member of the family or are just tired of fishing top-cut can lids out of your food; a side-cut lid will not fit into the body of the can. Plus, a side-cut can opener's cutting teeth never actually contact the food, so they're more sanitary, rarely need to be washed (according to users), and are thus much less likely to rust than their top-cut competitors.
Smooth-edge can openers still aren't perfect. Because they don't leave an obvious separation, it can be hard to tell when you've cut all the way around, and if you cut around more than once, you risk creating sharp metal slivers that can get into your food or cut your fingers. "All the little visual and audible cues that we are accustomed to with 'old-style' can openers no longer apply," explains one owner at Target.com, along with a recommendation to practice on the bottom of an empty can.
Durability is a continuing issue with smooth-edge can openers and getting the lid off is sometimes a challenge. Owners occasionally complain about the cutting blade of their smooth-edge opener dulling over time, requiring them to circle the can more than once, which creates metal slivers. The smooth-edge manual openers we evaluate, the Oxo Good Grips Smooth Edge Can Opener (Est. $22) and the Kuhn Rikon Auto Safety LidLifter (Est. $16) , come with tiny metal pliers to help you grasp the lid and pull it off.
On the other hand, top-cut models seem to last longer and open cans more dependably than their side-cutting counterparts, perhaps due to more robust cutting blades. Top-cut models are often equipped with magnets to keep the cut lid from falling down into your food. If you prefer top-cutting models, there are still plenty on the market to choose from.
Electric can openers reduce the process to the flip of a lever or push of a button, especially helpful if you have limited hand strength. Some will even stop automatically once they've completed the cut.
Electric can openers are usually faster than manual models but also more expensive, typically $30 to $60, compared to $8 to $20 for a manual can opener. They also require you to sacrifice some counter or cabinet space; most models will not fit in a drawer. Also, not all electric can openers are tall enough to handle the largest cans. A few users fix this by placing the unit right at the edge of the counter, dangling the oversize can off the edge. Electric can openers come in both top- and side-cut configurations, although the top-cut versions remain more common.
Cordless automatic can openers occupy the middle ground, doing the work for you and then stowing neatly in a kitchen drawer. These battery-powered gadgets are usually just slightly larger than manual models. That said, we found many complaints they get stuck partway around the can or run very slowly. Because of this, we've included just one cordless model in this report: the Hamilton Beach Walk'n'Cut Compact (*Est. $25) , which seems to live up to its marketing promises a little better than the others.
Overall, the three best indicators of whether a can opener will become a trusted kitchen workhorse or be another abandoned gadget in a drawer are: ease of use, actual cutting performance and, of course, the overall ownership experience, which includes how long it lasts and how well the manufacturer backs its product.
With one notable exception, jar openers are manually operated tools that either clamp or slide onto the jar lid, providing extra leverage to help you get the jar open. Most jar openers require some (minimal) hand and wrist strength, but owners find they're still a big help for those with arthritis or limited grip strength. We discuss jar openers at the very end of the full report.