So You Need To Open A Can?

So You Need To Open A Can?

So you need to open a can? I am not referring to some modern metal containers that cheat by employing pull-tabs, but rather the traditional can that requires the use of some external device to access the food contents…a device like the can opener. Can opening can be a daunting process unless using the proper tool. This posts attempts to give enlightenment about choices, and understanding about both human evolution and the can opener.

Evolution and Can Opening

  • Early life on the planet inhabited the oceans but it wasn’t until the evolution of the shark, that life could access the nourishment hidden within the can goods scattered across the ocean floor. A shark’s razor-sharp teeth could puncture the can wall, crushing it with their vice like jaws. Primitive sharks devoured cans of pork and beans, metal container and all.


  • Dinosaurs were the first land creatures to avail themselves to the foodstuffs contained in cans. Because of their immense size, both herbivores like Brontosaurus, and carnivores like Tyrannosaurus could crush cans of peaches with their immense feet, squirting the contents onto the ground for the taking. Their success with opening cans enabled the dinosaurs to dominate the Earth for about 175 million years.


  • With the arrival of our human ancestors, the opening of cans once again became within the realm of the possible. Neanderthal were the first to attempt using tools, clubbing cans with large sticks, but merely dented the metal containers, unable to obtain the stuff within. The Neanderthal became extinct. Their competitor, the modern human, used their superior reasoning capabilities. They used slingshots to fling cans of chicken noodle soup against cave walls at high speed, thus cracking the metal walls allowing the contents to dribble down the wall to be harvested by clan members.

caveman and dog

  • As our human ancestors evolved, they learned that some wolves would approach their encampments, attempting to steal can goods. For entertainment (television had yet to be invented), they rewarded wolves with those characteristics with pieces of meat from the day’s hunt. Over the years, a species of wolves developed that were cute, opening cans of peas with their fangs, and present them to their masters for scraps of meat. Thus began the first domesticated dogs.


  • The first written instructions for opening cans occurred in the early 1800’s. The label read, “Cut round the top near the outer edge with a chisel and hammer.” hammer and chiselThat method prevailed until original designs for can or tin (British) openers were patented in 1855 in England, and 1858 in the United States. These were variations of a claw or knife-like cutting blade pushed through the lid. These difficult and dangerous hand-held devices left jagged edges. They were often operated by store clerks for customers. The familiar rotating wheel design was developed in 1870 by William Lyman of Connecticut in the U. S., but still very difficult to operate for the common consumer.

early can opener

  • The year 1925 brought an improvement on the Lyman design by the Star Can Opener Company of San Francisco, California. It utilized a second serrated wheel which permitted a firm grip on the can edge, a design still used today.

  • The first electric can opener was patented in 1931 using rotating wheels concept. Unsuccessful until 1956 when the Udico brand introduced a free standing electric opener in popular colors like Avacado Green and Aqua Blue. Inventor, Walter Bodle and his family built the prototype at home, the product becoming an instant hit.
  • A side cutting can opener came on the scene in the 1980’s. The cutting wheel on this concept removed the top and rim by cutting just below the rim. Claimed benefit is a safe, non-jagged edge.


While I am certain I haven’t used the many versions of the products on the market today, my experience is:

  • Common handheld mechanical designs do not reliably cut completely around the can 100% of the time. If failure to open completely occurs, you are left with the decision of using a knife, fork, or finger to pry the lid up out of the food. When they do cut successfully, there is usually one sharp metal sliver remaining. If cut successfully, the lid may also drop into the foodstuff.


  • Electric openers may have similar cutting issues but usually use a magnet to adhere to the top lid thereby eliminating the removed metal lid from dropping back into the contents. I consider that advantage of little importance on those occasions when the complete can drops from the opener, splattering the contents of the can across the counter-top. Of course, if you are without electricity, the disadvantages disappear since you can’t attempt the can opening task.
  • My limited experience with a side opener: Difficulty with variations of rim styles on cans. Engaging the side-cut can opener on all cans was frustrating at times.

Assuming my experiences may not represent all designs and brands, the following is a compilation of can opener recommendations by various sources. I have not personally tried these products, but they are consistent top performers in evaluations I believe to be unbiased. Their selection is for average opening criterion, therefore not necessarily the best for specific characteristics like compactness for camping, ease of use for arthritic hands, attachment features like under-cabinet, etc.:


  • Best mechanical—EZ-DUZ-IT Deluxe Can Opener. There are other highly rated manual openers on various websites, but none rated high as consistently as EZ-DUZ-IT.

manual can opener


  • Best electric—Hamilton Beach Smooth Touch. Again, the only product consistently rated highly.

electric can opener

If you’re in the market for a new can opener, you could try one of these depending on your preference for mechanical or electric. If nostalgic, reverting to early can opening methods used by our ancestors could also impress house guests…throwing against a stone wall, a dog, or the hammer and chisel…of these, I recommend throwing against the stone wall for the sheer excitement.


For an update on this post see The Truth About Can Openers



This post prompted by the following passage from the upcoming novel, Three Remain:

“I don’t want you to leave me by myself,” she commented while continuing to fuss with the opener.

Mildly surprised by her remark, Glen responded, “I thought you would be glad to be rid of me. I will only take five minutes to get your purse.”

“Isn’t it irresponsible to leave me here in my medical condition?” she said while cranking the opener on the can of chicken noodle soup.

“You insisted you’re fine, or don’t you remember that either,” he said, disappointed to find no Internet connection.

She poured the soup into the pot. “You said I have a concussion,” she argued. The soup spattered up into her face.

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