The one tool your kitchen can’t do without

Give Emily Johnson a few good cans, and she’ll do a great opening act. She has spent a lot of time thinking about can openers. Her uncanny knowledge of all things can opener comes from her job as senior editor at the food publication Epicurious, where she’s tested dozens of them.

Correspondent Susan Spencer asked Johnson, “What does testing day look like?”

“It looks like me surrounded by an obscene number of can openers!” she laughed.

“And you just sit there and open cans?”

“Yeah! Cans and cans of chickpeas, white beans, cranking, cranking, cranking, cranking.”


CBS News

After all that cranking, she has come to love the classic design with the little saw-toothed gear. She gets almost philosophical about it: “The can opener is delightfully analog. It is a single-use item that people can’t get out of owning.”

Americans have owned can openers for more than a century, the design evolving ever since the original model in 1858. “I think the most interesting part of the can opener’s history is that it was not invented until around 50 years after the invention of actual canning,” Johnson said. “Cans were so thick, like, three-sixteenths-of-an-inch sometimes, people had to use a hammer and chisel.”

But people didn’t give up on the idea of cans completely. If they’d tried, Johnson might have told them to, well, can it! “You can take these foods that will last forever in your pantry and make a whole meal out of them,” she said. But, “You need a can opener to get there.”

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Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Editor: Carol Ross. 

More from Susan Spencer on design:

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