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How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener (11 Methods That Actually Work)

Camping Tips, Outdoor Survival Skills

So you're hungry and have can of food. Now, where is that can opener? In this post, you'll learn how to open a can without a can opener. They include detailed steps and videos. Fear not – you'll be eating that can of baked beans (or Spaghettios) in minutes.

how to open a can without a can opener

Opening a Can Without a Can Opener: Methods, Tricks, Hacks

Maybe you're on a camping trip without any kitchen tools. Maybe you've just had a “butterfingers” moment and broken a seal or tab.

Whatever your reasons for needing to DIY your dinner, here are just a few tips and tricks for opening a can without a can opener.

11 Ways: How Open a Can Without an Opener (Video)

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Here are some ways to open a can without a can opener.

  1. Knife
  2. Axe
  3. Machete
  4. Spoon
  5. Fork
  6. Chef's Knife
  7. Concrete Slab (or another Flat Stone)
  8. Pliers
  9. Bare Hands
  10. Metal File
  11. Tin Snips
open a can without a can opener

Here are more ways to open the can – with specific steps and videos.

Can Opening Skills: 6 Detailed Guides

1. Knife

A knife is one of the easiest ways to break into a canned good. Before you grab your favorite santoku, however, you should know that there are good and bad ways to do it.

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Method One

  • Hold the knife in a completely vertical position with the tip of the blade pressed against the lid of the can.
  • Press down until you puncture the metal with a small hole. If necessary, you can hammer it in by smacking the back of your knife-holding hand like a mallet.
  • Repeat the process until you have a small series of holes that weakens the lid and allows it to be peeled back.

This method is ideal if you're worried about getting metal shavings in your food. Instead of having to saw the knife back and forth, you're creating neat, tidy openings without any debris.

The only downside is that it's a more time-consuming process than others.

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Method Two

  • Hold the blade to the lid of the can at an angle.
  • Slice into it.
  • Use a back-and-forth sawing motion to take the blade around the entire circumference of the can.
  • If the metal is being stubborn, press the blade towards the outer edge of the can to increase your leverage.

This is a fast, efficient way to cut open a can with a knife, and anyone can do it. It's idiot-proof.

There are just two disadvantages: The first is that you might dull your knife with the repetitive sawing motions, and the second is that you might get metal shavings flying off the lid and into your food. It'll be up to you to decide if it's worth it.

2. Axe, Machete or Other Large Blade

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If you're wondering how to open a can without a can opener or a kitchen knife, it's still doable. You can use any sort of blade to get the job done. You'll just need to be careful.

As you might imagine, our ancestors didn't create double-sided war axes to open cans of clam chowder!

Here's how to get to the goods with a random blade:

  • If it has a heel, use the heel to puncture the lid instead of the tip.
  • If it's a supersized blade that won't fit into the top portion of the can, lay the can on its side and strike or slice it from above. Apply just enough force to cut it open; don't completely sever it or you'll get spillage.
  • If it has a curved edge or unusually-shaped handle, the hammering method works a lot better than the sawing method. You won't have to maneuver it as much.

3. Spoon (or Fork)

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If you're craving chicken noodle soup, you can use your spoon for opening and eating from the can. It's just a matter of breaking through the lid with the edge of the spoon.

  • Grip the spoon with your entire hand. Your fingers should be closed around the lowest part of the handle; you might even find it more comfortable to hold or partially hold the bowl of the spoon.
  • Apply the edge of the spoon to the inner lip of the can.
  • Use a sawing or rocking motion to create fiction that will eventually cut open the metal.
  • Reposition the spoon so that its edge is pressing against the tear in the lid. You might have to keep sawing, but the lid might be weak enough that you can use the spoon to slice through it instead. Think of it like gliding scissors through wrapping paper once the initial cut has been made.

The hardest part of opening a can with a spoon is getting it started. You'll need a lot of elbow grease to break through something that was meant to be punctured with a pointed blade and not a curved edge. Don't be afraid to go hard!

4. Abrasive Surface

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This is a potentially messy method that isn't recommended if there are other options available to you, but if you're stuck in the wilderness without any modern conveniences, it can work.

You'll just need to be even more careful than if you were using a knife or a spoon.

  • Find a flat, abrasive surface like a concrete slab or the broad side of a rock.
  • Position the can so that its lid is against the surface. This might mean turning it completely upside down.
  • Rub the lid of the can against the surface. Be quick and vigorous. Put your back into it.
  • Check the lid after 10 – 20 seconds. If it's leaking, you're good to go. If it's looking rough, you're getting there. If it looks exactly the same as before, you aren't rubbing hard enough.
  • When you can see or feel the lid weakening, squeeze the outside of the can until the lid pops off.

You can probably tell why this method has the potential for messes. You have to rub hard to weaken the seal on the lid, but if you don't time it right, your can might explode open like a soda bottle and dump your food on the ground.

This is why checking every 10 – 20 seconds is essential. Pay attention to the deterioration of the lid, and err on the side of caution when it's looking thin.

5. Pliers

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If you're a handyman with a full toolbox but an empty belly, here's how you can serve yourself some lunch with the help of your pliers.

  • Use the pliers to clamp down on the outer edge of the lid.
  • Pinch and twist until the metal warps or breaks.
  • When you have an opening, worry it back and forth until it's large enough for the tip of the pliers to clamp down on one of the edges.
  • Holding onto the edge, use the pliers to peel back the lid of the can.

This method also works if you have a pull-top can that doesn't want to open for whatever reason. You can use the pliers to hold onto the tab and roll it right back!

6. Bare Hands

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This method isn't for everyone. It requires a lot of physical strength, and it'll be a miracle if you don't wind up with food on your clothes. If you're in a life-or-death situation, however, you should know that it is possible to open a can with your bare hands.

  • Dent each side of the can in the same place. You can do this by striking it with a heavy object or hitting it against a solid wall at an angle. If you're super-strong, you might be able to do it just by crushing it between your hands.
  • Twist the top and bottom half of the can in opposite directions. Use the dents as your points of weakness.
  • Break the can in two.

Please note that this method is best saved for a survival situation – not for serving supper to your in-laws.

Open a can without a can opener

More detail on the other can opening methods over at GudGear.


Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we've covered the basics of how to open a can without a can opener, let's look at some common questions that people have when doing things caveman-style.

1. How are cans sealed?

It's actually a fascinating process.

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Simply put, the edges of the lid are crimped onto the can with a rolling motion that results in a double-layer seal. This is why you can't peel back the entire top half of a can.

You can only peel back the interior lid while the outer frame remains in place. It's been crimped and sealed to stay put.

2. How do you open a can with a spoon?

The curved edge of a spoon can be used like a saw. Just press to the interior edge of the lid and start making friction.

The trick is to hold the spoon properly; you'll want to grip it low on the handle and with your fingers partially holding the spoon bowl.

If you hold it like you're about to eat cereal, you won't get enough pressure to puncture the metal of the can. The spoon will start bending instead of slicing.

3. How do you open Spaghettios without a can opener?

If you're craving some Campbell's, you're in luck. There are several ways to open your Spaghettios without a can opener:

  • Knife
  • Machete
  • Pliers
  • Spoon
  • Concrete slab

The right method for you will depend on things like dexterity, safety, physical strength and the tools that you have available. For example, a spoon is less dangerous to use than a knife, but it also requires more force.

How to open a can without can opener

Curious about water safety while hiking? Here's how long water needs to boil to make it safe to drink.

4. Can you use a knife to open a can?

Yes. You can use almost any blade to open a can, including a pocket knife, chef's knife, axe, cleaver and machete. The only thing that doesn't quite work is a butter knife.

5. How do you open a can of corned beef without the key?

You don't have to throw out your corned beef just because you misplaced the key. You can use a pair of scissors or pliers to clamp onto the can's tab and roll it just like you would with a regular key.

The trick is to use the dull side of the instrument; you don't want to accidentally slice through the tab with a sharp edge.

6. How do you open a Coke can without the tab?

It happens to the best of us. The tab on your soda breaks off before you can finish pulling it, so you're left with a smooth, flat lid and no discernible way to open it.

Don't despair! It's actually quite easy to open a soda can without a tab. This is because the indented tab area is still there, so all that you have to do is apply pressure to it. Instead of forcing it open with the edge of a tab, just force it open with the handle of a spoon or fork.

Keep reading: How are you planning on spending your time while camping? These camping games and activities should help.

7. How do you open a can of corned beef?

If you're purchasing corned beef for the first time, you might be mystified by the presence of a tab and key. It dates back to the days of corned beef being shipped to the military in pressurized cans.

The good news is that it's simpler than you might think to open corned beef. Just line up the key with the exterior tab to peel it back and open the entire tin at once. If you don't feel like messing with the tab, you can use a tin opener or can opener to cut it open. If you don't have any of these things, you can substitute the key with a pair of pliers.

Opening a can without an opener

More reading: How to Keep Food Cold While Camping

Your Turn

These are just a few tips, tricks and travel hacks for opening a can without a can opener. It isn't always easy, but you don't have to rely on hand tools to get the job done! With a strong grip and some good old-fashioned problem-solving skills, you can break into any canned product.

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Hi, I'm the Author!

Bryan Haines

Bryan Haines is a travel blogger, photographer and content marketer. He is co-founder of EhListers (Nova Scotia travel blog) and Storyteller Media (content marketing for Canadian travel brands). Bryan is also an avid photographer. Check out ClickLikeThis, a GoPro tutorial blog he runs with his wife, Dena.

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