How to Open a Can Without a Can Opener: 3 Tried-and-True Methods

Don’t let a lost or broken can opener stop you from opening cans of soup, tuna, pet food, or other items.
Deirdre Mundorf Avatar
how to open a can without a can opener

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Canned goods—such as soups, meats, beans, and vegetables—are a staple in many kitchens. Manual and electric can openers allow us to easily open these cans and enjoy their contents. However, you may find yourself in a situation where no can opener is available—whether it is lost or broken.

Fortunately, just as there are workarounds to open a stuck jar, there are also other things you can use to open a can if no can opener is available. Continue reading to learn how to open a can without a can opener.

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How to Open a Can With a Spoon

how to open a can without a can opener

One of the best options for opening a can without a can opener is to use a spoon. Before you begin working, just remember that the edges of a can lid are sharp, even when opened with a manual can opener; they may be even sharper when non-standard tools are used. Take care to avoid cutting yourself on the lid when you follow the steps below to open a can with a spoon.

STEP 1: Get a metal spoon and place the can on a flat, stable surface.

Begin by placing the can on a flat and stable surface where it isn’t going to slide around or slip as you are working. Then, take out a metal spoon. A plastic spoon is too weak and will not work.

STEP 2: Grip the spoon and position it along the lid’s inner edge.

Next, get a good grip on the bowl of the spoon—not the handle. Hold the bowl of the spoon in your palm, gripping it with your four fingers. Your index finger should rest just below the handle of the spoon, and your pinky finger should be positioned inside the curve to provide a more stable grip. Then, line the spoon’s bowl up along the lip on the edge of the can—right where a can opener would attach. The open part of the bowl should be facing inwards towards the middle of the lid.

STEP 3: Rub the tip of the spoon back and forth until a hole forms.

Once the spoon is in place, use firm pressure to rub it back and forth along a small section of the inner lip of the can. Repeating this motion will wear down the metal enough to form a hole after a few minutes.

STEP 4: Put the spoon in the hole and use it to loosen and remove the lid.

After the hole in the edge of the can forms, press the tip of the spoon into the hole. With the tip of the spoon facing upwards and pressing on the inner edge of the lid, forcefully move it around the perimeter of the lid until enough of the metal breaks off and you can carefully open the lid enough to empty the can’s contents. Be careful to not cut yourself on the open can lid.

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How to Open a Can With a Knife

how to open a can without a can opener

Another option for how to open cans without a can opener is to use a knife. A chef’s knife without a bolster (the thick metal part between the blade and knife), such as a santoku knife, is ideal for this task. You can also use a pocket knife or cleaver; however, a butter knife will not work. Regardless of what type of knife you use, use extra care and basic knife safety to avoid cutting yourself while opening the can.

When determining how to open a can with a knife, remember that a bigger and heavier knife is best, as the extra weight will help keep the knife stable and allow it to puncture the can’s lid.

STEP 1: Place the can on a stable surface and grip the knife where the blade connects to the handle.

Place the can on a flat and stable surface—ideally a table that is about as tall as your hips. Use your hand to get a good grip on the knife right where the handle and blade meet. Position your thumb along the flat side of the blade with your other four fingers along the side of the handle, taking care to keep them away from the sharp edge.

STEP 2: Place the heel of the knife on the inside of the lid’s raised lip.

Position the knife so that the heel is against the raised lip on the rim of the top of the lid. The heel of the knife is the widest part of the blade, furthest away from the tip. Once in place, check your grip to ensure that the heel is balanced beneath your palm.

STEP 3: Press the heel of the knife down firmly to puncture the lid.

Use force to press down on the knife until the heel punctures a hole in the can. If needed, you can lean over the can and use your free hand to apply additional pressure by pressing down on the hand holding the knife.

STEP 4: Repeat to puncture holes around the entire perimeter of the lid.

Slide the knife over one or two centimeters and repeat the steps listed above to puncture a second hole in the lid. Continue using the same method to puncture holes around the entire perimeter of the lid.

STEP 5: Carefully pry open the lid using the knife.

After working your way around the entire perimeter of the can, the lid should be loose enough to easily pry open with the knife. Put the knife’s tip into one of the holes you made, and carefully press on the handle to pull up the lid. When working with the knife, protect your fingers and hands and make sure that the sharp edge of the blade is always facing away from your body to prevent injury.

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How to Open a Can on a Rock or Concrete

how to open a can without a can opener

Typically, opening a can with a pull top is just a matter of pulling up on the ring using your thumb, while stabilizing the can with your other hand. However, sometimes that pull top breaks off, and you’re left with a lid that is stuck in place. If this happens to you when you’re away from home and don’t have access to a knife or a spoon, a rock or concrete can also serve as an alternative can opener.

STEP 1: Find a flat rock or concrete piece with a rough surface, and place the upside down can on the rock.

Begin by looking for a large, flat rock or concrete slab with a rough surface. The rock should be at least two to three times as wide as the diameter of the can. Place the rock on a flat surface. Flip the can upside down and place it on top of the rock.

STEP 2: Repeatedly rub the can over the rock until moisture appears.

Create friction by rubbing the can back and forth over the rock. The friction will thin the lid, making it possible to remove it without using a can opener. Periodically, stop to check for signs of moisture between the can and the rock. Once moisture appears, the lid should be thin enough to remove with relative ease.

STEP 3: Pry open the lid using a pocket knife.

Press a pocket knife under the edge of the lid, and use it to pry off the lid. Alternatively, a spoon, butter knife, screwdriver, or other similar tool could be used for this step. Just take care to choose a clean tool that won’t deposit dirt or dust into the contents of the can, and avoid cutting yourself on any sharp can edges.

Final Thoughts

While opening a can without a can opener is more challenging than using a power-assisted can opener—or even opening a paint can—it is certainly doable with some time, patience, and muscle. If you’re away from home or your can opener is lost or broken, the methods shared above can help you open a can with just a spoon, knife, or rock. Just remember that the can lid may be very sharp, so always take special care to prevent accidental injuries.

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