5 Ways to Open a Can Without a Can Opener

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
open can of peaches
Don't let the lack of a can opener stop you from getting at your goods. New Africa/Getty Images

The invention of the tin can fully transformed people's ability to store food and beverages for long periods of time, but at the start those wrought iron cans were a true pain to open, and actually required a hammer and chisel! The can opener wasn't invented until 50 years later in 1858, by which time, cans were no longer made out of heavy wrought iron. And the new lids were pretty thin.

Even though you normally have access to a can opener, sometimes you get caught without one. Maybe you're out camping or staying in a vacation rental that somehow doesn't have that implement. No need to worry; there are plenty of ways to break into that can. Just do yourself a favor and be very, very careful. Those edges are shockingly sharp! Here are some of the most highly rated ways to open a can without a can opener. (Whatever tool you use, always make sure it's cleaned and sanitized. No sense transferring bacteria or other goo into the food.)


1. Open That Can With a Spoon

This is probably the safest way to open a can in the absence of a can opener. The only real risk involved is that it might bend the spoon, so select one that's on the less fancy side, but still made of a sturdy metal.

  1. To open the can, put the can on a solid surface, like a counter or table.
  2. Face the "bowl" of the spoon to the interior of the can, so that the edge is right between the can's lip and the "inner ring" — the part you would normally place a manual can opener on.
  3. Tightly hold the can with one hand, then grip the bowl of the spoon and rub it in the rim crevice back and forth. This repeated motion will wear down the metal.
  4. Keep doing it in a specific area, then once the metal is successfully punctured, press the spoon in the hole to widen.
  5. Move the spoon over to the next area. Repeat until the whole can is done. Use the spoon to pop the lid off, pour out the contents and enjoy!


2. Knife It

A really sharp knife, like a chef's knife, is probably the fastest method for accessing a can's contents. However, it's also the least safe, so proceed with caution. The chef's knife is considered to be one of the most versatile knives out there, perfect for cutting everything from veggies to meat, and is usually around 8 inches (20 centimeters) long.

To use a chef's knife to cut open a can, use the heel of the knife, NOT the point, which can slip very easily and cause injury. The heel is the part of the knife that's closest to the handle. For this to work, however, the knife cannot have a bolster covering the heel, as some knives do for safety purposes.


  1. To open the can, hold it firmly and on a flat, solid surface.
  2. Place the heel of the knife so that it's wedged inside the can's rim.
  3. Push the blade's corner into the can at an angle.
  4. Continue until the entire lid has been compromised, always taking care to keep hands and fingers safe. No canned good is worth stitches or a visit to the emergency room!

Note: You can pry the can open using the point of a knife (preferably a paring knife or a Swiss Army knife) to puncture holes around the can's edge, but watch out! It's easy for the knife to slip and cut you.


3. Rock Out

Wanna bring your inner caveperson out of hibernation? Find a rock and open a can that way. Here's how to get it done:

  1. Put the can face down on a large-ish rock, or concrete in a pinch.
  2. Rub the can back and forth against the surface until moisture shows up on the rock or the lid. If you don't stop then the food might wind up all over that rock.
  3. Use a pocket knife, spoon or something similar to pry the can open.


4. Hammer it Out

This method harkens back to the olden days when a hammer and chisel were the recommended tools for opening those wrought iron cans.

  1. Simply grab a flat-head screwdriver and wedge it inside the rim of the can.
  2. Pick up the hammer and resist the urge to bang away. Instead, tap the end of the screwdriver gently until a hole in the can appears. The opening should be sufficiently large for liquids.
  3. Repeat if needed to make the opening bigger for larger food items, like green beans.


5. Time to Pry

A pair of flat-nosed pliers, straight from the typical toolbox, can also get the job done nicely.

  1. Put the can squarely on a flat surface.
  2. Holding the can with one hand, use the other hand to crush part of the lip of the can with the pliers (the lip is the part at the very top).
  3. Keep doing this until the entire lip is crushed all the way around, then use the pliers to remove the lid.

Most of these methods require a little bit of patience, so take your time to avoid unnecessary injury.