In this post, you'll learn how to open a can without a can opener. Sure, it's going to be crude – but when it's time to eat, it's okay to go a little caveman.
So here's the situation:
- You’re hungry.
- You have a can of soup (tuna, sardines, beans, etc).
- But no can opener.
Has this ever happened to you?
This happened to us when we first moved to Ecuador. We had just bought all our housewares and groceries to setup our new apartment. We were hungry but had no can opener.
Of course, this could also happen on a hike, a road trip, or even while staying in a “furnished” apartment abroad.
Are you a camping noob? (Don't worry – everyone is at first.) Here is a camping gear list for beginners.
10 Methods to Open a Can (Without a Can Opener)
- Axe: Pierce the side of the can with the axe blade. This is best done holding the can on its edge, quickly striking the can with corner of the blade. Then slowly work the edge of the blade around the circumference of the can.
- Large Knife / Machete: This is similar to the axe technique, but it's a little tricker (more dangerous) to get started. Place the can vertically and place the tip of the blade on the outer surface. Gently strike the end of the handle until the tip pierces the can. Then work your way around the outer edge of the can.
- Chef's Knife: For this to work, you'll need a knife that has a blade that extends below the handle. To open a can with this method, you'll want to drive this edge into the outer rim of the top of the can. Then work the blade around the edge, just like a regular can opener.
- Spoon: Puncture the lid with a spoon and then use the spoon like a can opener to remove the lid. This method is going to hurt your hands (unless you have some gloves). See more details below the video.
- Fork: Place one prong on the can's outer edge. Press down until the prong penetrates the lid. Then with the prongs facing away from you (and with just one prong inside the lid) work the fork up and down to tear the metal, slowly turning the can. As you progress, you can flip the fork and even use the handle which might give you better leverage. You'll probably ruin your fork – and bruise your hand – but at least you'll get some sweet sustenance.
- Concrete / Flat Stone: Rub the lid on a piece of concrete until it wears through the top rim. This one is messy – and you'll want to watch for metal shards and concrete / rock dust. See more details below the video.
- Metal File: This is essentially the same as with concrete – except that you can do this one with the can upright. This mean that you won't have food juices going everywhere as you open the can. Once you file off the top rim, you can just pop off the lid. You'll still want to watch for metal shavings, which probably isn't the best thing to consume while camping…
- Flat-nose Pliers: With the pliers, pinch and twist the outer rim of the can. Work your way around the circumference of can, carefully breaking the seal of the can. Once you have broken the seal, use the pliers again to pinch the edge of the lid and pull upwards.
- Tin Snips: Use the tin snips to cut the outer rim off. This is probably the safest and easiest method – only improved on by an actual can opener.
- Your Hands: This will take the most strength of all – and unleash your inner caveman. You'll want to dent the side wall of the can – one large dent on each side. Then work the two ends back and forth until the can splits in two. This technique can work on both large and small cans – although the larger (taller) the can, the easier it will be.
The video below shows all 10 techniques in detail.
How to Open Canned Food Without Can Opener (Video)
Watch on YouTube
3 Steps to Open a Can on Concrete
As it turns out, the metal in the lid is very thin. And it’s a rolled seam.
- To open the can, just rub it against a flat piece of concrete or a flat rock. The friction will quickly wear through the seam and allow you to easily remove the lid and open the can.
- To know that it has worn through, watch for moisture appearing on the grinding surface.
- If you have a tool of some sort, you can pry it open. Otherwise, you’ll have to keep grinding until the lid comes off easily. While you’ll lose more liquid from the can, it’s less likely that you’ll get cut and lose some of your own.
If you don’t want to consume metal filings or concrete dust, make sure you wipe the edge of the can before opening. It should remove most of the loose material.
3 Steps to Open a Can With a Spoon
- Grasp the spoon firmly, with the inside bowl of the spoon facing the center of the can.
- While applying pressure, rub the spoon back and forth against the edge of the lid. This will thin the metal and the spoon will quickly break through.
- Now work the spoon around the edge of the lid – as if it were a can opener.
Open a Can Without a Can Opener: Concrete and Spoon
Watch on YouTube
Here's a little help for choosing and packing food for camping and hiking.
Aside from the obvious solution of bringing a can opener (or not eating canned food), how would you do this?
How I'll Open Cans Caveman Style
- My first option would be the tin snips – although it is unlikely that I'll have a pair on my camping trip. These look the safest and cleanest of all the methods.
- My second preference would be a spoon. It seems much cleaner and a little more civilized than many of the other techniques. But in a survival situation, all these methods would definitely work. But I think on a normal day, I would just use some self control and wait until a can opener presents itself.
You can avoid this whole situation by bringing what you need in the first place. Here are our recommendations for must-have survival gear.
Prefer fresh food? Here's how to keep food cold when camping.
What about you? Have you opened a can without a can opener? Would you open a can on a rock, with a machete or your bare hands? Join us in the comments!