Whether the one you have is old and rusty or you’ve gone camping and forgot to bring one altogether, figuring out how to open a can without a can opener can be a challenge. The good news is there are a number of smart hacks that can help. For starters, when shopping for canned goods, look for ones that have a metal tab on the top lid. That way, you can open the cans easily without ever needing to use a can opener or one of these savvy solutions. Of course, if you’re trying to open an old-fashioned can that doesn’t have a tab, our tips will help you crack it wide open.
Adam Witt, private chef and food blogger at Omnivorous Adam, says that even the most experienced chefs run into snags along the way and that not having a can opener on-hand, no matter what the reason, is common. “I have run into this before, specifically while camping … which is never a good time," he tells TODAY.com.
Fortunately, if you find yourself in an all-out can-opener jam, hope is not lost. According to Witt, a pocket knife or regular butter knife can help get the job done in no time. Exercise caution when using this method. Not to state the obvious but knives — even butter knives — are sharp and you could injure yourself if it slips. If you’re really in a pinch, grab a spoon, which you can also use to crack the seal on canned vegetables.
Here’s how to safely open a can using a knife, a metal spoon and in some cases, no tools at all.
How to open a can with a knife
Let’s start by stating the obvious: Opening a can with a knife of any kind is risky business and should be done with great care. But, if push comes to shove and you’re in a bind, Witt outlines how to use a pocket or kitchen knife to accomplish your goal when attempting to open a standard can.
Insert the tip of a sharp knife into the crevice between the rim and the can, then give the top of the knife some solid taps with your hand to help it break through.
“Poke that knife in, give it a tap, and then just work the knife sort of around the rim of the can and get the lid off,” says Witt.
When using this method, Witt says to be mindful about where you put your hand. “If you’re holding the can, (make sure to) not have your hand anywhere near the knife in case it slips off the side of the can.”
Witt says a kitchen knife is preferable to using a pocket knife. “Any knife will work, but a longer kitchen knife is actually going to be easier because you’ll get a little more leverage.”
Once you’ve cut enough to get the lid off, be very careful of the sharp edges when you remove it.
How to open a can using a metal spoon
While using a knife is probably the quickest and most efficient way of getting a can opened without an opener, a metal spoon will also do the trick and comes with a whole lot less risk. It does, however, require a bit of extra muscle.
To start, you’ll need a metal spoon (plastic won’t work, so don’t even think about it). Set the can on a flat, solid surface. Grip the can firmly with one hand and wedge the edge of a metal spoon between the lip of the can and the inner ring. The spoon bowl should face the inside of the can. With the spoon tip firmly wedged in the crevice of the rim, press down and move, or rub, the spoon back and forth in the same area to weaken the metal. Continue until you’ve punctured the can, then move slightly over and do the same again until you’ve enlarged the hole. Once you’ve gone around the entire can and the lid is loosened, use the spoon to help remove the lid without getting cut on the sharp edges.
How to open a can without any tools
If you’re stuck without any kind of utensil or sharp-edged tool to help get the lid off your can, don’t worry — you’ve still got options.
Find a flat rock, piece of concrete or something similar (if you’re camping, this should be easy to find). Whatever you choose should have a rough surface.
Flip the can so the top is facing down, touching the surface of the rock. Forcefully grind the top of the can, back and forth, into the rough surface. Continue (checking occasionally to see your progress) until it appears that the metal of the lid is beginning to wear thin from the friction. You’ll know it’s thin enough to pry off when moisture appears on the top. At that point, stop — you don’t want whatever’s in your can to spill onto the ground. Once the lid is thin enough to open, the tricky part is finding something else to slide under it to finish prying it off.
Whatever tool you choose, make sure it’s sanitary. You don’t want to contaminate your food with a dirty rock or knife. Once the can is open, it’s time to cook! Heat up a bowl of tomato soup, whip up hummus or white bean dip, or prepare baked beans for a summer picnic.