How To Open A Can Without A Can Opener

How To Open A Can Without A Can Opener

It has happened to all of us. We have packed up for camping, had everything we thought we needed, then realized we either did not pack the can opener or found out it is broken once we’ve needed it to open a can. What do we do now? Below are four ways of opening a can without a can opener. We've also gathered a handful of videos to help you on your way.

Using a Spoon:

Yes, it is possible to open a can with a spoon. Just make sure the spoon is metal, not wood or plastic, and is strong enough to handle this task.

Step 1. Place the can on a flat, level, sturdy surface.

Step 2. Grasp the spoon firmly and position the tip of the spoon on the edge of the lid. Make sure the “bowl” of the spoon is facing towards the center of the can.

Step 3. Keep the tip of the spoon on one spot of the lid, then, bearing down on the lid, “rock” the spoon in a back-and-forth “sawing” motion. This continual motion should wear down and eventually penetrate the lid.

Step 4. Once the lid has been pierced, continue the motion until the entire lid has been “sawn” off.

Step 5. Carefully pry open the lid by digging the spoon under it. Slowly push the lid upwards with the spoon to expose the contents of the can. Remember that the edges of the pried lid will still be very sharp. To remove the lid completely, use your hands but only if you are wearing gloves or use a towel, cloth, rag, or your shirt sleeve as protection.

Using a Chef’s Knife:

If you have a large chef’s knife, DON’T use it in the way you would the other smaller knives. Chef’s knives may be very sharp, but they are too thin and flexible to use as described in the pocket knife method. Using it in this way will cause the blade to bend or even break, so there is a huge risk of injuring yourself apart from failing to open the can.

When using a Chef’s knife, use the “heel” of the blade instead. Follow these steps to open a can safely with this kind of knife:

Step 1. Place the can on a level, stable sturdy surface. Don’t try this method by placing the can between your legs, on your lap or while holding the can; the blade could slip, and you risk seriously injuring yourself.

Step 2. Grasp the Chef’s knife firmly where the handle and the blade meet, with the blade facing away from you. Rest your thumb on the side of the blade to avoid obstructing the “heel” of the blade and risk getting your thumb cut. Never use this method with any other knife; the weight of the blade is vital to the success and safety of performing this method.

Step 3. Keeping the can on a level surface, position the heel of the Chef’s knife on the edge of the can’s lid. Carefully but forcefully press down on the can’s lid to make a hole.

Step 4. Repeat the process all around the circumference of the lid. The lid should now be loose and easy to pry off. After making several punctures into the lid, you may be tempted to reverse the blade and cut into the rest of the unopened areas of the lid. Do not. Stick to using the heel of the blade, as you could break off the tip of the Chef’s knife and even injure yourself.

Step 5. After you have punctured most of the can’s lid, proceed to prying it off. Place the blade under the lid, then pull upwards to remove the lid safely and expose the contents.

Again, never handle the lid or detach it from the can with your bare hands. Wear gloves or protect your hand with a towel, cloth, rag, or your shirt sleeve.

Using a Pocket Knife:

Just about any reasonably-sized knife, whether it is the blade of a Swiss army knife, kitchen knife or survival knife will do. To open a can with a knife, follow these steps:

Step 1. Position the can upright and on a flat sturdy level surface.

Step 2. Grasp the knife in a reverse-grip. Keep the knife vertical and place the tip of the blade against the inner edge of the can’s lid.

Step 3. With your free hand, forcefully but carefully “pound” the pommel of the knife, palm facing down. If you think you can’t pound the knife with enough force, you can use a brick or a rock to hammer the knife in, being careful not to hit your hand or damage the knife.

Step 4. Reposition the knife at the leading edge of the puncture you made and repeat steps 3 and 4 until the edge of the lid has been completely “encircled” with punctures.

Step 5. Carefully pry the now-loose lid off the can. Do not use your fingers to do this, the jagged edges of the can are extremely sharp. If you prefer, you can use a smaller knife to pry off the lid. 

Using a rock:

If you do not have any sort of knife or spoon within reach, you can hit the pavement and find another way. Or more accurately, rub the can right on the pavement. A hollow cement block will also work well for this method. The key is to have an abrasive surface; a smooth tile or bit of pavement will not work. You will need friction to work its magic on the can’s lid. For this method, follow these steps:

Step 1. Find a large, flat, coarse surface like concrete pavement, the wide face of a concrete block or even a large flat rock with a rough surface.

Step 2. Place the can upside-down on the pavement, rock, or hollow concrete block. This will enable you to break the seal.

Step 3. With a back-and-forth “scrubbing” motion, rub the rock with the can while applying some even pressure. Keep rubbing the can over the rough surface until moisture from the can appears on the rock; turn the can over to check if any moisture has built up on it. Stop rubbing the can on the rough surface once you observe moisture formation. If you continue to rub the can after moisture has formed, you risk rubbing through the lid, spilling the can’s contents, and wasting it.

Step 4. The can’s lid should be thin enough to pierce and pry off. You can use a pocketknife, a small knife, a spoon, butter knife or similar tool. Sometimes, the lid will even become so thin that you can simply squeeze either side of the can with both hands, and the entire lid will pop right out cleanly. You can also use a small rock to bash in the lid but do this only as a last resort; the result could be messy, and you could have bits of rock and dirt contaminate the food.

Ways to keep a can opener always with you

The easiest to keep a can opener always with you is to hang a “GI Can Opener” on your key chain, clip a second on to your emergency bag and toss one in your first aid kit too.


  • k-dog

    love it please feel free to send more tips

  • Ranger Rick

    That was a great to the point video. Thank you for doing this.
    Ranger Rick
    Automatic Survivor Training Group
    North Idaho

  • Alice Faye Toler

    Anxious to try this before it becomes a necessity!

  • Stan

    GI can opener for daily C-rations was standard. But other means were usable. Bayonet, pocket knife ere always available

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published