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How to Open a Can of Corned Beef

Stumped by how to open a can of corned beef? Click here for all you need to know to access a delicious treat!

Corned beef is a great way to get your daily dose of protein and makes for an excellent meal or snack. But how do you open those funky looking cans?

Since corned beef cans are square shaped, it can be difficult to open them with a traditional can opener. Each can should come with a metal key attached to the side that you use to open the can around the sides rather than on top like cylindrical cans.

In this article, we will elaborate on the steps it takes to open a can of corned beef as well as how to open a corned beef can if the key is missing. Additionally, we will advise you on whether or not you should open a damaged can of corned beef and explain why corned beef cans have a key in the first place.

How Do I Open a Can of Corned Beef?

Corned beef cans be a hassle to open if you don’t know how to do it properly. With a little bit of detailed instruction, you can be on your way to eating a delicious can of corned beef in no time!

First things first, before you even put that can of corned beef in your shopping cart at the grocery store, check to make sure it has the little metal key attached to the side. Once you get home, remove the key by lifting the metal tab holding the key in place. Using a spoon or a knife the leverage the key out helps make it easier.

Insert the smaller slotted opening of the key into the metal tab on the can that was holding the key in place. Make sure the top of the key is lined up with the top edge of the can. Grasp the top of the key and roll it along the top of the can so that the metal tab becomes a strip that separates the can into two halves. 

Once you’ve completely opened the can, the corned beef should easily slide out and you can enjoy the fruits of your labor!

How Do I Open a Can of Corned Beef Without the Key?

Sometimes you forget to check whether your corned beef can has the key attached until you get home and realize it’s missing. Other times, you try to pry the key off, it goes flying, and becomes lost in the dead space that consumes socks and pens. Either way, you need to open your corned beef can and you don’t have the key.

Don’t worry, there’s still hope. You can take a pair of pliers or something else to grip the metal tab and peel the strip off just like you would with the key. It may not be as smooth a process as if you had the key, but if you peel slowly, you will get the same result. 

You could also try to use a can opener, although negotiating the corners can be a bit difficult. If you do use a can opener, open the corned beef can from the bottom which is typically bigger than the top and go slowly, especially around those corners.

Should I Open a Broken Corned Beef Can?

If you pull a can of corned beef out of your pantry that is broken, severely dented, or no longer sealed out of your pantry, it’s probably best not to open it. Any canned food product, especially meat, that has a compromised seal allows oxygen into the can, breaking the vacuum sealed environment.

This can invite unwanted bacteria to infect the food inside the can and result in botulism. This rare type of food poisoning can be very serious and even fatal if left untreated. All in all, it is better to be safe than sorry. If you suspect that your can of corned beef is no longer sealed, just throw it away.

Why Do Corned Beef Cans Have a Key?

What is it about corned beef that makes it special enough to need a key to open it when other canned food can be opened with a simple can opener? Unlike other canned goods that come in a cylindrical can, corned beef comes in a rectangular tin with rounded corners. This shape is not conducive to being opened with a traditional can opener.

Even rounded, the corners of a corned beef can are still at an awkward angle for the blade of a can opener to easily negotiate. Thus, the handy key is included with each can to rip through the can with ease. 

This also makes corned beef a source of food that is great to take on the go because you don’t need to carry along an extra tool to open them.

In fact, the shape and opening mechanism of corned beef cans were created for soldiers on the battlefield. The shape was more ergonomic for packing without wasting space and the key mechanism allowed them to eat on the go without excess equipment. 


Corned beef cans are different from your typical canned food product and have a special method for opening.

Each can comes equipped with a special metal key that you insert into a tab on the side of the can. By slowly rolling the key around the can, you pull a strip of metal causing the can to separate into two pieces so that you can access the food inside.

If the key for your can of corned beef is missing, you can use something else to grasp the tab and slowly open the can. You can try to use a can opener, although this method may prove difficult.

If you find a can of corned beef that is damaged, you should throw it away to prevent the possibility of food poisoning due to botulism. Corned beef cans were created specially created to be travel food for soldiers. The shape of the can and the easy open method are both suited for on the go eating.