I've done it both ways and I really can't tell much if any diference. Today I am soaking but really have no idea why other than I just wanted to. I do use foil because it helps keep the chunks from flaring as quickly I think.
i guess that would be personal preference & the type of smoker you have. personally i just throw the wood & sometimes coal into the side firebox & light it up. if using only mesquite for a long smoke 1/2 way through the smoke i pre-burn the wood & just add the coals to keep it from being too strong.. just my 2 cents worth.
I've found that soaking wood chips helps regulate the temp kinda like adding a water pan to the smoking chamber. I don't use chips often, but when I do, I soak em. And Debi is right, them chips disappear quick if you throw em on dry. My firebox smoker is big enuff to accept wood chunks but too small for log splits, so I buy the chunks quite often. BUt if you hafe a gas grill or electric smoker, chips are the way to go and you kinda need to wrap em in foil.
Im cookin on the chargriller so i burn chunks and small splits. Didnt hear what your usin but I need a clean burning fire. Cant stress that enough.
A smaller clean burning fire will always give better flavor than a larger fire that you are trying to slow down causing that lousy thick smoke . That is why I dont soak my wood
I use a Brinkmann electric unit. If I use wood chips, I soak them and put foil around them. Helps them last longer although the smoke won't roll as quickly until the pouch gets warm enough.
If I use wood chunks (which is what I have switched to) I don't soak them at all. (except the time I bumped into my smoker and knocked a bunch of water out of the pan). The element won't get hot enough to catch them on fire as long as you don't place them directly on the element. Put them an inch or two from the element if you use an electric unit.
Seems I've read somewhere here that wet chips can cause creosote accumulation which is a bad thing. Scared me away from soaking, besides wood chips are cheap and oddly enough I seem to get roughly the same mileage soaked or not soaked.
I may be mistaken here, but I don't think soaked wood creates creosote buildup. Now green wood, that's a different story. By green I mean freshly cut; not seasoned.
On another direction: I was watching a "Throw Down with Bobby Flay" one day where he challanged Buz Grossberg on spare ribs. Buz did a run through of his process and mentioned that his ribs were tendor because of all of the moisture in his logs. If I remember correctly, the were not split either. So it begs the question: Either it was just gibberish for tv, or he's able to get moisture into unsplit logs.
regarding soaking chunks: I soak mine so as to slow the burn rate. I suspect if you soaked them long enough to fully waterlog them it might take a week or more, especially w/hardwood. So, I do mine like I would dry beans when in a hurry. I put them in a big pot of water on the stove and boil them for at least five minutes. Then I cover them and let them sit for at least 3 hours or over night. They suck up a lot of water than way.
i try to avoid chips, but if i have to use them i always soak, otherwise i they burn too quick and flare up on me. if i'm using good grill wood (ie logs) i just spray them down a little with a hose a few minutes before throwing them on the fire to keep the bark from lighting up, but i find that with proper grill wood i don't have flaring issues with properly controlled airflow. just what works for me.
I just discovered that my electric ECB prefers dry - especially with mesquite. Soaked chunks take too long to smolder but one or two dry chunks at the edge will start in about 10 minutes and provide about 2 hours worth of smoke.
I use the Wally World brand of chunks, both hickory and mesquite.