I really do not like to cast on provisionally. I mean, really don't like to. The twisty-turny, eency weency spider, long-tail provisional cast on method seems to fall apart on me--it twists around the needle, is hard to count, and makes stitches that are not reliably standard when you prepare to work with them.
The crochet chain method is also a difficult one for me--if I make a chain that is the appropriate gauge for my knitting, I find it hard to locate the exact spot where the knitted stitch should be created.
Now, I agree with those of you who think I just need to practice more or try this or that method. Perhaps if I were a better person I would not have this BLOCK. I don't care--some things are worth learning to do well (pie crust, driving, Fair Isle knitting) and some things are not worth fussing with. Traditional provisional cast on, in my opinion, falls in the latter category.
That said, there are many times that I need a provisional cast on. Here is how I go about it. Maybe this will work well for you. I've taken photos of my current project--a top-down yoke sweater--to show how I do it:
In this case, I need to provisionally cast on 27 stitches for each underarm. I've knit two little 27-stitch wide swatches (one for each armpit) using Tahki Cotton Classic. Simple: cast on, knit one row, purl one row, knit one row. Do not cast off! I like to have a little HEFT to this piece because I am usually working with large numbers of small stitches; thus, the 3-row structure. Here you see the two pieces on the needle (put on your sunglasses to protect against the glare of the flash).
When I hit the marker for the underarm, I put the sleeve stitches on a holder and begin knitting on one of the 27-stitch swatches.
Knit up to sleeve marker
Sleeve stitches on yarn holder
Start knitting on provisional swatch
Knit across provisional swatch and start knitting on the body
When I am ready to pick up for the sleeve, I pull the holding swatch yarn out (that's why I use a very silky yarn--it WANTS to slide out!) and pick up the waiting stitch, which is docile and perfectly shaped.
Pulling out provisional stitches--see the waiting stitches ready to be picked up?